Commoditisation can only be a race to the bottom
A view from Paul Frampton

Commoditisation can only be a race to the bottom

With the fierce pace of change and the shift to a model where earned and owned media channels increasingly lead, it is baffling why the pendulum is swinging more, rather than less, towards commoditisation in paid media.

Media agencies have been much more than "buying shops" for more than a decade. The conversation in all media reviews centre on accelerating digital transformation. So why, then, does the market persist in focusing on how cheaply TV airtime can be bought? 

Surely, from a trading perspective, TV should be resigned to the past in favour of cross-screen strategies that encourage sharing? Advertisers are at risk of paying more for less – for example, 16-34 TV ratings are nose-diving, yet the cost of these impacts are higher than ever.

Clients should not be obsessing about TV as a siloed channel. They should be obsessing about attention that delivers results; often, the results are delivered on the second screen and in social channels. Advertisers rightly need assurances that audiences reached digitally are genuine but, in the same vein, broadcast audience quality deserves similar introspection. 

Media strategy today is as much about delivering the right message at the right time with the right impact as it is about reaching the right audiences. The skill involved in this is not valued enough by brands. Media agencies still struggle to prove the payback from the craft of media "planning". If we manage this, we would be viewed more as a professional service and remunerated more in line with management consultants.

In turn, media agencies need to redefine what they bring to the table, focusing on business value generation. We need to celebrate the diversity of our talent more: arguably, our talent strategies have moved with the times faster than any other part of the marketing ecosystem. Our people’s skills and capabilities are radically different to even three years ago – can the same be said of clients’ marketing departments? This is an investment in the future, but advertisers must recognise that we cannot pivot to a new model when the primary measure at contract stage is how cheaply media is bought.  

The rise of ad-blocking is a reminder that digital advertising is creating friction between brands and the consumers they want to impress. Media agencies have both the planning and technical expertise to change this. 

I sense the building pressure of an industry racing to the bottom. In a world where technology will increasingly make the decisions on price, surely it is killer insight, innovation and strategic thinking that differentiate us? We must find a way to elevate the craft of what we do and prove its commercial value. If we don’t, we risk commodisation killing the "media star". 

Paul Frampton is the chief executive of Havas Media UK