The Dismantling of Complexity

The Dismantling of Complexity

I hope you’ll forgive me for opening with a J D Salinger quotation…

                     It’s funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands

                               and they’ll do practically anything you want them to.

For all that he often talks quite a lot of sense, this is one view of Holden Caulfield’s that I don’t share. In our trade, clients are far more interested and more savvy than Salinger would have you believe- in my experience the most common response to a statement nobody understands is a request for clarification. But that doesn’t mean that ours is an industry awash with plain-talking and simplicity.

On the contrary, it’s in the commercial interests of the media agency to build complexity into media planning.

There, I said it. Don’t tell anyone you heard it from me, or I’ll be drummed out of the profession. So if you get the impression that all this stuff that your agency is talking about sounds a lot more complicated than it used to be, that’s because it is. The more complex that media buying seems to the marketeer or to the lay person, the more vital it is that a specialist is brought in to do it.

I believe that this drive towards complexity explains, in part, the move away from the simple process of negotiating a rate, placing an advert and sending a bill; towards the arcane intricacies of things like programmatic buying and dynamic retargeting. I may start to sound a bit of an ardent traditionalist here, yearning for those halcyon days of honest-to-goodness simplicity, but in truth I believe that the only thing that matters when choosing media is its suitability for the brief at hand: if innovation offers a better response to the brief, it should be used. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t.

There’s a danger that the agency’s own need to use the next big widget can get in the way of true media agnosticism. There’s an entire industry out there competing within itself to deliver the next, newest, slickest and most complicated bit of media buying before the next firm can. And in among all this hurtling change it’s essential that we remember to hold on to what still works.

Our 70/20/10 model has real value here: it’s a system which attributes 70% of spend to tried and tested channels, allocates 20% of spend to newer media that is on its way to joining the 70%, and leaves 10% spare for speculating on new opportunities. We introduced the model as a means of challenging the “way we do things around here” culture if we ever came across it, however it has also become a vitally important means of hanging on to what works well- stressing to the whole marketing team that keeping hold of the 70% is every bit as essential as finding next quarter’s new 10%. If local press is still putting bums on seats at a competitive ROAS, let’s keep it in the mix. It’s to everybody’s benefit to accept that keeping hold of the 70% when it works makes you a truly pragmatic media agnostic and not some sort of baffled Luddite.

All this is of course only made possible by a detailed understanding of what’s working and what isn’t, and this is perhaps one area in which the boom in technological advancement has been truly invaluable. Today we can have a far more detailed and nuanced understanding of response levels to media than ever before. Anyone who tells you this is a watertight science (or that a single sale is always the outcome of just one touchpoint) is mistaken or, to borrow from Caulfield again, a phony, but we’re getting there: the ready availability of cheap unique phone numbers, overlaid with detailed analytics and third-party ad server data can give the media agency a reasonable understanding of online and offline goal attribution. All this can get very complex and involved indeed, but ultimately it can (and should) all be boiled down to the simple relationship between what you put in and what you get out, and centred around making that return on investment move in the right direction.

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