Media planning: An intervention

'I have to let you know that you aren’t making very good media choices right now'

Dear Marketers,

It’s because I care about you, that I have to let you know that you aren’t making very good media choices right now. I understand, its challenging with so many platforms and changing algorithms that you naturally want to experiment and experience the thrill of a new media format. I get it, I do. But you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, blowing the budget, chasing the next ‘media’ high. Now I see you’re about to repeat these mistakes again with Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is my effort to intervene, get you back on the right path.

Due to my lack of experience in staging interventions, I asked ChatGPT to suggest some steps. So here it goes!

Step 1: Educate myself

You might ask, who am I to question your media choices? I don’t claim to be a media expert, but nonetheless have watched you struggle with your media planning choices over the past decades. For example I recall Super Bowls where you blew millions of dollars on a ‘user-generated’ ad, only to discover users can’t generate ads (if they could, they would work in advertising!) I was also there, holding your hand, when you discovered the real cost of ‘free’ viral views, and I listened as you justified the expensive foray into facial expression coding because it could tell you, without much doubt, that someone…smiled. It makes me sad to see you repeatedly heartbroken after the new medium, new technology or new toy you fall in love with fails to live up to your expectations.

Step 2: Gather a supportive team

Luckily, I have some media and advertising researchers to provide me with valuable empirical knowledge about media planning. Virginia, Rachel, Steve, Nicole, Nico and Aaron, are just some of the people in my ‘go to’ team for media knowledge. Examples of their work are at the end of this column. Who is your media knowledge support team? Is it knowledge from an independent source with no skin in the game, or MADAR (Media Advertising Disguised as Research)?

Step 3: Choose a right time and place for the discussion

This month’s theme is about whether ‘old’ media is back, so I feel that this is a timely discussion. It’s only when you realise how your decisions have distracted you from the bigger picture that you can understand why ‘old’ media went out of favour. ‘Old’ media has been the sacrificial lamb, paying the price for your addiction. You blamed the audience, the measurement, the inability to interact with viewers, but the issue doesn’t sit with the audience, but with you…. you forgot what’s important, metrics such as reach, branding and building useful brand memories, and instead got sucked into an engagement vortex…

Step 4: Plan what you will say and provide examples of the behaviour and its impact

I did rewrite this a few times to make sure the tone conveyed both concern and empathy, but if it helps please do read this with the voice of Esther Perel. 

One of the repeated examples of your destructive behaviour observed has been the efforts made to outsource the creation and distribution of marketing content to other parties. 

  • First it was outsourcing to consumers via WOM, where consumers will both work out what to say (create the content), and share it with everyone they know (distribution), only to find out most people don’t know or listen to many people, so WOM did not go far and was often forgotten.
  • Second it was going ‘viral’ via social media, where initially you repeated the mistake of giving consumers control of content and distribution, and when that didn’t work (again), you gave consumers the content to share, only to be disappointed when they didn’t and instead shared photos of their dog.
  • Third it was outsourcing distribution of advertising to programmatic algorithms that claimed to be very efficient, but instead often had trouble finding the hay in the haystack, let alone the needle.

All of this led to the neglect of bigger reach ‘old’ media like broadcast television, print and radio, and/or failing to take advantage of ‘newer’ big reach media, by treating these newcomers as if they were still small. You were so caught up in the ‘micro-targeting’ trees that you forgot that there was a big forest of category buyers out there. Let’s not make the same mistake a fourth time with AI. 

Step 5: Set boundaries and consequences

I need to create some boundaries to enforce consequences if you don’t change your ways. Here is how your poor media choices affect me. None of my expertise in building Distinctive Assets, Category Entry Points and Brand Health Tracking will be useful if you don’t get an effective media plan in place. So if you don’t make smarter media decisions, I might have to find myself another line of work…..perhaps in writing self-help books?

Step 6: Offer support and resources

You are not in this alone, at the end of this column are resources to help you. Here are some simple yet useful things to remember when planning media:

  • Reach is really important, it sets the scale for what you can achieve. Small reach media (even if highly effective per contact) can’t sell much.
  • Expanding your customer base is crucial for growth. This means media that reaches non/light brand buyers is extremely valuable. 
  • Avoid options where consumers have to expend effort to get exposure to your marketing activities. The more effort needed, the more the likely audience will ‘shrink and/or skew’, neither of which is helpful when growing brands. 
  • If you do use media that reaches a skewed audience, make sure any market mix or attribution modelling is factored into its assessment. Otherwise you risk overvaluing media skewed to heavy category buyers and continue to make substandard media decisions.

Whilst we’re at it, lets get rid of the labels ‘old/traditional’ and ‘new media’, and instead focus on the useful classifications, of ‘big reach’ versus ‘small reach’, or ‘normal’ versus ‘skewed’ classifications of the category audience. Connect with independent advertising and media researchers (as a start look at the names below) and let their knowledge help you assess the quality of your media decisions. Then, we can all move forward, you can stop blowing your budget chasing the next media ‘high’, and I can keep my job.

Example resources:

Graham, Charles and Rachel Kennedy (2022), “Quantifying the target market for advertisers,” Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 21 (1), 33-48.

Michelon, Aaron, Steven Bellman, Margaret Faulkner, Justin Cohen, and Johan Bruwer (2020), “A New Benchmark for Mechanical Avoidance of Radio Advertising: Why Radio Advertising Is a Sound Investment,” Journal of Advertising Research, 60, 407-16.

Neumann, Nico, Catherine E. Tucker, and Timothy Whitfield (2018), “How effective is black-box digital consumer profiling and audience delivery?: Evidence from field studies,” Social Science Research Network Working Paper Series.

Romaniuk, Jenni, Virginia Beal, and Mark Uncles (2013), “Achieving reach in a multi-media environment: How a marketer’s first step provides the direction for the second,” Journal of Advertising Research, 53 (2), 221-30.

Romaniuk, Jenni (2021), “Achieving Reach,” in How Brands Grow: Part 2, Jennifer Butler, ed. 2nd ed. Victoria, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Varan, Duane, Magda Nenycz-Thiel, Rachel Kennedy, and Steven Bellman (2020), “The Effects of Commercial Length On Advertising Impact: What Short Advertisements Can and Cannot Deliver,” Journal of Advertising Research, 60 (1), 54-70.

Media Planning Review

Featured image: Nadine Shaabana / Unsplash

Jenni Romaniuk, Research Professor of Marketing and Associate Director (International) at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

Professor Jenni Romaniuk is a Research Professor of Marketing and Associate Director (International) at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. Jenni is the key architect behind the Ehrenberg-Bass approaches to Distinctive Asset, Category Entry Point and Mental Availability measurement. She has written three books: Building Distinctive Brand Assets, which helps marketers to future-proof their brand’s identityHow Brands Grow Part 2 which builds on the knowledge revolution started in How Brands Grow and Better Brand Health provides a valuable resource for those looking to get the most out of their brand health tracking. A past editor of the Journal of Advertising Research, Jenni now sits on the Journal’s Senior Advisory Board.

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