March 30, 2021

By Brian Jacobs / The COG

Forgive me but today I'm going to start by reverting to examples from my past life in agencies. Remember paying a premium to be on a right-hand page within a magazine? Or to be first in the first break in the heavily promoted new TV drama? Or to be the last ad shown before the movie starts in the cinema?

Why did we do that? (Please resist the temptation to write to me to say, "I never paid a premium for anything, ever.") Well, obviously it was because we believed in the importance of stand-out. Or, to put it another way, because we knew we had more chance attracting the consumer's attention by being in those positions.

We didn't need data; indeed (to take the magazine example), what data there was via the old reading and noting scores showed precious little difference between right-hand and left-hand pages. Yet we all paid more for RH, because we "just knew." Sometimes we rambled on about logos disappearing into the gutter, but mainly we "just knew."

The truth was it was a matter of supply and demand. Everyone wanted RH (everyone "just knew"), so the publisher charged more. Same with first in break -- although in this case as has been pointed out to me by several eminent TV researchers there was some data squirreled away that supported the theory that audiences declined throughout the middle stages of a commercial break.

This week Magnetic, the trade organization for the U.K. magazine industry, held its annual Spark conference. The session I attended featured Mike Follett from Lumen; Anna Sampson, Magnetic's Head of Research and Insight, and Mike Florence, CSO at PHD, chaired by Dominic Mills.

You can view the session (and indeed the rest of the Spark event) here.

Lumen has done good work on how to optimize ads (and I can imagine, editorial layout) in magazines, the major findings from which indicate that aside from anything else, arresting content is key to attracting an audience to ads surrounding it, and that as a medium, magazines are consumed online at a slower pace than social media platforms -- presumably because it takes longer to read arresting content than it does to scroll through random content. (The reality of "precision targeting" is still nowhere near the promise.)

Mike Florence made the point that agency contracts slow the progress towards attention becoming a key planning metric. He was referencing contracts with clients, not spend commitments made by his group traders to particular vendors.

What was strange was Mike discussing contracts as if they were things that happened to him, as opposed to happening with his input and involvement. He did go on to say that many client contracts happen at group level, which although it makes things harder must surely be a process over which as CSO he has some influence.

He also sought to lay some blame for this state of affairs on the auditors. His argument went: we are contractually bound into delivering a price as judged by the client-appointed auditor.

I hold no candle whatsoever for the old-fashioned, price-driven media auditors, but blaming them for a clause within a globally negotiated contract agreed by the agency seems harsh.

I suspect, but of course cannot prove that a larger issue with building attention metrics into planning comes with squaring off group trading deals.

I'm with Mike (Florence) in seeing some progress as price became less of a differentiator, although to be fair this point has been made many times over the years and so far hasn't been proved correct.

But the ambition must be that factors like attention become more significant in media execution.

Hopefully, the good work done by trade bodies like Magnetic (and there's a lot of it about) feeds through into the trading policies of individual magazines. After all, negotiations involve two parties. Someone has to make the first move.

Attention is a key metric. It always was. It's just that now we have far more proof, served up in a way that has the potential to influence how agencies plan, and indeed buy.

Appeared first in MediaVillage


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