Digital Milestone Coming Into Focus

Sep 13, 2004  •  Post A Comment

One of the oldest and most quoted questions about advertising goes something like this: “I know that half my advertising works, but which half?” But if the projections of a major media shop are to believed, marketers may soon be asking the question: “I know that half my advertising is digital, but which half?”

In a first-half report issued to shareholders last week, United Kingdom-based Aegis Group, the parent of media buying giant Carat, made a bold and surprising prediction that “50 percent of all media will be digital by 2007.”

The number is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it is the first time any major Madison Avenue player has put an exact date on such a digital milestone. Second, the 50 percent threshold is often seen in Madison Avenue circles as representing critical mass for a medium, a level at which that medium must be taken seriously.

Clearly, ad agencies already take digital media pretty seriously. And the 50 percent statistic isn’t quite analogous to the penetration of an individual medium such as cable TV, the Internet or even digital video recorders. But it’s precisely the fact that Aegis Group was speaking about the digital status of media overall that seemed to have caused a buzz.

“It’s very symbolic,” acknowledged Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director at Horizon Media, an independent media shop that is not affiliated with Aegis.

Aside from the symbolism of the statement, Mr. Adgate suggested, it might also serve as a rallying cry for advertisers and media planners.

“I think you will see this lead to a shift in the advertising model,” he predicted. “As opposed to seeing a lot of advertising out there that is broad-based in nature and competing for the consumer’s attention, you will see much more targeted approaches to media planning that are based on delivering the most relevant messages to consumers.”

In fact, Aegis Group insiders are taking that concept one step further, suggesting the shift to digital media may make traditional approaches to media planning completely irrelevant.

“It used to be all about reach and frequency,” noted Sarah Fay, president of Aegis’ Carat Interactive unit, the agency that is most visibly at the forefront of blazing Aegis’ digital media trail. “The basic idea of a media plan was that reach plus frequency generated advertising results. The thinking was, `If I build so much reach and frequency against my target audience it will drive my sales by X.’ Now that just seems archaic.”

While some form of reach and frequency planning is still the mantra in many media planning departments, Ms. Fay said it is gradually being modified in a way that capitalizes on the interactive and data-trail aspects of digital media.

“Reach and frequency still has its place, but it’s no longer the endgame,” she said. “The endgame needs to be about achieving impact to a target, the involvement of a target and ultimately, the activation of a target.”

By activation, Ms. Fay means a direct response. Not necessarily one that culminates in the sale of a product, but something that causes a consumer to act on an advertising message.

“It may not be a sale, but it’s about getting the customer to do something,” she said. “Give us their e-mail address or some information that may help us market to them later.”

While such concepts are becoming common parlance among the big media shops, Ms. Fay said they are also fueling a simultaneous trend toward communication planning and an approach to planning media across marketing platforms-such as advertising, promotion, direct response and public relations-that by their definition require ways of looking at media beyond reach and frequency.

“This is the real baby,” she noted. “Communications planning is kind of like the McKinsey of marketing management. It’s about developing marketing strategies that apply to your whole business plan. Everything has become so complicated and fragmented that marketers are looking for a blueprint for their communications architecture to understand how it affects their business.”

P&G Reviews Plans

That push recently culminated in one of the highest-profile media account reviews of the year: Procter & Gamble’s communications planning account, which was won by Carat and Starcom MediaVest Group. So far, all parties have been mum on the implications of the account and how it ultimately will change the way P&G and the marketers that emulate it will change their media plans. But Ms. Fay at least implied that digital media, especially the kind that throw off data trails about consumers, will be a big factor in it.

Horizon’s Mr. Adgate, for one, agrees with that notion.

“Privacy is always an issue, but from an advertising planning perspective, we’re going to be inundated with a lot of info about the behavioral patterns of consumers that will help us understand the best ways to push messages to them based on what you know they want from advertising,” he said. On the downside, he noted, the trend toward digital media also means that consumers will have greater control over media content, including whether they are exposed to advertising messages. “The tradeoff,” he said, “will be more effective targeting, which will make advertising more effective.”

The interesting thing about the digitalization of the media marketplace, Ms. Fay said, is that the enhanced targeting aspects of digital media don’t just apply to new, electronic media like the Internet or interactive television but even to digital forms of analog media, such as newspapers and magazines. That’s obvious from the Web versions of print media, but increasingly, printed media are using new forms of digital publishing that distribute digital editions of a magazine or a newspaper over the Internet or via e-mail. Once they are in digital form, these publications can include some of the same interactive elements-hyperlinks to the Web and even keyword searching capabilities-that will generate enhanced consumer targeting data.

Meanwhile, Ms. Fay said the Aegis projections are actually based on a broader definition of media than is traditionally looked at by ad agencies, including wireless media such as cellphones, personal digital assistants and other devices that increasingly will be used to convey traditional media content.

Moreover, she said, once media hits its 50 percent digital threshold, the curve would become even steeper. Aegis projects that digital media will represent 66 percent of all media by 2010 and 80 percent of all media by 2020.