Has media planning lost its mojo?

Are computer algorithms making human insight redundant in today's digitised industry, Gurjit Degun asks.

Some digital evangelists foresee a brave new world where 100 per cent of media will be targeted through data and traded on an automated basis.

But traditionalists warn that this trend will ultimately lead to media planning by computer algorithm, undermining the human role of the media planner.

The media industry certainly has an obsession with data and targeting. Only this week, Group M launched a consumer data tool to help agencies "develop more precise and targeted media plans".

But a world where data rules supreme must have limitations. As one sales chief at a traditional media owner says: "Data will tell you one thing, but the human interpretation of data will tell you another."

The fear is that the rush to automated and programmatic trading and buying "audiences", rather than media channels, will leave little or no room for human insight.

Of course, making sure that an advertiser targets the right people at the right time is essential, but might a focus exclusively on technology and data mean advertisers fall into the trap of failing to target people who may become the right audience in the future?

No wonder some say that media planning has lost its mojo – at least in agency land.

Paradoxically, there is evidence that smart media planners are being valued by the new digital tech media owners, which have been on something of a hiring spree.

One of those to be recruited is David Wilding. The former head of planning at PHD made a successful move in 2014 to Twitter UK to the new role of director of planning. 

He says: "The best media planners have always been the ones who stay connected to culture, understand the human ‘why’ behind data, appreciate the importance of context, empathy and permission, have got over the digital/traditional thing and can skilfully tie everything together.

"Get all that right and there has probably never been a better time to be in media planning."

If some of the smartest, digital-savvy new-media owners see the value of human planners, then agencies should think about the limits of relying too much on data. It might even improve their mojo.


Simon Daglish, deputy managing director, commercial, ITV:
"Much has been made of data and automation being the lifeblood of the industry, but it still takes a person’s insight to demystify the complexities of human nature. Achieving this balance could be one of the industry’s biggest challenges."


Verity Brown, strategic planning associate director, The Specialist Works:
"In the past, media planning ‘mojo’ was categorised by endless chasing of ‘new’ and ‘first’, with digitisation of media providing opportunity aplenty. Our focus can now return to finding the most effective ways of engaging with audiences."


Jon Kershaw, managing partner, strategy, Havas Media:
"The old model is broken. Media planners have a unique opportunity to positively influence culture and attitudes, but the current race to the bottom does a huge disservice to clients, agencies and everyone exposed to our work."


Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer, MediaCom UK
"Not if you mean media planning as I understand it. Our role is to write a media plan that grows a client’s business, meets their objectives, discovers new sources of growth. Data and programmatic make that more effective than ever. "


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