‘Marketing is commoditized’: Candid thoughts of ad buyers at the Digiday Media Buying Forum

Managing client expectations around transparency, figuring out ad buying with stricter data privacy laws, and dealing with frustrations caused by antiquated metrics, tighter budgets and a lack of alternatives to the duopoly remain tension points for ad buyers looking to ease pressure on the squeezed agency model.

At Digiday’s Media Buying Forum in London, media agency buyers shared their biggest challenges and frustrations. Here’s some of what was said, under Chatham House Rule.

GDPR confessions
“GDPR was a convenient excuse for missing targets last year, let’s face it. Just look at how many businesses exited Europe citing GDPR as the reason when in reality they probably had failing businesses.”

“If my client had a 10 million customer base before, post GDPR only 50 percent of that figure have consented to marketing, and of that 50 percent, only half have strong match rates on Google and Facebook — so you’re looking at 25 percent of the former audience. We need to look at getting people to consent to marketing more.”

“We all have to think about GDPR for everything now. As marketers, we must ensure our recommendations won’t put anyone in prison.”

“Third-party data sets are shrinking under GDPR. But what keeps me up at night is that clients’ first-party data sets aren’t fully up to scratch.”

“When you are the chief data officer in an agency you end up being the lightning rod for GDPR.”

“Everyone is a GDPR consultant these days; they can charge whatever they want.”

Transparency gripes
“Transparency is all good, but it just takes one person to not show their cost margins for the rest to fall apart.”

“I worry that too much emphasis is being put on transparency. If I’m buying a sausage roll from Greggs I don’t need to know exactly how the sausage is made if the end result is that it’s serving the customer well.”

“Agencies hold data as a hostage in procurement discussions.”

“I used to work at a social agency years ago, and at one point, we were buying media for all the four major beer brands in the U.S. because the holding companies briefed out those contracts to us. That epitomizes the lack of transparency in the industry, and it’s the sort of thing that’s still happening now.”

“If you outsource media buying to a DSP and it produces results, then that’s transparent because you ask for a result and the ad tech vendor delivered it. You won’t, however, get transparency into the operating model because that vendor runs a block box managed service business. Depending on the advertiser knowing how that black box model works may or may not be a priority. There are varying shades of transparency.”

Facebook-Google duopoly addiction
“The duopoly is gaining more market share despite being in the news more than ever for negative reasons. It’s a weird quirk of the industry: We’re leaning on the things that have driven us to good circumstances, but not allowing ourselves to be stretched away from things we know are fundamentally flawed.”

“YouTube took a real hit a few years ago [after the brand-safety scandal] but where did that money go? To Facebook.”

“There aren’t enough deep relationships with [traditional publishers]. The relationships are too transactional.”

Client frustrations
“There is real confusion on the client side as to what they actually want from agencies. It’s deeply frustrating.”

“In the last three weeks, we’ve had four RFPs [requests for proposals,] two which have been inspiring and two dreadful because they’re based on how cheaply they can get everything.”

“If a client just goes after price, they’ll end up with the agency they deserve, not the best agency.”

“Comms planning is a forgotten art, and most of the time clients don’t see the value in it.”

“There is a structural issue where marketers are becoming subservient to their procurement teams. In the worst-case scenario, marketers are actually reporting to procurement teams. The result is, marketing gets commoditized and there is a race to the bottom.”


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