Media buying used to be fun.
I grew up in the business as a media person. I went to school to obtain a degree in advertising and went directly into advertising, which is pretty rare. I was trained how to understand audiences, predict behavior and identify channels that would reach people with the right message at the right time.
I even helped pioneer how this would be done on a brand-new channel called the Internet. I wrote deck after deck to educate my clients about the intricacies of the web, and hypothesized about how people would use it for everything from shopping to schooling and everything in between.
I even helped develop some of the coolest online experiences ever. Things like “spotting the web” for “101 Dalmatians.” The first-ever digital roadblocks. Some of the first affiliate programs.
Buying media on the internet was fun. It was cool. It was creative.
It’s not as much fun anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I have always been data-driven. You can ask the salespeople who worked with me back then — I was borderline annoying about the data. I held everyone to a standard of performance and delivery, and data was the backbone of our interactions.
Today we have so much data to work with — and while I love that fact, I fear the creativity in buying media is gone. The upfront planning process for media has become stale. Formulaic. Predictable.
The “homepage takeovers” are standardized in expanding units. Programmatic media has become the foundation because of its scale. Native is interesting, but it is intended to blend into a feed. If you do anything too far “out there,” you get negative user feedback. Companies are afraid to push, and publishers are reticent to bring brand-new ideas to the table.
The start-up ecosystem used to be valuable here, but those days are long gone. With the lion’s share of dollars being spent among an oligopoly of companies, there is little space for innovation. Start-up companies need an audience to have leverage or they need a big brand to take them into one of the primary publishers (i.e. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Verizon, AT&T). These companies are not incentivized to do much because of the struggle between scale and innovation, where innovation costs a lot and scale is easier to maintain for them.
Media buyers should begin to push for creativity in their media. In the “olden days,” we could integrate content directly into the page, leveraging the background or other interesting ways to break through the clutter.
Prices are negotiable. Creativity is priceless and can be used to spice things up and come up with new ways to reach an audience. Creativity also wins awards, but companies get awards because they pushed boundaries in new and exciting ways.
As you are building media plans, and especially as you build plans that focus on awareness metrics, you should try to think of new ways to reach your audience. Digital media can still be creative, and it can still be used to come up with something that hasn’t been done before. Remember that the enemy of creativity is complacency — and it is VERY easy to get complacent in today’s media environment.