To Some, Still Just Another Channel

A client calls and asks you to put together an integrated media plan for a new product they are launching. As a good agency that does their due diligence, you do the appropriate vetting of research and media options. You define the target, find the appropriate vehicles that have affinity with both the target and the product, and you nail down the costs.

Some plan options are assembled and they are presented to the client along with a full account of the rationale for the choices that, as the experts, you have concluded were best given the objectives laid out by said client. Among the media recommended is online and digital marketing.

The client comes back to you and says that they like most of what you've shown them, but they have a question about online.

"We aren't really interested in making any CPM, or even CPC, commitments to online. All our money is going to be tied up in other, efficient, niche targeted media like urinal screens and branded post-cards. However, we are really interested in making cost-per-sale arrangements with the highly branded media properties you recommended. Can you help us with that?"



There are only two expressions for how I usually feel upon hearing something like this: silence or rage.

So, after counting to 10... and then counting to 10 again... and then going for a walk around the block a few times, and then trying to see how far behind the decimal point I can calculate pi, I try to craft a more appropriate response than the several hundred different kinds I fantasized about during my walk.

Sure, you want to help your client accomplish their goals, and you want to accommodate their needs as much as you can given the constraints of budget, timing, target, and expertise; but how do you deal with a request like this when it rests in opposition to the spirit of the recommendation with which you have already provided that client? The follow-up response illustrated above indicates that the client doesn't fully understand what online media is capable of or useful for, yet it also demonstrates that they don't quite believe what you've told them.

It is also indicative of a deeper schism in how a lot of clients view the use of online and how their agencies view online.

A lot of clients still believe that the best and only use for online is as a distribution channel.

What's puzzling about this is that, outside the purview of serious direct response marketers, few advertisers are accustomed to using their media as a channel for distributing product. No one expects their TV ads to carry SKUs out of a warehouse and into the living room. A brand manager does not have among their set of expectations for a national spread run in USA Today to deliver widgets directly attributable to that spread.

Yet these expectations are carried in hand with every consideration made for media on the web.

Certainly auto manufacturers aren't looking at online media as only a distribution channel. Unilever and Kellogg's and other general market advertisers aren't thinking that by using the web they will move product in direct relation to the advertising found there. Is their ultimate goal to sell product? Damn right. And don't you forget it. But do they expect the medium to dispense these products to the masses? Unlikely.

It is not entirely a surprise, of course, that so many marketers still look at the medium this way. So much of the early promise (and sell) of the media was the fact that so much user activity could be made attributable to a given advertisement run in the space. But the years have shown us that there is more to it than just that. Language used to be primarily a series of intentional grunts and noises to warn of danger or communicate pain. Over time, however, the species learned that it had so many more uses than just that. Earliest writing in the form of Linear A and B was strictly for the purposes of keeping track of things - how many sheep, what taxes were paid, how many births in a region. A multitude of uses have evolved for writing since then. Could it be that maybe, just maybe, the web and its relations have a richer purpose?

I don't wish to suggest that the web cannot be used as an ancillary or even primary distribution channel. What I am suggesting is that this isn't all it is good for, and there are companies out there with product to market that shouldn't let the web's causality features override its more sublime attributes.

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