By Alain Thys

Here’s an interesting number for you.  Most European consumers spend 20% of their media time on online media.  British internet users even spend more time online than watching TV.  And still the average share of budget of these same media remains below 5 per cent.  Is this just inertia, or is something more structural going on ?

To try and identify the reasons for this mismatch, I would like to start a start a dialogue by putting down three theses for discussion (please also look at the digital pamphlet attached to this post).  To stimulate the conversation, I’ve deliberately made them pretty black and white.                            

Reason 1: Marketers and agencies are incentivised to stick to convention
Keynes once said that “it is better for a reputation to fail conventionally, than to succeed unconventionally.”  The modern day media equivalent would probably read that “no one ever got fired for booking a national TV campaign”. 

New media still require somewhat of a little leap of faith.  And faced with quarterly targets, for many account execs it’s simply safer to start their presentation with a thirty second commercial, and for many marketers, it’s simply safer to accept it.

To quote a senior marketer I met last Christmas: “Alain, you’re absolutely right, yet this new media stuff is too measurable.  If I go heavy and the numbers turn out bad, I’ll get all sorts of questions and am probably looking at a budget cut next year …”

Reason 2: Media buyers are incentivised to avoid digital media
What would you do if you were a media buyer presented with the following dilemma?  You have a million to spend and you can either do this by making “one phonecall” to the national TV station, or work three days in putting together a complex roster of 20 digital media.  In either case, you only make your 4-6% commission on that million.

If you add to this the constant threat of commissions being squeezed, the answer to this question is a duh-ism of the first degree.  With insufficient funds available to do real media strategy (and post-audits), agencies and advertisers have talked themselves into a gridlock which has replaced “the best plan” with the “the best plan under the budgetary circumstances”

Reason 3: Media agencies are incentivized not to work with the creative guys
Love or hate it, today's ad-market is largely a commodity business.  Remove the gloss and it comes down to buying seconds or millimeters at a price and filling it with creative to match your brand.  The rest of the conversation is – de facto – about price.  The efficiency drive associated with this has separated the creative guys from those doing the buying and while everyone has the occasional whine, it’s a process which more or less works.

But online, this approach has its limits.  Sure, for banners & keywords this separation still makes sense (to a degree), yet really exciting online campaigns are all about blending creative media use, with creative concept into a relevant mix.  For media agencies, it however also means using more expensive (human) media strategists than the computerized media optimization systems and risking that valuable budgets suddenly get shifted away from media-buying into creative work.  Because let’s face it, if in stead of producing a banner you suddenly go for a fully interactive 3D environment, there is simply less buying money to go around.

What do you think?
Before jumping to any conclusions on this by myself, what do you think?  Is this an accurate assessment or am I missing the point?  Or am I missing part of the picture (and if so, which part)?

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