Commentary

Back To The Future: What Marketers Want

I spent last week  at The Festival of Media Global in Rome. This event has been around for over a decade, delivering great content and speakers — yet is somehow still somewhat “under the radar” when compared to say the Cannes Tech -- sorry, Cannes Ad Festival.

The ambitious agenda for Rome included meaty topics such as the future of TV; whether advertisers should take programmatic in-house; AI and the future of ads; marketing workforce diversity; and which metrics to trust when chasing integrity and transparency.

There were on-stage discussions with global leaders from P&G, VW, Burberry, Lastminute.com and many others. It was an excellent event, and it gave me the opportunity to talk to almost a dozen senior marketing and media leaders. Here’s what I heard:

1. Fixing the basics. One common refrain in the conversations was that advertisers are trying to fix something that we, as an industry, have probably collectively broken: the ability to deliver impact to large audiences in a cost-efficient way.

P&G started this conversation a little while back when it admitted it had most likely pursued too many “shiny new things” and splintered budgets into too many touch points with little or no understanding of their reach, impact or ROI. The company has very publicly shamed itself for that, and vowed to dial back some of these excesses.

Other advertisers have listened, and are also talking about not reaching enough people while spending too much time content-creating and purpose-marketing themselves while recording decreasing sales.

Mind you, these marketers are not saying that they want to revert to an “old-fashioned” media mix. But we are hearing more talk about reaching an audience when you are a mass-marketed, mass-distributed product or service. How? That is where point 2 comes in:

2. Zero-based budgeting. Whether mandatory (because 3G bought your company), pre-emptively (because 3G is threatening to buy your company) or opportunistically (because you would like 3G to buy your company), more and more marketers are applying ZBB (zero-based budgeting) as a strategy to review and determine where their marketing budgets are being spent.

This means that budgets that have been approved in prior years without questioning their effectiveness are now at least debated.

I recommend you ZBB the hell out of sports or entertainment sponsorships used to safeguard front-row tickets or other, non-revenue driving sponsorship
benefits; shopper marketing initiatives that do not drive shoppers, and are not marketing (with a few exceptions -- before you start adding angry comments below); or costly one-off storytelling initiatives that may stroke the egos of some of the senior marketing and agency folk, but suck away precious resources that could drive sales and brand health for a couple of months.

3. Transparency is still a thing. And it’s not going away. In fact, what it is doing is driving data, data-management platforms, demand-side platforms,  analytics, marketing tech, etc. in-house because marketers demand better control, less ambiguity and — most importantly — more impact from their digital investment.

And as a result, contracts with the agency holding companies have been, or are being, rewritten. None of the advertisers I spoke with were particularly concerned about how that was working out for the agency holding companies. I would describe marketers as “indifferent” — with a touch of malicious joy — to holding companies’ problems. I guess it’s good to be the king (of ZBB).

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