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Media Planning and Buying Media Danone

Danone opens up on the benefits (and difficulties) of growing diverse media investment

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By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

May 4, 2023 | 9 min read

Two years into her mission to buy ads on more minority-owned media platforms, Catherine Lautier reflects on the Evian owner’s progress and growing pains.

Danone's Activia

Danone grew diverse media share to 4% in the US

Speaking to The Drum after the launch of the WFA’s Media Charter 3.0 (which she contributed to), Catherine Lautier, global head of media and integrated brand communication at Danone (which owns brands including Activia, Oikos, Evian and Volvic), is candid about the challenges of buying ads in diverse media and reaching new audiences.

A ”huge number” of consumers, she says, don’t feel represented in media and advertising today. ”So the opportunity is huge but, as an industry, we don’t yet realize how much untapped growth is coming from that better media representation.”

Lautier is among those gathering evidence of that opportunity, but that research has recently been conducted in the shadow of headlines about how even mainstream digital media titles such as BuzzFeed and Vice have struggled during the current digital ad downturn. These waves continue to hit minority media titles, which have historically been more likely to have been impacted due to brand safety protections that ensure their ads only appear on ‘safe’ parts of the internet.

Blocks can see content that includes words such as ‘sex’, ‘shoot’ or ‘kill’ avoided completely, defunding news pages entirely, and this can extend to descriptors such as ‘transgender’, ‘bisexual’, ’Asian’, ‘Muslim’, ‘interracial’ and even ’Black’. Brands’ efforts to avoid appearing next to hate speech can often see them block positive and inclusive content. Vice was very open about these blocklists in 2018.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, stories detailing that case and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement were predictably demonetized too. Vice saw half the average CPM (cost per mille, or cost of a thousand impressions) on such stories. Some of the most important conversations of our time were proving unsustainable to report on, especially for Black-owned media.

But some big advertisers, including Danone, have been attempting to make up for these shortcomings by taking more responsibility for their buys, using more sophisticated tools and actively seeking verticals that have been historically absent from campaigns. And sometimes, that’s at the expense of budget that would have gone to tech and social giants.

The fix has taken time, but here is how Lautier has been moving the dial at her organization.

The path to inclusive media

After auditing the multinational’s media spend plans for 2020, Lautier realized that a mere 0.1% of Danone’s annual budget went to minority-owned publishers, which was at odds with its wider DE&I goals.

This wasn’t a problem unique to Danone, however. Many big brands assumed these sites were getting a slice of their display spend, but they were being disproportionately blocked and weren’t yet labeling their inventory for advertisers actively looking to include these demographics.

“A lot of advertisers were rethinking the contribution of our media investments, particularly in relation to funding hate speech. We wanted to be a lot more intentional about where we spent in terms of the platforms we were funding, from an effectiveness standpoint and from a responsibility standpoint.”

In conjunction with media agency Wavemaker, in 2020 Danone instead saw 2% of its US spend go to Black-owned publishers. It was a tiny proportion of overall spend, yet it was net new investment in a new range of largely untapped inventory.

There was way less inventory than one would expect, however. It makes sense, though, since titles such as Attitude and PinkNews face having as much as 73% of their stories flagged as ‘brand unsafe’. When ad revenue lags, so does investment in content and staff.

“We had to really work at it to identify these minority-owned publishers,” says Lautier. ”I was shocked by the numbers.”

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The investment proportion then grew to 4% of media spend after early tests proved positive. “The numbers seemed so low it almost felt opportunistic to commit to it and to communicate on it to be very honest.” But, Lautier admits, the brand was “almost saturating the whole ecosystem because there was so little to buy from”.

In 2022, Danone spent more on digital media than on traditional media for the first time. Appearing on platforms where minority target audiences were best served and felt represented was the first step. “We were thinking about how we could proactively contribute to a more positive and more inclusive and diverse media ecosystem.”

There wasn’t exactly a thriving media ecosystem to invest in. “It was so eye-opening when we did the math.” Now, further into this work, there are positive signs.

At least once a month the Danone team invites a diverse media owner to present to them to explore new investment opportunities. “It’s really giving them an opportunity to educate us,” says Lautier.

And in the coming years, she sees growth and expansion of the scheme, predicting that the 4% slice could grow if a coalition of like-minded advertisers (she name-drops Diageo) afford continuous and reliable investment in diverse titles. It’s more than a partnership than an advertising opportunity, she reflects. Now the mission includes Hispanic-owned platforms, LGBTQ+ platforms and women’s own platforms. There’s even talk of taking the work beyond the pilot market of the US.

According to Danone’s mixed modeling measurement, one diverse media title in particular has offered more return on investment than any other title. That was Canela Media, the Latino-owned streamer, in partnership with Activia. “You’re extending your reach and you’re talking to consumers on a platform where they’re receptive and recognize themselves. And that’s both positive for society and positive for business.”

Lautier is happy to pay a premium for environments that meet these needs and deliver higher quality attention and dwell times than other platforms and laments the one-second dwell time that’s so commonly sold these days. “If it’s under one second, you’re not building any brand assets or any brand equity in any shape or form.”

With belts tightening and some budgets under pressure, she urges marketers not to slip back into a ”race to the bottom” on price. ”I don’t mind paying to fund this media ecosystem for diverse consumer voices to exist and, in return, generating a quality of attention that helps build my brands.”

When pressed for more results we can publish to prove this approach works, Lautier is hesitant. There’s a degree of chicken and egg. Big budgets have to go into diverse media to prove the returns. From a 4% proportion, some positive case studies have emerged and Lautier has proven it has shifted the dial positively on sales. But more investment is needed to understand the scope of the growth potential.

She’s certain of one thing: supporting diverse media and connecting with new demographics is better than a one-second glance on a tech platform.

Sign up for the Media Agency Briefing for a weekly through the biggest questions facing the industry. And check out more from The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, where we’ve been demystifying data & privacy for marketers in 2023.

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