Arranged Marriages: Digital Marketing's Dirty Secret Prompting So Many Reviews

Big week. What's been your take-out? Mine is that advertisers are getting increasingly fed up with being sold in to global deals with massive adverting networks which they don't feel serve their best interests and which they wouldn't necessarily have signed up to themselves if they had local autonomy.

No worries, though, if your week's been shaped by the headlines. We've had Amazon claiming its Prime Day sale was as big in Europe as Black Friday, Apple Pay launched and the BBC geared up for a very uncomfortable year. All of these, though will be forgotten periodically over the next year or so until they are dragged in to the limelight by a new development. I had a look around Amazon Prime Day, but unless you want to buy old computer games and DVDs, there was not a lot going on, I loaded up my Amex on Apple Pay and then used convenience stores that take neither Amex nor Apple Pay (come on HSBC, I'm waiting on you to join up soon). As for the BBC, I blogged earlier in the week about how I think there will be a lot of rhetoric but the main outcome will be services remain, as will the licence fee, but content will need to be shared with commercial rivals.

Which brings me to the real revelation of the week, which, as always, came not on the news bulletins but rather a series of catch ups over coffee in Soho. Everyone is openly wondering why there are so many global media reviews happening at the moment and so it's hardly a surprise that it's the talk of the town. I'd always suspected that a lot of brands were fed up with their media arrangements and I had an inkling why. Ever had one of those chats, though, where you suddenly realise your suspicion is correct but you'd totally underestimated to what extent?

Chatting with a couple of pals who now want brands to go direct through their platforms (let's get that disclaimer out there right at the start), as well as a friend who used to work for a massive holding company with a very famous trading desk, the situation appears pretty bleak.

I can't help but compare it with arranged marriages. A CEO or CMO, perhaps even a CFO, gets wined and dined and signs up to what appears to be an incredible deal. Sign up with a mega super holding company and the reach you'll get for the price you pay will be unbeatable. It's a very real offer which has it's obvious selling points. Trouble is, the people who run each region are rarely consulted fully. To them, the price central HQ pays for its media and the quality of the champagne poured at the brass' private yacht party in Cannes, are less important than local control and, most of all, the two huge issues which kind of melt in to one: data and transparency.

Actually, there's a third. A lot of these regional brand marketers are finding they are forced to use agencies who are part of the holding company's network. This, I can assure you, is causing a lot of friction between regional heads and holding companies who realise they are put in to an arrangement where they may not have picked a creative agency or a content production team but have to go with it, despite knowing a team that had to fight to retain the business -- rather than have it guaranteed -- might well be hungrier to succeed.

So, back to data and transparency. Now, I'll caution again my cappuccino gulping confidants have a dog in the fight, they want brands to come direct to them rather than through a media agency, but the conversation was eye-opening. Some huge everyday brands are, according to them, and in separate conversations, already kicking the tyres of the tech that's available to allow them to go direct. They want to know what's out there so they can make a balanced decision whether to stick with the agency model or go direct. Whichever route they take, the clear take-out was some very familiar names are going to get out of a global deal the second they can. It's almost as if some household names, in retail and in automotive particularly, have a clock on the wall waiting for the current deal forced on them to come to an end.

Of the reasons behind this, other than they feel they had little choice in a global contract,the real clincher is data. Big brands are concerned they're not getting all their data back and they're pretty horrified to think their media could be bought through a massive trading desk where the data it produces could be mixed up with other brands and might even get lost in transit. 

Control, that's what regional marketing chiefs want. If you want to know why there are so many media reviews taking place right now, it just might well be worth considering that data is at the centre of it, as is a desire not to be sucked in to arrangements which leave marketers on the ground feeling powerless to make the huge decision required to succeed in the age of data-driven digital marketing.

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