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shutterstock_308123306John ringDigital ignorance and spoofing in adland should be a thing of the past. The problem is they are not, writes John Ring.

Tea. The stuff you drink. Would you think it’s good business for a creative agency to try and rank their household name brand client top of Google for the word “tea”? We were approached a good while ago for help to do this by a well-known creative agency.

“Here’s €5K, when can you have it done by?” we were asked before any discussion on such trifles as fees or even the logic of paying to be 1st on Google for a word that’s rarely searched for on its own. (There’s a reason McDonalds apparently are not paying to be 1st for “Burger”…) So we politely declined the “tea” request but not before the agency told us they had already billed the client €10K and saw an easy €5K to make.

I appreciate that €10K isn’t much when it comes to brand budgets but if you were a marketing manager or director with a good understanding of digital, you’d probably be thinking your creative agency was a bit clueless when it came to digital.

There’s also the €9K banner ads incident when an energy company using four different agencies was quoted €9K for a set of animated gif banner ads by their extremely well-known creative agency who were more used to doing TV ads. The marketing manager knew she was being robbed so turned to us for much more advanced ads at a much lower price. The very same agency mentality can also be seen in persuading a client to spend €40K buying premium ad traffic from DoneDeal to collect a lovely €6K agency commission. DoneDeal and its traffic are super but unless the brand’s website, product range and tracking are ready for a huge influx of traffic, is that good agency practice?

The point here is that dodgy practices by Irish marketing agencies of all flavours are pretty common. A huge portion of this is facilitated by what I’d classify as “digital ignorance” among brands. If you’re responsible for a sizeable marketing budget, you want to make sure every cent is working hard. If the full-service / creative agency on whom you’re relying is spoofing and getting away with it continuously due to your digital ignorance, your boss will probably see through this eventually. The bigger the marketing budget, quite often the less scrutiny there is on €10K here, €20K there.

A good rule of thumb is that if your partner agency is pushing something new and cool in digital (eg Snapchat advertising) and you’re not clear about the benefits and hear “brand awareness” when you ask the obvious “what’s in it for us?”, stop right there. The amount of money being wasted by Irish companies on “brand awareness” is phenomenal. Why? It’s seldom measurable.

The best example of this is when media agencies advise clients based on the viewership figures and ratings of TV programmes. Do you seriously think those sampling figures are in any way accurate based on approx. 1,000 tracking boxes in Irish homes? What a scam that totally ignores modern digital behaviour such as ad-skipping, Netflix, Facebook & YouTube etc.  At least Nielsen is very aware of all this which is why they’re launching DAR in October to try and deal with the issue. Good luck with that.

It’s remarkable also how Facebook’s revenue has skyrocketed in the last two years when they moved quite considerably from mainly brand awareness advertising options to digital ads far more heavily weighted towards direct response thereby making it much easier to prove ROI.

Samuel Scott in a recent brilliant Techcrunch article titled “How Google Analytics ruined marketing” noted that people’s view of marketing has changed dramatically due to digitals’ measurability. Asking “What is the ROI of social media?” makes as much sense as asking “What’s the ROI of the telephone?” he argues. An entire generation of marketeers, either agency or client-side, now view marketing through a digital world-view and that’s not right either but the impact of this fact of life is that agencies need to justify their approach on an ROI-basis now more than ever. That has to be a good, albeit extremely uncomfortable thing for many agencies.

A key driver of wasted budgets for brands is the financial model of agencies. If you consider that the single most profitable digital activity for agencies is usually buying premium ads for brands – 15% agency commission for a phone call, hello? – then why would your partner full-service or creative agency ever be bothered being superb at the technically much harder elements of digital like attribution modelling in web analytics, Facebook browser compatibility for mobile ads or personalised marketing automation? Don’t shoot the messenger but they’re usually not bothered because it rarely makes commercial sense for them to hire expensive staff with advanced digital skills in a small market like Ireland. Which means that brands are usually buying cool concepts and lots of “brand awareness” ads. That often works great for top FMCG brands – the current Orchard Thieves campaign is a brilliant example – but for most other agency clients? No chance.

One last example for you. An international beauty brand wanted to reach Irish females 18-25. Great offline and in-store campaign was ready to go. As their digital people brought in at the last minute, the first thing we asked was had they an Irish website or an Irish Facebook page even – on the off chance Irish girls ever used Facebook… “Eh, no – do we need one?” is what we got back. There’s a reason I take three deep breaths so often.

John Ring is managing director of Tinderpoint

First published in Irish Marketing Journal (IMJ Agency Issue 2016)© to order back issues please call 016611660

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