Picture: 123RF
Picture: 123RF

Do recent pronouncements made by one of the global advertising industry’s most prominent figureheads indicate that traditional media has reached an inflection point?

When Publicis Groupe CEO and chairman Arthur Sadoun announced that his network would forgo all awards for the next year at the 2017 Cannes Festival, it shocked the marketing and advertising world.

Sadoun controversially said Publicis would instead use the time and resources saved to develop bespoke artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Not only does this in itself signify a tectonic shift in the traditional agency model, it also sparked debate regarding the established paradigm, particularly the role of awards as the benchmark for measuring the success of traditional media campaigns.

The big take-out: As pressure mounts on traditional media, it’s time the advertising and marketing industry ends its love affair with awards and instead focuses on delivering relevant and engaging campaigns that deliver real returns

Creative awards have become a critical differentiator for agencies to remain competitive in an industry struggling to justify the impact and effectiveness of the traditional marketing mix, largely due to a lack of solid metrics to measure return on investment (ROI) and delivery against established goals and objectives.

Traditional mass media such as print, radio, TV and outdoor have historically relied on measurement tools to establish a measure of perceived reach, such as Amps and Rams, most of which have been discontinued or rendered obsolete.

However, with the lack of relevance and accuracy of these frankly blunt measurement tools leading to their demise, creative awards have increasingly been considered a benchmark for campaign innovation and success.

The awards paradigm, often driven by ego rather than sound strategic reasoning, has also given rise to a situation where the bulk of campaign spend is allocated to creative and production, with little budget left for flighting ads via relevant channels to ensure adequate reach and impact. In many instances, often the bare minimum is allocated to media planning and placement to ensure the absolute minimum threshold to make the campaign eligible for awards is reached.

Awards are also viewed by agencies as central to attracting and retaining talent within the highly competitive industry environment, while staff chase award-driven work to beef up resumés and advance their careers. Though this has obvious benefits for industry players, and most clients like to see their campaigns acknowledged on these platforms, we need to start asking, who does this approach ultimately serve: the agency or the client? Unfortunately for this industry convention, in an age of constrained marketing budgets there’s a need for greater accountability, especially in terms of delivering ROI.

Given the prevailing consumer media landscape, a shift in approach is warranted. Information overload, with consumers exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 brand-related messages a day, according to various sources, has led to a desensitisation to mass media. More than a fight for prime space, advertising and marketing in the information age has become a battle for the attention of a brand’s target market, and mass media’s catch-all approach is failing to hit the mark.

This is largely as a result of a lack of relevance and an inability to meaningfully interact with and engage consumers with messages and content that carries context. The solution: technology that can create the type of consumer engagement that delivers real, measurable results.

For example, through social media and mobile marketing, brands have at their disposal platforms that can accurately segment and track campaign messaging, with the added ability to deliver it in contextually relevant situations. These mediums also open up two-way channels of communication, which greatly extends the potential for meaningful engagement, from the ineffectual six seconds on radio or 15 seconds on TV, to potentially 45 minutes, as has been witnessed during recent USSD mobile campaigns.

These channels also offer the added benefit of cost-effectiveness, as technology makes them replicable and therefore infinitely scalable. This gives digital marketing all the qualities of a mass medium, with the ability to individualise and directly target consumers to deliver an ROI that, at the very least, is measurable, if not more effective, too.

Faced with these irrefutable facts, perhaps the time has finally come to make peace with the idea that innovative creative work no longer resides in TV and radio ads. Rather, it lies in the way we structure text and weave multimedia such as video and images together online and on mobile that will deliver the relevance and engagement needed to make campaigns truly effective and deliver real returns that help to build and drive business, not just create brand awareness. It may not be the industry’s idea of ‘‘sexy’’ work, but it’s time the industry stopped servicing their vanity and started servicing clients in a manner that best meets their needs, and not just those of the agency.

• Henk Swanepoel is the chief marketing officer at Digitata Insights.

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