Unpleasant times: The gloves come off at London ad conference

It was a day of heated debate at the ISBA’s annual conference in central London this Wednesday.

Old themes at the British advertising trade body’s gathering — like fraud, brand safety and transparency — were given new urgency in Procter & Gamble chief marketer Mark Pritchard’s wave-making IAB speech in January on the “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” media landscape.

There was plenty of beef to chew on, but here’s what we digested from the day’s event.

The new enemy: three-year contracts
Despite the industry’s admission that everyone has contributed to — and been affected by — the current transparency crisis, media agencies have been hit hardest.

But at the conference, former and current media execs complained that these companies are on uneven ground with their creative counterparts. “I can’t see how you can build value in your media activity when you’re starting again every three years,” said Lisa Walker, who recently joined Vodafone after a two-year stint as a managing partner at MEC.

For Walker, having a consistent team of people that builds up knowledge over time is crucial to success. But while creative agency relationships can span decades, media agencies are rarely able to pass the three-year mark.

Matt Adams, the CEO of Havas Media Group, who called three-year contracts “null and void in today’s world” as they can’t accommodate change, also pointed to a pay difference between media and creative staff.

“We benchmarked a 200 percent difference for same person at same level,” he said. “There will always be an ECD premium, but the chief strategy officer at an agency can add the same amount of value.”

Programmatic’s reputation needs saving
Programmatic advertising has received mainstream exposure this year after February’s high-profile “terror funding” exposé by The Times sent brands reeling. But several panelists today expressed worry that this new-found audience in the top tiers of business could write off the entire industry as a network of bad actors.

Andrew Mortimer, the director of media at Sky, said the long-term impact of this mistrust could lead to bigger problems up the food chain. “The confidence in advertising among CFOs and CEOs will start to wane,” he said. “The worst case for all of us is that ad spend will fall because of this.”

The prospect of government intervention was also a worry for Hamish Nicklin, The Guardian’s chief revenue officer. According to him, the current ad ecosystem is easy to game with fake ads. “The more we see these headlines, the more we will be regulated by the government,” he said. With ad tech “sitting pretty,” the responsibility falls to everyone else to self-regulate.

Waste is underrated
After calling out the current debate around targeting as “too binary,” Richard Huntington, the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, said wastage in advertising can be a “brilliant thing.” “However, the people who build ad tech think direct response is the only thing you’d ever want to do as advertiser or brand owner,” he added.

Nicklin agreed. He pointed to an industry that — taking cues from Google — now looks at everything through the lens of direct response, often to its detriment. “In many instances, wastage is a good thing. As the old adage says, it takes 25 years to buy a BMW. But no one has 25 years to wait for ROI,” he said. “You’re destroying brand health by allowing too much targeting to happen.”

Advertisers need better schooling
Direct Line Group became the poster child for the new wave of “woke” client-agency relationships after revealing their new contract during a co-presentation with MediaCom. “It’s better value to pay your media agency to drive performance forward than it is to pay for your media,” said Sam Taylor, DLG’s brand and commercial marketing director.

The general consensus, however, was that advertisers need do their homework and educate themselves better on the digital ecosystem’s benefits and pitfalls. This applies to issues like transparency, measurement and viewability.

“We need to get people more literate,” said Keith Moor, CMO of Santander. “Not just individuals, but teams. Because this is the future, it’s not going to change. Every new opportunity brings with it issues of measurement.”

Christian Armond, TUI’s general manager of digital marketing, agreed. Previously, he had relied on partners, “but as we’ve become more educated, we can ask more questions shine a light on certain areas,” he said. “Sometimes it shows up good things, sometimes bad things.”


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