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Tangled Web: A View From the7stars On The PWC ISBA Report

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Summary of the Report;

  • ISBA commissioned PWC to audit the programmatic supply chain – the study took 2 years to complete.
  • It included 15 advertisers, across premium publishers with 267million impressions.
  • PWC concluded the supply chain is very complex with many parts.
  • Many of these parts do not currently link up in an auditable way.
  • This means at least 15% of an advertiser’s budget is unaccounted for.
  • On average 51% of this budget reaches the publisher – only 7% to the agency, the other 42% mostly going on tech and data costs.
  • The report had two critical conclusions; (i) standardisation is urgently required to allow data sharing; and (ii) our industry should collaborate to further investigate the unattributable costs.

Programmatic has become a word with a myriad of meanings for different people. Some positive and some not, dependant on point of view and business model. For the7stars, programmatic is using technology in the planning and buying of media for the benefit of our clients, providing full clarity on tech and costs with zero-mark ups.

We also believe an agency’s role is to show our clients that when done properly, media bought via technology is brilliantly effective. Just think how much more effective it could be once we iron out which bits add value and which bits don’t. That’s the market opportunity. And that’s where agencies can regain their vigor.

There is a paradox though; programmatic techniques allow easy access to thousands of sites and placements – volume can be the enemy of quality, but this is also its potential weakness; especially if it isn’t managed properly. As evidenced in the report, control on where ads run is a key requirement. But the answer isn’t as black and white as ‘lots of sites are bad and premium is best’. It depends on the reason for the media investment, i.e. how it was planned and activated.

The more tech you use, the more resource, time and talent you need. It’s a constant balancing act. As PWC have noted, the talent pools across agencies in this space varies a lot. Clients should demand they have competent people on their business. That includes things like: running content verification tools properly, that tagging is data compliant and up to date, that those tech partners and publishers who are more open and are DTSG (Digital Trading Standards Group) compliant get the bigger share of budgets… and so on. We feel now is the time for advertisers to reassess their tech plumbing, tech set up and their media supply end to end.

The level of detail programmatic media produces has never previously existed in media – we’re clearly all still learning what to do with it. When the companies built their tech there wasn’t an agreed standard way, for example, a time and date stamp with each ad (think how many different ways you can show a date in Excel). This means it’s extremely difficult to line up media from one platform to another. This isn’t somebody trying to willfully hide revenue.

This report has put the spotlight and focus on two areas; the link between buy tech and supply tech, and the supply tech and the publishers.

This could favour those who are ‘media owners’ like the Guardian who have worthwhile inventory, but crucially also the right tech, talent and resource to make the most of their inventory.  Certainly, some of the best media inventory, with say some of the best content and journalism isn’t supported by the best media tech plumbing or teams. Conversely, some media perceived to have less value can be bought via really clever tech with fast clued-up supply-side teams.

We also suggest that publishers re-look at their relationships with their supply side: modernise the way information can be shared, and ask where their inventory really is being made available – certainly we’ll be looking at this with fresh eyes.

We also see a future of buying not just audience but audience enhanced by environment – the best of a multiplier effect and associational value. Those on the supply side that can offer both, will be part of the7stars plans. Plans where premium isn’t defined by the cost per thousand but the ability of that publisher to package, deliver and verify the media, content and audience they say they can. What’s premium for one of our clients isn’t premium for another.

This ultimately means the art of media planning in a modern way, and that’s where agencies can remind the market of their real value.

Part of that is obviously recommending, buying and checking where clients’ money is invested. That includes an ongoing sometimes fluid investment into tech, data and media. Most media plans will have these three aspects, and it’s the agency’s job to get this right. Getting the balance of investment into these three parts isn’t fixed, will vary by client and vary by supply side, publisher and media owner. This means the split of an advertiser’s budget to reach the publisher will vary; there is no one ‘correct’ percentage. Agencies’ ability to do this across a range of clients, tech partners and publishers means they are in a unique space to be the most advanced source of best practice.

Some of the tech investment isn’t optional like adserving, or verification tech. When done right this tech can give insights to drive uplifts in performance above its costs, and crucially helps build feedback loops which can influence and shape how all media is planned – media as an intelligence engine.

So What Now?

We’ve made big gains since members from the IPA, IAB, AOP, ISBA were in a room at the IAB several years ago and created the DTSG cross industry initiative around brand safety – then followed by viewability and fraud reduction. We could only do that by interrogating where ads ran. It’s taken a long time, it’s clearly not finished by any means, but many lessons have been learned. It has been a big team effort.

We obviously can’t have a supply chain where 15% isn’t accounted for. Evolving where we’re at isn’t going to happen on an agency-by-agency basis, or by any one advertiser saying so at ISBA’s annual event, without cross industry support.

This is why the7stars supports the work of JICWEBS and, for example, the DLT study commissioned earlier this year. A focus of these efforts we think will be the maturing of the permissioning within the data stream and consistency of naming conventions.

In the meantime, the7stars will continue to take the best of programmatic, and the best of the publishers, and the best of media and tech within the most advanced media ecosystem that’s ever existed, to drive business results explicitly for the benefits of our clients

What Life Looks Like For OOH Now?

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As more people become accustomed to the one-way systems and sanitisation procedures in the dining and retail sectors, the easily observed reduction in consumer visits to stores and restaurants is starting to plateau and hopefully this means a return for one of the channels that was heavily impacted over lockdown – OOH – however, the game has inevitably and certainly changed.

Covid has accelerated the evolution of brand-to-consumer and even B2B interactions and relationships – we only need to look at the increase in use of apps like Zoom and Teams to appreciate this trend. Innovations in the OOH space have also been fast tracked due to Covid  – and we expect to see this include the adoption of DOOH tech. [3]

OOH is famed for effectiveness through high reach but the pandemic has led to its large scale audiences decreasing in certain demographics [3]. Key areas for OOH such as airports and the London Underground are still experiencing a dramatic decrease in footfall[2]. This means that OOH will likely have to become a more targeted and outcome-based channel to justify its use. Luckily there has been ample investment into digital screens and infrastructure over the last decade.

Bitposter and Clearchannel’s partnership with traditional OOH key-players has meant that many paper and paste locations have been digitalised, whilst Global’s purchase and integration of Exterion and Primesite (linking DAX with their digital outdoor sites) has meant data-led buying has become a reality. This also goes beyond media buying and into execution, with Ocean Outdoor releasing mid-air haptic interaction, to replace their touchscreen equipment [4].

Whilst innovation development has been fast tracked, the dynamic of clients that they were designed to serve has shifted.

The ad spend market has shifted in line with the change in consumers priorities. Essential goods, tech, and the high-frequency Public Health England campaigns have recently ramped up media spend [5], whilst industries like the restaurant sector have seen dramatic cuts. Ironically, OOH was a key channel for PHE in communicating key messages and provided a smart, empathetic and trustworthy platform [3].

So, what’s next for the restaurant sector? American super-chain McDonalds have bucked the trend, as even though they reduced their budgets by 100% during lockdown, they are now keen to use their ‘war chest’ of advertising budget for Q3 and Q4 [6].

As for the restaurant sector as a whole, total media spend was down dramatically for May and June YoY (-91% and -86% respectively), and OOH is no exception. Whilst we are seeing an improvement in August spend and expect to see more buoyant results in Q4 overall, it will be interesting to see how brands use OOH in Q4 – particularly for Christmas which is typically a strong period for OOH [1].







Back To School, Back To Reality

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In previous years we’ve looked to September as a time of optimism and a moment to reset after the highs of summer. This year, the backdrop of recession and returning to work and school after many months of life at home means advertisers need to think a little differently about what this period holds for their audience.

2020 has seen uncertainty reflected in a delayed interest in “back to school shopping” with Google search trends rising two weeks later (from the 3rd week in July) vs the last 5 years (typically beginning to rise from early July)1. As the government’s campaign for a safe return to schools gets underway, here are three ways we’ve seen advertisers shift their approaches to Back To School marketing in line with the new reality:

Continued growth of online: Back to school shopping is no exception to the significant growth in online shopping. According to research over 90% of parents with kids and university students will shop online for back-to-school2. For retailers in particular we have seen an increase in “buy online” messaging, with Sainsbury’s and Tesco both reflecting the wider shift to online grocery shopping within their creative copy.

A focus on hygiene: Sanitiser, masks and cleaning supplies have made their way to the top of the list of essentials2, displacing historical focus on items like technology. As a result, new brands are finding ways to be a part of the back to school moment. Dettol’s recent campaign focuses on laundry detergent as parent’s get ready for the school uniform laundry routine while Boots have recently launched a radio campaign focusing on children’s vitamins.

The importance of empathy in uncertain times: Back to School represents a significant milestone for everyone in the context of lockdown easing, and with this reassurance is key. Research in the US has show that advertisers treading the line between positivity and empathy are seeing their ads resonate stronger with consumers3. This sits at the heart of Very’s back to school campaign, which focuses on “back to school joy for everyone” – acknowledging the positives in a distinctive way that helps cut through an increasingly competitive moment4.

For many marketers, seasonal milestones like Back to School involve tried and tested methods and well-established consumer behaviours. But as we move through these milestones in the context of the pandemic, challenging what we know about consumers and their behaviours is key to maximising opportunities new and old.







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Minority ethnic groups account for 8.1 million people in the UK: that’s 13% of the UK population and is continuing to grow. Yet no matter how sophisticated its techniques, consumer research is somehow failing to break through and extract insights from one of Britain’s fastest-growing and most influential demographics.

The same oversight applies to other minority groups, such as those who identify as LGBTQ+ (2.2% of the UK population). These are all significant consumer groups. So how can brands move from “we think” to “we know” – the golden mantle of all robust market research – if these voices aren’t included as an integral and assumed part of that knowledge?

In short, they can’t and we run the risk of creating generalisations about groups, who can be vastly different. But this lower level of representation is in part driven by a number of practical barriers; reaching robust sample sizes in these groups is expensive. As an example, to send a questionnaire to someone who is LGBTQ+ would be £8-£10 compared to someone who is a main shopper, which would be £1.25-£2. In addition, to translate a questionnaire to Polish (the second most spoken language in the UK) would cost £350-£390. Equally the repercussions of mishandling sensitive data such as ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation due to GDPR paired with a fear of offending has in some instances created an avoidance of ensuring these groups are represented in research.

But when we are conducting nationally representative research, we shouldn’t be hindered by these practical barriers and a definition that doesn’t reflect modern society. Currently within the UK the definition of nationally representative research requires quotas on: age, gender, social grade and region meaning that ethnicity and sexual orientation are not included with the definition. If these aren’t included then research cannot claim to be nationally representative if it’s not based on an effort to reach all sections of society. Worse still, by failing to do this it runs the risk of making clumsy and misleading generalisations.

At the7stars we believe that the research we conduct should reflect the views of all voices in society, therefore one of the first steps we have taken is to come together with five other founding partners to create Voices4All, a movement committed to improving diversity and inclusion standards within research services.

We have signed the open letter that calls for action to make ethnicity and sexual orientation (in addition to age, gender, region and social grade) quotas a minimum requirement for all NatRep research samples. As such, moving forward all new proprietary nationally representative research from the7stars will include ethnicity and sexual orientation within our quotas alongside age, gender, social grade and region.

We invite you all to sign up to join us in raising diversity and inclusion standards across the Market Research and Marketing Industries, Ensuring that all voices are heard.