Will He Or Won't He - Only Brian Wieser's Showrunner Knows For Sure

Hours after sending emails to his contacts making his departure from GroupM official, former Global President of Business Intelligence Brian Wieser sent mixed signals about whether he would continue to co-host the weekly "This Week Next Week" podcast with GroupM Global Director for Business Intelligence Kate Scott-Dawkins.

This week's podcast, entitled "Retiring to a Beach on Mars," describes the episode as Wieser saying his "final goodbye to the podcast."

While Wieser did not reply to an email from MediaPost about that, he sure sounded like he was checking out of the show, waxing metaphorical about setting up shop on Mars or pursuing "some of the crazy business ideas" he quipped about during previous episodes of the podcast.

And when Scott-Dawkins implied the team would be analyzing big advertiser and media company earnings calls in the week ahead, Wieser said, "Who says 'we,' my friend? That means you."

Wieser also began the podcast by alluding to it as "the final episode of this version of 'This Week Next Week'."

Banter aside, it seemed like Wieser actually doesn't have any imminent plans after stepping down from his GroupM role, including whether he will be part of the podcast, although a GroupM executive close to the show indicated he will continue as co-host.

Oh, the drama.

But what I found most striking and insightful about this week's episode, the 51st since Wieser and Scott-Dawkins began providing weekly snapshots of the macros and micros driving the advertising economy, is the almost wistful way they looked back at the consistent theme that for all the negative signals sent by others -- including a fair amount of news headlines -- the advertising economy, in Wieser's words is "not terrible.

"Isn't that the point we're seeing that we've been pointing out?," he said.

That POV differs diametrically from the ones shared by some top agency execs not affiliated with GroupM or its holding company peers at Dentsu, Interpublic and Publicis who publish regular ad-industry forecasts, and continue to be relatively strong growth predictions for ad spending last year and this one.

Part of that, I think, reflects the different things people are looking at, versus different ways of looking at them.

In the case of both GroupM and IPG Mediabrands' Magna units, they are utilizing bottoms-up analysis based on the advertising revenues reported by publicly held media companies, plus some ancillary economic data and a certain amount of judgement calls.

I'm actually not certain what Dentsu's and Publicis Media's Zenith's methodologies are for their ad forecasting models, but I've been tracking, updating and publishing them as part of a consensus forecast any time one of them releases new data publicly. My theory is that in doing so, things will even out and we'll have some more generalized views of how the ad economy is growing, adjusted for apples and oranges.

But now I'm starting to think, to Wieser's planetary quip, that the official agency advertising forecasters may be from Mars, and the ones who spoke to me for this week's MediaPost story are from, well, Venus?

That's because there are only so many ways you can look at ad spending, regardless of your vantage point. And if you're one of the other big agency holding companies or independent media-buying agencies that go into things like the Standard Media Index data we've also been tracking and reporting on, you're living in a very different world.

Read that story if you want to understand more about those differences, but I really just wanted to write this column to explain that I think there is not right way to look at the ad economy and that there are a lot of uniquely relevant ways to do so.

Which is also my way of explaining -- and rationalizing -- why journalists, including trade ones like myself, often reports seemingly contradictory things. Things about whether the ad economy is expanding or contracting. Things like whether Brian Wieser is leaving "This Week Next Week" or not. It's because we hear different things from different sources and there is no perfect information at presstime.

That's why journalism is sometimes referred to as the "best first draft of history," and why we're always revising it.

I honestly don't think a lot of readers understand how malleable the information that gets reported actually is. That's why we keep reporting it. You know, in order to set the record straight when one thing seems to contradict another thing that was also reported?

It's like the rest of human endeavors. Information changes over time, which is why it's important to have public records in order for people to go back in time and understand where points of view -- or even facts or proven science -- have diverged.

I call it the public record, and in the age of fungible digital media, where facts and figures sometimes are altered on-the-fly, even by the best journalism organizations -- with little or no public accounting for it, much less an indelible record -- truth can sometimes suffer.

And that's why I'd like to call out one final thing from what may -- or may not -- be Brian Wieser's final "This Week Next Week" podcast, which is why history is so important.

"One thing I find -- a shocking lack of care across the industry broadly -- is a lack of appreciation for history," Brian Wieser quipped in his "final" podcast. "I say this as someone who replaced someone at another agency who started in 1948."

Wieser, of course, was referring to the late McCann-Erickson forecaster Bob Coen, who effectively created the modern-day concept of advertising forecasting, before Wieser succeeded him at Interpublic.

Coen, as I've noted previously, was also a big history buff, and once shared an Excel spreadsheet with me that went all the way back to 1776.

"History is so important, because we can see where current things happened in the past. And we get lessons. And we can better anticipate the future when we study the history."

That said, one of Wieser's and Scott-Dawkins greatest historical lessons in recent years is that sometimes history also reveals how things have diverged -- specifically, the relationships between ad spending and the general economy.

Historically, if you go back through Bob Coen's history -- and even most of Brian Wieser's -- there was a direct correlation between the two.

And when the economy expanded, so did U.S. and/or global ad spending.

But as the former GroupM team has been pointing out, that is no longer the case. That whether the economy is healthy or weak, the advertising economy has been expanding faster than it has.

Wieser describes it as a "decoupling," and he cited some of the theories GroupM has had to explain it, including:

  • Billions of dollars of ad spending by Chinese companies marketing to consumers abroad via digital media platforms.
  • Venture-funded businesses.
  • The rise of self-serve advertising for small businesses.

Personally, I think it is that last factor, and explicitly how big digital tech platforms -- from Google to Meta to Amazon and now TikTok and whatever comes next -- that have enabled the long-tail of the general economy (small- and medium-size businesses) to compete at scale with the biggest national and global marketers, are the reason for that decoupling.

If you were a Bob Coen tracking ad spending in the old days, sure, some of those small- and medium-size business would be reflected in spot TV and radio ad dollars, local newspapers and out-of-home media spending, but overall the most transparent figures were coming from national and multinational brands. And over time, the figures for those local advertising markets have become decimated because digital simply displaced them.

Think about what Craigslist did to the classified advertising marketplace.

Or what Google News did to local newspapers.


In most cases, much of those analog advertising variants simply transferred into digital options, but along with them, maybe also turned from "analog dollars into digital dimes."

In other cases, they reemerged in ways that look like new, unexpected category growth -- but really just something we used to do under a different name utilizing analog media, but which have been rediscovered in another way under a digital name.

Take "retail media," a category GroupM estimates already is more than $100 billion and potentially could reach half a trillion dollars in the not-too-distant future.

It's not coming from nowhere. In the old days, there were a variety of "below-the-line" media and marketing options that were crudely labeled and categorized as "consumer promotion," "trade promotion," FSIs, slotting allowances, end-aisle displays, etc., etc., etc., that are now just reemerging as digital variants on Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, etc., etc., etc.

My point? It's kind of a little like Wieser's: Those who don't learn from advertising history are doomed to repeat it.

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