Six Reasons Why Media Strategy Should Come Before Creative


Reprinted from Ad Age Media Works

Who Should Really Be Getting the Last 10 Minutes of the Meeting?

Not that long ago, media used to get the last 10 minutes of the meeting. The big TV idea, the provocative headline or the right choice of talent was the key to unlocking brand fame in a world where advertising was first and foremost about interrupting an audience. But for many marketers that playbook is being tossed aside. The conventional order putting distribution strategy at the end of the process is being flipped. Answering where and how we should communicate is preceding what we should say. Here’s why:

1. We’ve Moved From a World of Mad Men to Math Men (and Women)
Advertising has become a numbers game. The pressing questions from the C-Suite today are: How much should we ideally spend? Which brands should be supported? What is the return on investment? And which channels will best pay out? Before developing the right messaging, the right business case needs to be established. One of the biggest factors for marketing failure is not matching the right budget to the goals or getting the right plan. Our business planning team helped one of our clients sell the case for a three-fold increase in ad budget to its board. Its business is thriving as a result of having the right level of investment.

2. The Big TV Idea Has Lost Ground to Small, Smartly Placed, Relevant Ideas
In the agency world, we live to sell clients the big idea, such as Nike’s “Just Do It” or the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. “I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea,” David Ogilvy wrote back in 1983, something I think is still very much the case today. Larry Light introduced Brand Journalism, a breakthrough strategy for McDonald’s that debunked the idea of a universal message and argued for using many stories to speak to different audiences. The Big Idea just isn’t a scalable proposition in advertising. To me, relevance is one of the most important currencies in communications. Smart, tactical use of custom messages in different media at relevant times, locations and environments is what creates engagement. Axe has done this brilliantly over the years, deploying an array of channels to talk to young men. This includes branded video series of men trying to win over women, mating-game toolkits, spritzes from attractive female models wandering the aisles of retail stores and nightclub sponsorships.

3. Right Media, Right Message
When I worked on a new-business pitch with Rob Feakins, chief creative officer at Publicis New York, he charged several teams in his creative department to come up with pitch ideas. But before the teams presented their ideas to him, he called me and asked if I could talk him through the media plan. I was intrigued; rarely have I found a creative to express much interest in media. He said the relative importance of different media would help him judge the potential campaign concepts better. Knowing whether out-of-home or print or TV advertising was going to be the principal channel would help him decide which idea to back.

4. Content is Still Very Much King, But Which Kind of Content?
In a broadcast world, the 30-second ad ruled. But in a multi-platform digital landscape, content can and needs to take many forms. A media plan could include a long-form video series, custom sponsored programing, short-form video pre-rolls, interactive creative, mobile apps and curated branded content, alongside the more traditional ad units. Each media form brings a different mix of engagement, share-ability and branding. Defaulting to a creative brief that starts with the more predictable advertising units at the outset will likely stymie innovation. This is an issue when research suggests that more and more of consumers’ brand decisions are being influenced by sources beyond advertising. My advice: Develop the media plan first, then determine what mix of creative assets need to be developed.

5. Adaptive Marketing
I wrote about this idea a couple months back. Adaptive Marketing involves adapting and personalizing campaigns in real time by responding to data collected on the audience via their web behavior or social graph. A favorite example of this is Intel’s Museum of Me, which takes content collected from your Facebook Timeline to create a personalized, animated film.

6. Media is More Than a Venue for Your Ads
The Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, the Grammys, TV premieres and an “American Idol” finale have become media events. Social media and tablets have turned them into live, interactive marketing bonanzas. TV networks and brands can deliver not just big audiences but access to content, and help drive the conversation in social media. Customizing ads and marketing programs to make the most of these events is becoming a powerful strategy. But to leverage these opportunities fully, media partners need to be a brought in much earlier in the marketing planning process.

To be clear, this is not a media vs. creative discussion. All stakeholders need to be part of a media discussion: the brand, account management, account planning, creative, digital and media teams. But maybe it is now time for the creative to be the last 10 minutes in the meeting!

Antony Young is the CEO of Mindshare North America, a WPP media strategy and investment agency. He recently published “Brand Media Strategy,” a Palgrave MacMillan and Advertising Age publication offering strategies for communications planning in the Google and Facebook era.

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