It was with great interest that I read Advertising Age’s article on 2013’s record setting ad spending levels for the “Top 100” advertisers.
Ironically, it wasn’t the total spending level of $108.6 billion, the 4.6% ad spend growth projection for 2014 or the fact that Ad Age’s leading national advertisers “accounted for about two-fifths (42.2%) of all U.S. measured-media spending in 2013” that intrigued me. What caught my attention was the commentary from senior ad agency executives to various Wall Street analysts about the reasons behind their company’s higher share of spending in the digital media space.
The article quoted a handful of CEOs and CFOs touting their firm’s move to lessen their reliance on traditional media by increasing ad spending on digital media with the goal of realizing greater efficiencies. Interestingly, there was no reference to improving the effectiveness of their advertising investment. To be fair, perhaps they believe that spending more of their ad budget dollars in this low-growth environment (ad spending growth is outpacing company revenue growth) on digital will be more effective.
It makes you wonder about the extent to which the leading national advertisers have refined their attribution modeling to reflect the impact of an exposure to their messaging on a cross-platform basis. Have they solved for the question on everyone’s mind regarding how various delivery channels such as television, print, OOH, online display and particularly owned media, impact consumer awareness, intent and purchasing behavior? You would think so. How else, could advertisers justify upping the share of spend on digital to nearly 25% in aggregate on an industry-wide basis?
In the proverbial “good ol’ days” budget allocation decisions were based largely on results attained as opposed to such a heavy emphasis on “what” something cost. One had to balance effectiveness and efficiency if an advertiser was going to maximize their return-on-marketing-investment (ROMI).
No one argues the inherent benefits associated with digital media today when it comes to dynamic messaging, behavioral targeting and selecting relevant media inventory that is aligned with audience media consumption actions on a real-time basis. Additionally, most industry participants realize that digital will become a much more viable media forum from an advertising perspective as time goes by.
The challenge with digital media for advertisers is primarily one of confidence. Confidence in knowing that a high percentage of a dollar directed to a publisher website actually makes it to that site, that its messages have an opportunity to be seen and that the responses being generated to its ads are from target audience members and not bots and that participants in the social sphere are receptive to advertiser interaction. Absent solid cross-platform audience measurement tools, transparency into the various links in the digital media chain and the ability to accurately gauge response, it may be a risky proposition to spend two out of every five budgeted ad dollars on digital media.
That said, it is clear that the digital “train” has left the proverbial station. The good news is that advertisers, agencies and publishers are working with their respective industry associations to address some of the issues which need to be dealt with in the context of digital media. However, history would suggest that an industry wide mandate or set of solutions could be some time coming.
So, what can an individual advertiser do to enhance their control over the digital portion of their ad spend in the near-term?
Perhaps the best place to start is to engage their agency partners in candid conversations to map out the risks and uncertainties in and around digital delivery with the goal of identifying various means to mitigate those risks. Tighter controls, improved performance monitoring, more timely and thorough campaign post-buy analysis and more rigorous financial stewardship processes between advertisers and their agencies and third-party vendors can certainly play a role in this area.
Industry practitioners certainly understand the role of experimentation and the need to stay abreast of change within the media landscape. As such, the potential benefits of digital media in all of its forms, merits attention. However, when a media channel accounts for 40%+ of industry ad spend it is clear that we’ve moved beyond the “experimentation” stage.
It is right to applaud the pioneering spirit which advertisers have exhibited in so rapidly evolving their media mix to integrate digital into the fold. Given that total digital media spending was $19.9 billion in 2009 (source: Jupiter Research) and in five short years later eMarketer is forecasting that 2014 global digital media spending will eclipse $137.5 billion, it is clear that advertisers are blazing new trails.
Merriam-Webster defines the term pioneer as; “a person who helps create or develop new ideas, methods, etc.” The marketing definition of pioneer, however, has often been described as: “a person with an arrow in their back.” The moral of the story? Proceed with caution and a complete understanding of the risks/rewards inherent with aggressively moving into what is still an emerging media… at least from a performance validation perspective.
Interested in learning more about safeguarding your digital media investment? Contact Cliff Campeau, Principal at Advertising Audit & Risk Management, LLC at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation on the topic.