Brian Wieser On Why Chinese Spy Balloons Are Like National Vs. Local Ad Buys

When Brian Wieser officially transitioned from the head of business intelligence for one of the largest media-buying organizations in the world to a newsletter publisher and advisory service -- and broke that news in Ad Age -- it made me sad. Not the Ad Age part, per se, but the idea that he might lose some of his gravitas, if not his wit and mojo in analyzing the connections between advertising and finance.

Well, three editions into his "Madison and Wall" Substack newsletter, I'm here to tell you, if you're not already subscribing, you absolutely need to. I mean, where else can you get a 60,000-foot view on the divide between national and local advertising?



Forced topicality aside, Wieser makes some excellent points about the nature of the ad biz, and especially why the clients of big agencies like Interpublic and WPP don't "do" local media buys. Or at least, why those agencies don't advise them to.

Spoiler alert for those of you who plan to subscribe: It's because those agencies and the media they partner with aren't set up to buy and sell local media in a way that would generate an ROI for clients, even if their customers are concentrated in local trading areas.

Unfortunately, Wieser's perspective is likely biased by the fact that he has either worked in giant agency holding companies, or in equity research organizations that cover them, so he probably hasn't seen the kind of pain-staking research, planning, and innovative data analysis being developed by small- to medium-size independent agencies like USIM, Mediassociates and others I've had the opportunity to cover in recent years. It is one of the reasons they exist, and how they are able to compete with the global giants.

And I don't know who first coined the phrase, "Think Local, But Act Global," but I'm pretty sure it was either someone from a big agency holding company, or someone who advises them, because the truth is most ad spending actually is local, not national or -- dare I say, global.

It's something I understood back in the early 1990s, when I was the media editor at Ad Age and decided to do some simple math dividing the trade magazine's annual agency media billings report, by the estimates Wieser's Interpublic predecessor -- the late McCann Erickson exec Bob Coen -- has just published for U.S. and worldwide ad spending. What I found, is the big agency holding companies accounted for less of either U.S. or worldwide ad spending.

And that was in the days before digital created even more of a long tail of local or regional advertisers who could utilize platforms to target consumers in front of browsers located where they were, regardless of analog media defined geographic boundaries.

It's why big agency holding companies represent even less of the U.S. or global advertising mix today than they did 30 years ago.

But Wieser should know that, because he blew my mind a few months back when, during one of GroupM's "This Week Next Week" podcasts, he casually through out the fact that total marketing spending around the world is likely $6 trillion, more than twice what most sources normally estimate it to be.

And that's because most of it is spent by small and medium size businesses marketing to consumers where they are -- whether it is with geographically dispersed analog media -- or digitally to a users browser or hand-held device.

All that said, Wieser makes an excellent point about Madison Avenue's biases against "local" media, including the out-of-home kind, which is how he managed to close the loop on his Chinese spy balloon analogy, and deliver a punch line too.

"To describe the obstacles local media owners often faced in growing their businesses, during public presentations I would often make an argument that effectively said 'until someone places a billboard in the sky running from Los Angeles to New York, outdoor advertising will be viewed as a local medium.'

"Although there wasn’t any marketing message in last week’s incident, a balloon that travels across the country, visible to people below comes as close as anything I could practically imagine to this national billboard concept. Blimps at sporting events remain a purely local equivalent, by contrast."

And while Wieser concludes by noting that national balloons aren't likely to become an "advertising-based media format any time soon," I have to weigh in with the fact that it did wonders for China's name recognition.

Sputnik analogies aside, I know what you're thinking, "they already have TikTok for that."

1 comment about "Brian Wieser On Why Chinese Spy Balloons Are Like National Vs. Local Ad Buys".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 6, 2023 at 1:03 p.m.

    Interesting points raised by Brian,Joe.

    But I find it difficult to believe that a large media agency isn't capable of buying spot TV for its clients or usually recommends against it. The main reason why major national TV advertisers don't use spot TV very much for established brands---as opposed to new brand roll outs----is that they have not made an analysis to determine whether extra GRP "weight" in certain markets where they "undeliver" with linear TV or where there may be above average sales potential for their brands pays out. And it's unrealistic to expect the agency media planners to determine this as they not only lack the required data but there is virtually no testing to guide them.

    In addition, spot TV is hampered by primitive audience research and considerably higher buying/servicing costs than national TV---especially when heavy spending is allocated to the broadcast TV networks. Also spot TV CPMs are generally comparble to those of the broadcst TV networks and much higher than national cable, so the incremental reach and frequency does not come at bargain.  Put all of these factors together, plus the fact that many clients are unable to guide the agency with any direction regarding where the local spending will produce the best results and it's small wonder that  there is little enthusiasm for spot TV at many large media agencies for national brands. Turn things around, however, and supply the agency with data that answers the key questions so it can mke a sensible recommendation that melds spot TV's inherent geographic flexibility with national TV and there is no doubt that the agency can execute a proper market tailored spot buy.

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