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The Top 5 Questions Media Planners Need to Ask

Jul 20, 2009  •  Post A Comment

[Editor’s Note: It’s been a long-slow summer so far waiting out the Upfront, as the interview below with OMD’s Alan Cohen, courtesy Ad Age, attests.

But before you get to that, we offer a most important article first. As planners, you need to keep your eyes on the prize. Meaning that what’s of foremost importance, is, as Roger Baron, Media Research Director of DRAFTFCB Chicago says, "developing a plan that will most effectively deliver and communicate the advertising message."

So here are "The Top 5 Questions Media Planners Need to Ask." Mr. Baron wrote this for us several years ago, but, as he notes, these are indeed time-tested questions.]

These days, planners have at their fingertips an enormous amount of information on virtually every advertising medium. They can find out how many people are exposed, how often, at what time, for how many minutes, with what demographic composition, with what reach and frequency, and so forth, ad infinitum.

Getting facts about a medium is easy. The challenge is to develop a plan that will most effectively deliver and communicate the advertising message. This involves intensely practical decisions that depend on inherently unknowable thoughts in the minds of the target audience. The challenge appears in the form of perennial questions to which there is no simple answer.

Some time ago we asked a group of senior media research professionals for their informal list of the five most commonly asked media questions. I have found that these questions stand the test of time and continue to be highly relevant-they are truly "perennial" questions.

1. How Much Is Enough?

This is the most common and the most difficult question. It takes many forms. What is the least I can spend and still have a successful introduction? If I have this many points against women 25 to 54, am I delivering enough weight against men? How many times does a person need to see an ad to be effectively communicated to? And the related question, what percent of my target do I need to reach that many times?

Typical considerations include reach/frequency objectives, a brand’s share of voice compared with its share of market, the product category’s historic advertising/sales ratio, experience with comparable products and brand profitability requirements. With luck, these various methods will point to similar spending and media weight levels.

2. Most Effective Medium?

We first have to ask, Effective at doing what? Different media have different strengths. Planners try to match the medium to the marketing objectives, but that doesn’t help if they are conflicting or unprioritized. Also, effectiveness is highly dependent on the creative. Many people think TV is the most effective medium for generating brand awareness, but this question comes up when TV is not appropriate or affordable. Finally, there are virtually no independent cross-media effectiveness studies.

3. The Best Environment?

This question assumes there is some prestige rub-off from the medium to the message. Many advertisers think the popularity of high-rated programs will transfer to the advertised products. But this is not proven. We do know they attract light viewers (that’s part of the reason they are high rated in the first place), but the top-rated shows carry such a heavy CPM premium that advertisers are forced to cut back on the number of units they can afford. We also know that the first position in a break has a larger audience than mid-positions, but pod position is typically beyond a buyer’s control.

4. Flighting or Continuity?

In past few years this age-old question has gotten new attention with the concept of "recency." New scanner-based research suggests that the first exposure to a campaign generates the highest proportion of sales. Erwin Ephron uses this finding to support his "shelf-space model of media planning." Each week people are shopping and buying, and so should be exposed to a brand’s message. Therefore, media plans should be evaluated in terms of cumulative weekly reach points. The familiar diminishing returns curve shows that reach builds rapidly at first, but beyond a certain point additional GRPs yield mostly (wasted) frequency. As a result, continuous low-level support (yielding proportionally higher reach each week) is preferable to concentrating weight in flights.

Taken to the extreme, planners would simply divide the available budget by 52 weeks, but this conflicts with the long-standing belief that there is a threshold below which advertising is ineffective. Most brands schedule a minimum of 50 to 70 target GRPs per week, but relatively few can afford to run for a year at this level. Planners must also take into account the effect of competitive weight, the need for consumer and trade promotion synergy, product seasonality and other factors.

5. Is an Ad Too Old?

This is a tough one. It’s hard enough to know what a commercial "does" when it is fresh, no less when it is worn-out. Wear-out is another variation of the first question, How much is enough? Many planners use the apocryphal rule of thumb that a commercial is worn-out when the heaviest 20 percent of viewers have seen it 26 times. Although this provides a benchmark against which to judge a given situation, many questions remain. Should the 26 times rule be applied to each execution? To the entire campaign with similar but different executions? Over how many months? What about long hiatus periods? One researcher observed, "With wear-out there is always a hidden agenda-the agency wants to make a new spot and the client doesn’t, or vice versa. The math is just a smoke screen."

To Sum Up …

Unlike simple facts about a medium, these perennial questions deal with the effect of advertising-how it is perceived in the mind of each person who is exposed. There is a wealth of information that can provide guidance, but in the end, the planner must use judgment to apply these general findings from the past to specific plans for the future. #

And now, as promised, the interview with OMD CEO Alan Cohen on the slowness of the upfront market, among other key issues:

By Michael Bush
Advertising Age

Since taking the job as U.S. CEO of Omnicom Group’s OMD a little over a year ago, Alan Cohen has seen the agency rack up an impressive number of wins — 16 to be exact, including Callaway, Henkel Dial, Levi’s Dockers and CBS Showtime.

Not only have the wins added to the agency’s bottom line but they have helped to shed that knock that OMD is merely a media department for Omnicom’s creative shops.

Mr. Cohen will in no way take all the credit for the agency’s new business activity, but instead credits that success to the internal changes and shifts in mindset that the agency has made over the past 15 months.

 "The place was working well before I got there," he said. "But we have a new corporate structure in the U.S. and we live by these four pillars of strategy, digital, innovation and savings. And in each of these areas we have populated a new team that leads each of these business units."

Mr. Cohen spoke with Ad Age about the conversations the motionless upfront market has sparked between OMD and its clients, the commoditization or lack thereof of media agencies and his thoughts on whether this year’s Super Bowl will still be a must buy for marketers.

Ad Age: OMD is usually a very active upfront player, so how are you viewing this year’s stalemate?

Mr. Cohen: This can’t go on forever because people have to be on the air. With the economy being what it is, it’s not surprising that clients and agencies are hesitant to move because we really don’t see the recognition of the current economic state at the networks, and the demand is off.

Ad Age: Has it caused you to alter your strategy?

Mr. Cohen: I wouldn’t say we are switching strategy away from broadcast. The main thing we are doing is
being proactive and talking to clients about alternatives to drive efficiencies. This situation has made us look at some alternatives that will give clients the ability to reach broad audiences in a different way. We are doing that much like we did with our Economic Recovery Act at the end of 2008, where we went to our clients and talked about ways to re-invent current media plans to have more impact.

Ad Age: Do you see any signs anywhere that the marketplace is improving?

Mr. Cohen: I don’t know if things are getting better but they don’t seem to be getting worse at the moment. We know demand is way down in general for advertising and there are certainly plenty of alternatives for TV. We are working with all marketers and advertisers to figure out what we can do. But the demand is off, so there hasn’t been any pressure for anybody to move.

Ad Age: Any thoughts on when we’ll see that first deal?

Mr. Cohen: This is an interesting marketplace in that it’s not advantageous to move because there is no benefit to being first. We talk to our clients everyday and there’s simply a disconnect between what our clients and we think the marketplace is compared to what all of our [media] suppliers think it is. This is nothing endemic to OMD, it’s just the industry waiting for something to happen. When our clients want to move, we will move.

Obviously, clients are still launching products and doing things and we are very active in all those spaces. But it’s just one of those things where nobody wants to be the first to move in a market that doesn’t seem to be recognizing the economic situation we are in.

Ad Age: Do you feel media agencies are becoming commoditized?

Mr. Cohen: I don’t think that’s the case here. But because everyone is so big and companies spend a lot of money, there’s a portion of business that really relies on the analytics and tools to be able to deliver efficiencies, savings and ROI. Is there more of that? In a tough economy, there’s probably more of a push for that and that leads us to looking at different things that may happen down the road.

But at the same time, we see as much or more of a yearning from clients that want the thinking, strategy and intelligence. And if at the end of the day we are managing these gigantic budgets for clients, you have to have smart people that you trust to be your marketing money managers. So we want to have the smartest analytics and killer creativity and the combination of the two is what helps us use media to power our clients’ marketing.

Every client works with lots of different agencies, probably too many, in a lot of different spaces. We’re saying somebody has to step up and become your lead agency and chief strategic agency, and we’re working toward that goal of being not only the chief strategic agency but also the central intelligence agency. We are coming to clients with new opportunities, whether in emerging media or pop culture or in media savings. This whole space has become more dynamic. And it’s an exciting opportunity to be able to start maximizing the value and importance of what we deliver in that whole advertising relationship.

Ad Age: Do you see any media sellers doing anything really original?

Mr. Cohen: We approach it a little differently than just having sellers call on us to talk about what they offer. We’re doing a lot of the proactive nurturing of talking to our vendor partners. There’s not a cookie-cutter thing that these sellers could come to us anymore and say: "Look what we are doing."

A lot of it is so custom-tailored to the work we are doing that the pressure point is really on our strategy and planning teams, because what we do is sit down with our clients and say, "How can we successfully launch or re-launch brands and drive traffic to stores?" And often, we are really going to the suppliers and saying here’s what we would like to do. And there’s a genuine openness, and not because they are hungry for money. Because while the commodity part of the business exists, the way we make a difference in our clients’ marketing is using media as a technique to break through the clutter and do new things.

Ad Age: OMD has always been a big buyer of Super Bowl spots. Are you looking at the event differently this year? And do marketers still feel they need to be there?

Mr. Cohen: It’s not just my TV background talking here, but I still believe there’s a lot of power in TV and big events on TV. So you’re still going to see the Super Bowl be an event in which marketers realize they can talk to a lot of people at one time.

As much as the business is about the super-sliverized segmented consumers, you really have to go and create something that is going to capture their attention. You can’t just advertise. You have to create word of mouth, get people talking about it and let the consumers be your marketers. And in that regard, we see a lot of work being done on the mass side as well as the micro-segmenting side and everywhere in between. But it’s the formation of the overall media and marketing plans that allow clients to break through the clutter and get new products sold, and certainly I would never think that TV is not important anymore.

Ad Age: What are some of the changes you have made in process, structure and people?

Mr. Cohen: We have this constant pursuit of savings and it’s powered by our brand of this business intelligence, which uses analytics and dashboards but really makes us more like consultants for our clients. So I can’t say we have remade the entire company in a year, but we rebuilt about 10 of our accounts, re-staffed them for this new model of the new OMD that’s more focused on how we can help you launch and re-launch products and brands.

We have had a lot of new business wins but a lot of the work we have done has been with our existing clients and showing them how media is the place where you need to have smart marketing money managers. The conversation on media is happening at the highest levels of all these companies now because it’s that important.#

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