Monday, 30 March 2009

Could you help a small business?

I mean help a really small business. Turnover of well under half a million per year.

Why not? After all, to be reading this, you're most likely an experienced media professional.

I ask because of a recent conversation with the head of an outdoor adventure sports school (those who know me hear far too much about the sport to bang on about it here too...) Prospective students occasionally offer benefits in kind in return for lessons - maybe they can service the school van, or revamp the business website.

A media planner had offered to do some work in return for lessons and he'd turned them down. No surprises there, I'd have turned them down too. But what could we agency staff offer small businesses? I'm a media analyst in a big agency, and wouldn't expect that I could really do anything to help the school either.

Some people with other professional careers could certainly help - it's not just tradesmen. Web designers, accountants, graphic designers all have something valuable to offer.

Maybe we only do big business. Big ideas. Big advertising budgets.

Which is a problem this year. A client last week was contemplating how to spend a budget 80% lower than they usually have available. 80%. We still started to approach the problem from a standpoint of 'how much of your usual media strategy can you now afford?'

A change this big should put client and agency into a whole new mindset - much more like a small business. What's the best way to spend this money? And crucially, could it make a difference and should I spend it at all?

Virtually everyone in the big agency world has had the experience of missing out on a client (or losing one) because they're felt to be just too big. Turnover below £500k is an extreme example, but until we can honestly say we could barter with a smaller company for their product, we'll always lose, because they're right. We haven't really got what they need.

Friday, 27 March 2009

What's your holiday worth?

BBH has offered its employees a deal of nine additional days holiday in return for a 3.5% pay cut in order to avoid redundancies.

Work 3.5% less time in return for 3.5% less money.

Agency Spy says take the deal and I have to agree. And I wonder why, seeing as the immediate reaction to this idea is that it's a very attractive offer, we don't make it an option in the good times too. For me, 23 days plus the option to extend unpaid up to 30 would be a very attractive perk, and potentially a reason to choose working at one agency over another.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Book Review: Flat Earth News (Nick Davies)

Having done a lot of work over the past six months or so analysing sales in the newspaper market, I picked up Flat Earth News on the strength of a few Amazon reviews.

It's a fascinating read. Nick Davies is an award winning Guardian journalist who writes clearly and readably on the theme that 'finally, I was forced to admit that I work in a corrupted profession.'

'Flat Earth News' is Davies' term for stories that are widespread and receive such substantial news coverage that their central theme becomes established fact, despite being fundamentally untrue. Think Iraqi WMDs or the Millennium Bug being set to wreak havoc.

Davies explains the background to these - and other - examples, tracing where the stories came from and why they can spread like wildfire through the UK and global media without ever being seriously questioned.

Despite the sensationalist description that you can see on the book cover, conspiracy theories about global news agendas, run by powerful individuals, are quickly rejected in favour of a much more interesting argument about what happens when you try to create large volumes of content at high speed and low cost.

Like many books in the 'Popular Factual' category, this one falls slightly flat towards the middle (think Malcolm Gladwell) as the quantity of information required to flesh out Davies' central theme is probably a little less than that required for an acceptably large book. Although understandably using unnamed sources at times, having instilled a healthy distrust of the written word, Davies' arguments do suffer somewhat at this point.

The book finishes with a bang, using real examples from named newspapers and illustrating some truly shocking examples of journalistic practice. Davies' isn't relentlessly negative - pointing to some stunning examples of investigative journalism - but overall paints a clear picture of a product declining in quality and perhaps hints at some of the reasons for falling newspaper circulations.

Even (or especially) if you feel that you are already aware of recycled PR pieces and factually incorrect information in the UK media, try the book. Its original research certainly surprised me with the scale of these issues.

All in all, a fabulous read that will change the way in which you perceive reported news; printed, televised and web-based.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The definition of a media channel

We've had a lot of fun with media planning for insurers over the past few weeks and it's brought up - or I should say resurrected - an interesting question... What's a media channel?

The reason it applies to insurers particularly at the moment is that insurance aggregator sites like Money Supermarket and are growing at a frightening rate. Frightening if you're a big name insurer who relies on brand recall and affinity to sell policies rather than being the cheapest in the market. Suddenly you're in a list with everybody else that makes this tactic extremely obvious.

Insurers pay aggregators a fee for every policy they sell. That fee comes from the advertising budget and I don't think that makes sense.

Are you advertising when you place your product on an aggregator? I'd argue that what you've done is more the equivalent of an FMCG brand getting stocked in a new supermarket. One where the profit margin is lower (because of the aggregator fee.)

Would you let marketing decide, on their own, whether your product should be stocked in ASDA or not, based on the profit margin? Of course you wouldn't.

There's a very blurred line between retail and advertising. Getting stocked in ASDA could well increase brand awareness because ASDA shoppers will see your product on the shelves, but that doesn't bring it under the remit of the marketing department.

How and when to use aggregators ahould be an all-stakeholder decision, with a budget that comes from outside marketing. Which definitely doesn't mean that marketing might not get their budget reduced as a result...

Marketing's job should be to get the maximum number of policies out of a presence on the aggregator - to create trust in the brand so that when it tops the list as cheapest, conumers will click on it and buy a policy.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The importance of a theme tune

The F1 Grand Prix starts again this Sunday and it's moved back to the BBC.

Like a lot of people it seems, I used to watch the F1 pretty regularly, up to sometime when Schumacher was dominating and then began to lose interest.

This isn't about F1 as a spectacle though, it's about the BBC's theme music - a bass line that for a generation of fans is the Grand Prix. In their trailers, the beeb leave it till late to give a little hint of the tune.

From the minute the change back from ITV was announced, there were three themes of conversation among fans. Thank God James Allen's gone, no adverts and will they bring back The Chain? Apart from a well publicised mishap in San Marino (and James Allen) I thought ITV's Grand Prix coverage was actually pretty good. There's plenty of space in an hour's racing to slot in an ad break or two. The Jamiroquai theme music was totally forgettable though.

The link to the BBC theme is so strong, I'd have been tempted to lead with music as a creative idea for the trailer, rather than 'The World's Greatest Car Chase', but then I'm 31 and supose it has to appeal to viewers who didn't grow up watching Nigel Mansell and listening to Murray Walker.

Still, when people are imagining their own opening credits on youtube, you've got to be onto something. For me, this isn't the BBC's brand that fans are excited about. It's the brand that the BBC created for F1 over many years and all the associations with past champions that come with it.

If you are one of that older generation, you'll probably enjoy this.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

There's a datamonkey behind one of those windows

Google Street View launched in the UK today.

What's the advertising angle? I give it a month before somebody claims that posters are now more effective, because people can view them online. Please don't ask if anybody can measure the difference. Or at least don't ask me.

If you really want to, you can look up advertising agencies. Here's mine, because I don't see it enough in real life...

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Wednesday, 18 March 2009

How to brief a marketing analyst

So you want an analyst to spend some time looking at your marketing? This is all about how you get a piece of work that will do something more than confuse you for a couple of hours (which means it must be very, very clever) and then spend the rest of its life in a filing cabinet.

If you don't brief your analysts this way, then they really should ask questions until you do. They might not though - it depends how good they are. Writing a good brief maximises the chance that your 50-100 grand will be money well spent.

Here are the rules.

1. Why do you want the work done?

If the answer is 'you've heard econometrics is amazing for media ROI' then don't even think about briefing anybody yet. You'll most likely end up with a model that perfectly explains why sales have moved about for the past three years but tells you nothing about what to do next year.

Here are a few possible starters for ten:
  • Finance are trying to take your budget away, so you're hoping to prove that marketing spend makes money.
  • You don't know whether it would be better to run a TV campaign, or switch the money to Press and Radio. You need the answer.
  • You want to know which of your products are most advertising responsive so that you can reallocate your spend.
  • You're launching a new brand next year and want to know how best to do it. Which channels and budgets?
  • Finance have asked you to make a case for how big next year's budget should be and you want to make that case in terms of how much product it will sell, or awareness it will build.
  • You don't know whether to run one big burst of advertising next year, or two smaller ones.
Ask the questions in detail. The best way to answer them may not even be the econometrics project that you thought you wanted.

2. What data have you got that you know of?

This goes beyond sales and promotional plans. What segmentations have you run? Research tracking? Web metrics? Tell the analysts about all of it and let them decide what's useful. You may be surprised.

3. When is the decision deadline that this work informs?

Start from there and work backwards to get your timeline. Assume the useful interpretation of any models will not arrive until two weeks after the debrief date, when you've had the chance to digest it and ask questions.

4. How will the work inform future decisions?

Do your consultants have planning software? Optimisers? Make them demonstrate them to you. I can't stress this enough - you need to see them working. Otherwise, how do you know that you're not looking at a screenshot somebody knocked up in Excel for a piece of software that doesn't actually exist yet? Or a fancy looking piece of utter garbage?

5. Who are your project team?

You need to meet them, not just the guy who's selling the project.

6. Interim meetings.

For a twelve week project, you want:
  • A kick off meeting with the analysts
  • A data review and progress meeting around 5-6 weeks in
  • A marketing team debrief about 10 weeks in, to give you the chance to tailor the full debrief towards any new questions that have come up in the past couple of months. The models might not be quite finished for this one.
  • A full debrief at the end with everybody who's interested, so that you can show off this wonderful piece of work
7. What are your marketing goals?

What, specifically, is your marketing spend supposed to change? You're not sure? Shame on you. And your ad agency.

You're commissioning somebody to measure the effectiveness of your advertising. If you've been running brand building campaigns, then looking for an effect on awareness tracking could well be a better idea than looking for an effect on short-term sales. Model sales and you run the risk of 'proving' that your campaigns are unprofitable, because you're looking for effects in the wrong place.

8. What data has the agency got?

If the analysts are independent, then how are they going to work with your agencies to source data? Or are you going to have to do it?

Which leads to...

9. Who is responsible for data?

You need a project champion who will co-ordinate all the requests for (probably a lot of) data that you're going to get. Who's going to keep track of all this and chase it up at your end? It's much, much better to do it this way than have an external company mailing all sorts of people they've never talked to at your company and hoping to get a timely reply.

10. (This one is less about the brief, but is still incredibly important.)
Get everyone who will use the results involved at the start.

Any and every piece of modelling work can be picked apart. Always. Academics spend years doing it to each other in journal articles and they spend years building the models in the first place. We build models in a couple of months. That doesn't mean they're wrong, but it does mean somebody can definitely argue with the way the work was done and refuse to believe its results.

If you plan to use the results outside the marketing department then get those people in for the kick off meeting. It's much harder to argue with a piece of work that you agreed at the outset was a good idea...

That's it, a handy list to cut out and keep. Anything I've missed?

Monday, 16 March 2009

No, huge will be 2009

The Guardian is reporting a 'huge decline' in adspend of 10% for the final quarter of 2008.

When numbers for the first half of 2009 (and possibly all of 2009) are available, it will paint a far, far worse picture than that. Media for Q4 will have been booked mostly in Q3, before budgets really went through the floor. My impression now is that everybody started cutting back heavily from around Q4 and really heavily coming into 2009. Many are reducing budgets still further at the moment.

When CBS are running their own poster ads to fill sites, you know things are bad.

Any guesses as to how far down 2009 will be on 2007? I'll start the bidding at 20-25%.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Busman's holiday

About this time of year, I'm surprised that any work gets done at all in adland because everybody's gone skiing. In my case, it would be snowboarding, but there's a lot of work on, so no winter sports for the analysts. Looking on the bright side, I'll be one of those annoying people with loads of holiday left come July...

One of the reasons I loved going out to ski resorts (behind the snow, excitement, food and alcohol obviously) is that they were a rare example of what Naomi Klein in No Logo calls 'unbranded space'.

As somebody who works in advertising, it's refreshing when on holiday, to be somewhere that's not plastered with ads. I know there's loads of branding for Salomon etc, but that's in context and makes it feel just a little a bit more like the Winter Olympics as you're bombing down the slopes. Or as you're picking yourself up out of a snowbank and wondering if you've really smashed your camera to pieces this time.

Then three or four years ago, somebody realised that punters on ski lifts are a captive AB audience, with only the beautiful landscape to look at. Which obviously won't do.

So now we have ski lift outdoor on the pylons and on the chairs.

We're talking a lot in my agency about 'permission' to use an advertising channel. For me, these ads rank somewhere behind the video garbage that my mobile phone provider insists on sending every couple of weeks and unsolicited credit card mailshots. Not ignored, but actively disliked.

I doubt it will damage Canon or Easyjet to be present on ski lifts (to name two from last winter) but these ads do make the winter ski trip feel like a bit of a busman's holiday.

That's two posts in a row about avoiding ads... I'll find a campaign I like for the next one, honest.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

There are ads on the web? Really?

Edit: I've updated the guesstimates in this post here.

Google has announced that it is to start serving ads to its users based on their browsing habits.

My first reaction? Surely nobody sees ads on the web any more. This is probably not the right place to admit that my work and home PCs both run Firefox with Adblock Plus installed. Internet Explorer is strictly for websites that won't work in Firefox, like DDS's dreadful BrandOcean.*

The original web ad-blockers left pages looking nasty. They didn't load the ads (sometimes) but left big spaces where they were supposed to be. Adblock Plus is cleverer, it removes the ad completely and your browser rearranges the page around it.

Adblock's not perfect. It's amazing to use Firefox for a while and wonder why a site is only bothering to use half the screen. My personal favourite is the Football365 Mailbox, about which I genuinely wondered for some time why it only put the content in a half screen column, before loading the same site in Explorer and seeing - and waiting for - tons of clutter on the right side of the screen.

The Google story set me wondering how many other people in the UK are using this tool. Are you?

Adblock Plus is running at 6.6m daily active users.

There are approximately 50m daily active users for Firefox worldwide, which gives a penetration for Adblock of 13%.

Lets make another jump and translate it to the UK (I do enjoy back of the envelope analytics.)

Indolent reports a UK Firefox penetration of 17.2% - lagging behind the rest of Europe.

(Warning: penetration figs are about a year out of date. This is marketing analysis after all.)

So let's assume the UK penetration of Adblock is about 2.2% (17.2% x 13%. Keep up at the back.)

That's low enough for advertisers to safely ignore for now. Turns out I'm a bit of a technology geek for having it installed. Definitely worth keeping an eye on that penetration figure though.

Mozilla could, if they wanted to, market a 'no ads on the web - ever!' version of Firefox with Adblock pre-installed, but I'm guessing they know how popular that would make them with the people who fund a large slice of their business.

As for me, I'm quite enjoying a web with no ads, free-riding off everybody else who is funding the websites I read. If you've just learned that Adblock Plus exists, please, for the sake of we 2.2%, don't tell anyone.

* Obviously my personal opinion and yes that's an out of context cheap shot, but if you work in an agency unfortunate enough to have bought this piece of software, I sympathise...

Monday, 9 March 2009

Here's a fun game

There's a mischievous response to the question "Can you measure the effectiveness of my advertising?", which will sometimes lead to a very straight answer and occasionally cause a client or planner to tie themselves completely in knots.

It's "Sure, what was it supposed to change?"

It's most fun to ask a room full of people and find out that they all think the campaign was supposed to do different things. The finance guy is talking about selling product, the head of marketing is talking about building the brand and somebody else chips in with 'making a noise' or possibly 'maintaining share of voice'.

Building the brand is a difficult one to define because it means so many things to different people. Do we mean awareness? Consideration? Preference? If you can't define the word brand, then setting it as a campaign objective - even implicitly - is fraught with problems.

In the Era of Marketing AccountabilityTM, shouldn't everybody be clear on what their marketing budget is designed to achieve?

Friday, 6 March 2009

A positive post about a positive campaign

I was travelling through Waterloo underground station yesterday and saw an eye catching campaign for the Carbon Trust. Really like this use of posters. Three of us were having a conversation, which turned to wondering what the campaign was about. You only find out at the end of the moving walkway.

These posters are aimed at businesses, and it's a bit of a shame that some of the consumer focussed ads aren't up to the same standard. Surely this car salesman isn't the best actor they could find?

It would have been nice to find the picture on the Carbon Trust website, instead of just the CBS outdoor news page, but it's definitely a strong campaign.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Econometrician is not a sexy word

Hal Varian - Google's Chief Economist - has been talking to McKinsey about the Web (naturally), advertising and sexy statistics.

He says that:

"I keep saying the sexy job in the next ten years will be statisticians. People think I’m joking, but who would’ve guessed that computer engineers would’ve been the sexy job of the 1990s?"

So he's not a statistician then. Does anybody really think computer engineer was the 'sexy job of the 1990s'? Excluding Keanu Reeves in The Matrix? Still, we analysts can dream...
An ex-colleague once tried introducing himself as an econometrician to girls in bars. It didn't go well.

Back onto more serious matters, Varian also says that:

"On the Internet, we’ve learned to measure advertising effectiveness"

This is a common misconception and it doesn't seem to be going away. We can measure Web advertising effectiveness in the same way that Direct Mail has been able to measure effectiveness for ages. You send out a million direct mail envelopes (impressions) and get back ten thousand application forms (clicks.) Valuable, but not the whole picture.

Simple direct response measures like this say nothing about whether response rates are better when an above the line campaign is on air. They also can't help with whether the people responding are good prospects who would have responded anyway and you just gave them a convenient way to do it, or genuinely additional acquisitions.

These final two points are important and advertising agencies and Google (among others) are starting to recognise that web advertising response measures can't exist in a bubble. Web-based channels are going to have to get involved in statistical analyses of sales and borrow some of the techniques used to justify investment in TV. It's not just TV that can learn from Adwords, but vice-versa too.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

You're not welcome here. Oh, er, hang on...

The British National Party has fronted its 2009 European Election campaign with a poster of a Spitfire. All very British. Give the Hun a bloody nose and then back to blighty for tea and medals.

And of course, as it's the BNP, no foreigners.

Except that the RF designation on this Spitfire means it came from 303 Squadron. Which was Polish. Genius.

Bl**dy Poles, they come over here, defending our freedoms...

Monday, 2 March 2009

I don't get it. Maybe I'm not web 2.0 enough?

Skittles has launched a kind of aggregator site for its brand.

If you visit, you're greeted with an ever-present hovering menu thing that leads to feeds from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Flickr... all the usual web 2.0 favourites.

I don't get it. For several reasons.

The site sits behind an age verification check, because its content is uncontrollable. Surely most Skittles buyers are young? We'll let that one go though, because any interested ten year old will just lie on the check.

The menu isn't well executed and it gets in the way. It even obscures part of the 'Contact Us' page, which belongs to Skittles. That's just lazy.

The major problem with it seems to be that in a web full of aggregator sites, why would anybody be interested in this Skittles effort? Maybe there's an army of Skittles fans, incapable of using Flickr to satisfy their craving for Skittley pictures, who will form the user base.

There's one very good reason why people will be interested. In the best traditions of the web, the Skittles Twitter feed is now carrying messages like 'Skittles made me piss a rainbow. Is that normal?'. Sorry, but that was one of the cleaner ones. I don't think I want to know what Skittlefisting is.

The site is generating loads of chatter, but it's not exactly positive and I've got serious doubts about whether it will be allowed to stay up for long enough to look for any increase in sales.
Thankfully, the pictures and videos links point to corporate spaces on Flickr and Youtube, otherwise I think we can all imagine what could have been achieved with some creative image tagging.

If does stay up, then as soon as the people abusing the Twitter feed get bored and move on, it's going to have no traffic at all.