Rx for efficient planning and buying: a little science

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Bill Bernbach, one of the legendary names in advertising, once said, “I warn you against believing that advertising is a science.”
Mark Green demurs, at least when one is discussing the waste in media planning and buying.
Two areas in media planning and buying where there’s significant waste are targeting and timing, according to Mr. Green, a consultant who stewards the www.mediaviewpoints.com Web site. And if agencies would just apply a little science against these waste issues they could reduce them greatly, he said.
Mr. Green, who has worked at IPG, MediaCom, Zenith Media and Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, explained the problem this way: Marketers and their agencies expend huge amounts of energy creating spots that they feel will resonate with their target audience. On the media side, planners and buyers then expend an equal amount of energy finding the right target for the message and the right timing for the message. Then, he said, “Everyone crosses their fingers and hopes for the best.”
The problem begins back at the time when marketers and agency planners are discerning who exactly is the target audience. Marketers usually use data from A.C. Nielsen or IRI to determine who potential customers are. This data measures actual product purchases.
Agency planners, on the other hand, generally don’t subscribe to these databases; they use Simmons and MRI data to identify prospective customers. Most of the Simmons and MRI data is based on consumer recall polled semiannually.
So right away there’s a gap between the target as identified by the advertiser and the target as identified by the agency.
Furthermore, agency planners usually use age and sex along with other attributes such as income to describe the target audience. Then when the buyers get that data it’s generally just age and sex that’s kept.
What happens next, Mr. Green said, is that buyers usually pick just one or two dayparts to buy, further broadening the target.
“Bottom line, there is a significant gap between the potential product purchasers as identified by the advertiser and their marketing department and what the buyer ends up targeting,” Mr. Green said.
Think of the TV audience watching the commercial for a particular product as a big circle. Inside that circle there are smaller circles representing folks in the audience who have no interest in purchasing the product. “Those are called false positives,” Mr. Green said. “And that’s waste.”
Inventory turnover
There is also significant waste that occurs by the time many spots air that are bought in the upfront.
“The bulk of inventory is purchased during the upfront for the entire TV season,” Mr. Green said. “Yet between the time of purchase and the actual airdate, a significant amount of inventory gets turned over.” What happens is that programs get rescheduled or don’t air, or [there are] myriad other problems, the result of which is that the advertiser gets make-goods. This “churn,” as Mr. Green calls it, is between 20 percent and 40 percent of all the inventory bought during the upfront.
“So the question becomes how impactful is that, relative to delivering on the plans,” Mr. Green said. “Many plans are dependent on a reach period that is either a week in length or perhaps two or four weeks.”
Thus, as in the situation with targeting, this timing problem creates waste. “The waste from this timing issue can be up to 15 percent of the spots you run,” Mr. Green said.
So what can be done about these waste areas?
“The solution isn’t really that difficult,” Mr. Green said. “What needs to happen is for agencies to track their inventory better. On the targeting side, there are scientific methods of data integration to eliminate false positives. On the timing side, much of the problem could be alleviated if you monitor your inventory on a weekly basis, which generally isn’t done.”
Track your waste, Mr. Green said. “There’s no reason advertising has to be an art form. Inject some science into it.” Otherwise, he said, “You’re unnecessarily walking away from some of your planning strategy.”