Media has much to prove to win brand confidence

Media owners and agencies are suffering badly in these leaner times. The only answer is to demonstrate the value of above-the-line advertising

For too long, media agencies have been allowed to hide behind media efficiency measures when they are asked for evidence of their value to clients. Citing never-ending jargon and numbers relating to reach, frequency and “cost per thousand” has been sufficient to justify their existence.

But things have changed over the past few years, and smarter media agencies have attempted to correlate their strategies with effects on brand sales or equity.

The recent Bellwether report shows budgets are down and advertisers, in response, are reviewing their brand communications. The latest billings tables expose the severity of the downturn in media advertising spend in particular. Those media agencies that cannot show a direct link between their planning and brand success will surely suffer.

There has been a lot of coverage about how sales promotion and, in particular, direct marketing are gaining an increasing share of marketing budgets because companies perceive them as cheaper, more accountable and measurable forms of marketing. This is in many cases true, but we could be missing the point.

Media agencies always encourage advertisers to spend through a recession – it helps prevent brands losing market share and prepares them for better times ahead. We would do well to take our own advice. For never has there been a better time to invest in finding proof that where we place advertising and whether it is belowor above-the-line, has a positive effect on clients’ business.

The tightening of budgets means there is much more emphasis on finding more “creative” ways of connecting with consumers, particularly with the rise of new types of marketing such as viral marketing through new media channels.

But how much time and money is being spent on establishing measurement models and research techniques which can show just how successful these “new” initiatives are? I doubt that in the case of most agencies there is much.

All media agencies should be investing in qualitative research and trying to justify the latest strategies and initiatives so we can understand – and tell our clients – the power that media has in brand communications.

And media agencies should not be alone in this effort – it is the responsibility of the media industry as a whole. If media agencies and media owners combine their efforts, we can produce research that proves a relationship between media and consumers. The consortium set up by Zenith Media , BSkyB, Capital Radio and News International is an example of such an initiative.

By exploring the image and positioning of media brands from a consumer perspective, brands can be matched more closely to them, and advertisers can be sure that they have a relevant and powerful consumer connection.

Gerry Boyle is head of planning at Zenith Media

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