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Changes to consumer media behaviour during the coronavirus crisis have pushed old-fashioned audit practices to the limit and the industry to a “tipping point“, argues PJ Leary, the global chief exec of ID Comms’ newly-formed media auditing practice, Assurance.

The demise of traditional media auditing could be one of the forgotten victims of coronavirus, except in this case it’s not so much a tragedy as a success for the whole industry. 

The reason why the pandemic has had such an impact is that for many advertisers, it represents a long-awaited tipping point for traditional media.

As consumers have flipped from cable and broadcast TV to cord-cutting and OTT services during the lockdown, the relevance of the traditional methods for comparing media prices has become even less, well, relevant.

The WSJ recently reported that cord-cutting in the US has reached record levels, with cable and satellite services losing more than 2 million customers  during the first three months of the year alone.

The same picture can be seen in the UK and Europe, where subscriptions to Netflix and Disney+ are rising fast. The former added nearly 7m new households across EMEA in the first three months of the year and the latter already had more than 4 million UK subscribers in June, despite only launching in April.

Covid-driven changes in behaviour have dramatically accelerated trends that were already occurring – the rise of digital, the decline of traditional TV and a much wider playing field of media options.

For auditors, it means the metrics by which media performance has been measured for the last three decades are no longer appropriate. 

When there were a handful of media types, each with a handful of outlets, it was possible to provide pricing and performance visibility across the full breadth of advertiser options. The pool – the practice of anonymously ranking each company against the average performance of hundreds of other advertisers – made sense.

For at least the past five years, however, it has been less than useful for the vast majority of advertisers. Simpler times allowed for an approach that is increasingly not fit for purpose in this complex and technologically advanced media landscape. 

Now, advertiser options abound and, as such, comparability from one advertiser to the next has become near impossible. Today it is increasingly relevant for advertisers to compare their own rate of change year-to-year, with an emphasis on optimisation and waste reduction. 

The new model for auditing must begin with a deeper understanding of the advertiser’s campaign objectives and rely on precise analysis of truly comparable buy elements.

The actions that flow from the audit must be highly relevant, not as a verdict on yesterday but as a guidepost for tomorrow. And the strategy must always lead with the performance analysis framework to follow and adapt accordingly. 

Ambitious marketers must meet the demands of this complex marketplace. They need to feed their focus and starve their distractions.

The actions and buying behaviour of other advertisers (long the foundational comparison within traditional pool approaches) are an unnecessary distraction in today’s marketplace.

Instead, the focus must be on what you can do today to improve tomorrow. And brands that get this right will become stronger, because they will have a clearer idea of how they can improve on what they can truly control.