At a time when advertisers are starting to question the effectiveness of getting their messages out via television, the American Association of Advertising Agencies has selected “Broadening the Communications Mix” as the theme of its annual media conference and trade show.
The event runs March 2-4 in New Orleans and will focus on total communications planning.
“Total communications planning is really all about understanding where the consumer touchpoints are and basically creating media plans that reflect that,” said Four A’s Executive VP Mike Donahue.
The conference’s focus “is really a picking up on [Procter & Gamble Global Marketing Officer] Jim Stengel’s challenge to the business last year at our media conference that total communications planning is really all about understanding where the consumer touchpoints are and basically creating media plans that reflect that,” Mr. Donahue said.
Total communications planning has become a hot-button issue as many clients express concern over the effectiveness and cost of their traditional marketing efforts, especially television. With mass audiences eroding and more PVRs, VOD and other new technologies enabling viewers to skip commercials, marketers are looking to see if there are other, more targeted ways to spend their marketing dollars.
Mr. Donahue downplayed the impact of marketer interest in total communications planning would have on the future of television advertising revenues.
“It doesn’t say that the 30-second TV commercial is dead, because it’s not. But it says there are a lot of other opportunities out there. A lot of other places where consumers are getting involved with media.”
Jon Mandel, co-CEO of MediaCom, put it more bluntly. “Television has been diminished over time. Television screwed itself. It’s not as important a part of people’s lives anymore,” Mr. Mandel said.
“We went from three networks programming at you to a few hundred million consumers deciding what they want. We’ve gone from a world of media telling the viewers and the readers what they want to the viewers and readers deciding what they want,” he said, and “the result is a giant freaking mess.”
Constructing a media plan in this new, fragmented environment is much more work. “There’s no set thing that TV is the first thing,” Mr. Mandel said, pointing to clients such as vacuum cleaner maker Dyson, which started its marketing with a public relations campaign. “It used to be you started with TV. It used to be you start with the media. Now you start with the consumer, which is what we should have always done.”
Of course, fragmentation has also opened some opportunities in the television business, particularly for those in cable.
Sean Cunningham, president of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, said he saw total communications planning as enabling a marketer “to speak with one voice and execute with one strategy and realiz[e] there are a number of customer touchpoints. Television is a staple selling instrument of goods and services, and I think it can only benefit from having one umbrella look, an integrated look, at how to go to market.”
Naturally, he thinks cable is particularly well suited to match up with those touchpoints.
With cable, “all the control is irrevocably in the viewer’s hand, and they’ve got the best array of great programming that they’ve ever had and they’re finding they can find a favorite [show] any half-hour. And to me, for marketers, that’s a very healthy dynamic in terms of viewer engagement.”
Mr. Cunningham said that despite fragmentation, marketers are ready to take advantage of being able to target narrower groups of viewers.
“We’re starting to see a better balance between the level of drill-down insights that marketers have about their customer base,” he said. “Marketers have got some very rich insights that they’ve made primary business decisions that say we don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world. And I think the coincidence of that with the demand for a steady diet of favorites on television, you actually wind up with a television mechanism that’s a better match for the depth of the marketers’ insights. We’re just adapting our thinking and processes as an industry to be able to make those matches and marriages with great consistency.”
The role of individual media in the marketing mix is just one of the issues to be discussed at the conference.
“The conference plays a very big role in airing and solving media issues. It is here that we debate how content and contact can be more united. It is here that creatives, content providers, content owners, clients and contact specialists of all shapes and sizes work toward a better partnership that benefits clients,” said Renetta McCann, CEO for the Americas, Starcom MediaVest Group and chair of the Four A’s Media Policy Committee.
“This year we’re going to talk about everything from smarter data to more relevant use of brand integration, and you can bet the debate will be lively,” Ms. McCann said. “No matter what the debate’s about, structure or turf or who”s first, we are going to keep the clients and their consumers at the front of the discussion.”
Indeed, one panel will pit representatives of the various media against each other to debate how they fit within a total communications plan.
The impact of technology will also be a big factor at the conference.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts will be among the speakers, and Mr. Donahue expects him to share “his vision for the intersection between television and technology and where that’s going.” Edmond Thomas, chief of the office of engineering and technology at the Federal Communications Commission, will also speak, and a panel will deal with on-demand video.
“It’s important for the business to be as up to date and digital as possible,” Mr. Donahue said.
The Four A’s also will discuss two of its own technology initiatives: AD ID, which puts the equivalent of a bar code on every advertising message, enabling a marketer to track its communications efforts, and e-Biz for Media, an electronic system for sending orders and invoices between buyers and sellers.
Another panel, called “Are the Data Valid?” will explore the difficulties of measuring media. Mr. Mandel is on that panel.
“They put me on some panel on Friday cause they figure that makes people stick around to see what asshole move I make,” the outspoken executive said. “I never plan to throw any bombs. It just comes out. The only reason I go to panels is to hear what I say. I never plan. People say things, I get pissed off, and I say what I think. It’s not a planned thing.”
Mr. Mandel said measurement is not a Nielsen issue. “It’s a societal issue, because I’m not sure God can research what’s going on,” he said. “I think Nielsen is doing the best job, given the society they’re working with. And anybody that trashes Nielsen should be condemned to work in the print industry for six months if they want to see bad research. And then after they’re done with that, they can work in the radio business, and then when they’re done with that they can work in the out-of-home business.”
In addition to media buyers and sellers, the media conference will for the first time have executives from the creative side of the advertising business.
And it will have more executives from the client side than ever before, with more than 60 expected, up 30 percent from last year, Mr. Donahue said.
“It’s important that the advertisers know that the media, especially the large media specialist agencies, are dealing with this. It’s also important for the agencies to get the advertiser perspective on that,” he said.