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Is the picture for the media industry really as bleak as Advertising Week seemed to suggest?

By Martin Woolley, Group MD

April 26, 2016 | 5 min read

The Drum asked me for a media-specific view of what we learned from Advertising Week Europe, so I’ll leave it to others to enjoy dissecting Bernie Ecclestone’s views on politics and gender. A shame as that would have been much more fun…

Because if you are in media (planning, buying or owning) the general message seems to be ‘We’re All Doomed.’

Sorry to have to break it to you bluntly, but there it is. I’ll give you the bad news if you’re a media agency first and save the really bad news for the publishers later on.

So, if you work in media planning and buying and don’t have the words ‘data’ or ‘scientist’ in your job title, start brushing up on those transferrable skills. You’re about to be replaced by a bot. The ‘Rise of The Machines’ has been a threat for a while, but it seems it is now actually here, with not one but two media company bosses – of Spotify and Clear Channel – claiming 100 per cent of their inventory will be traded programmatically within five years, thereby doing away with swathes of media planners and buyers. Oh, and we’re not calling it programmatic anymore. Ad Week pronounced the P word dead. It’s about automation now.

But hold on – elsewhere at Ad Week, we had Google’s vice president of display and video analytics telling us in no uncertain terms that we are a long way from being able to see customer journeys. Consumer buying habits are changing fast and data analytics can’t keep up. Most of us now own multiple devices and we switch between them constantly, submerging the real digital path to purchase in oceans of data. When Google – which, let’s face it, has done ok out of last click attribution – is saying this, we should listen.

Google’s point (which sounds very real to someone whose agency wrestles with such things for a day job) is that no tool currently offers any insight, just more and more data. Some 84 per cent of marketers don’t believe their marketing sources are well integrated (I’ve never met one of the 16 per cent - I wonder who these lucky brands are?). It doesn’t end there either: all Google customer journey examples started with digital advertising and it still couldn’t follow the customer journey. What about all of those people who are influenced to go online by TV, doordrops, direct mail, print, OOH (ie everyone)? Most of my e-commerce and mobile clients want that answer more than most things.

So, where does all this data mess leave programmatic, sorry automated, advertising? If you can’t see the customer journey well enough, how can any algorithm, however elegant, know what goal to optimise to? It all seems like reductionist thinking, which makes me hopeful there’s still room for real people, with all their intuition and creativity, in media planning. Sainsbury’s head of communications seemed to be assuming as much when she described her biggest barrier: her agencies not working effectively together.

Maybe the real challenge for media planners is to collaborate with other specialist agencies rather than spend their energy on automation and ad-blockers, which we learned at Ad Week are on their way to becoming a thing of the past. Phew.

Ad-blockers’ protection rackets have a little while to run yet though, which may be long enough to see off a few more publishers, especially the traditional paper and ink ones. Mediacom’s MD offered a forensic dissection of Trinity Mirror’s New Day. Principally that it was a launch with no digital presence (social media-only doesn’t count) and print circulation going from bad to worse. Bad news for newspapers still mourning the demise of the print Indy.

And Piers Morgan didn’t help, giving the newspaper industry 20 more years before it completely disappears for good.

Ad-blockers’ days may be numbered, but they still cause publishers real damage while they’re here and the news they didn’t need came at Ad Week from Their view was that the use of scripts to detect ad-blockers was illegal.

The consensus seemed to be that was not likely to be true, but still, what odds would you take on Piers Morgan’s prediction being right?

Martin Woolley is the group managing director at The Specialist Works

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