Advertising through the ages: A look back at the last decade

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Rating the industry's progress through a period of upheaval

In the world of media and advertising, our job is to manage constant change. In the recent past, this entailed transferring media investment from a struggling TV show to one with better ratings and a more desirable audience, and similar adjustments in other media. Managing change in media today, however, is far more complicated.

In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we’ve been …

2007: Through the Looking Glass
I participated in the inaugural Festival of Media in 2007. During that time, the major debate was whether media should have a place at the table in advising clients on strategy. We had to prove ourselves as valuable contributors and principal advisors to clients, fighting the aged perception of media as being low down the value chain.

Digital was also at the forefront. How ready was the advertising industry for the digital world? Could agencies build integrated digital strategies? Thanks to clients like Procter & Gamble and Unilever, which pioneered strategies that positioned digital at the core of their media planning, the industry started to believe. And, they accomplished this by involving media agencies in the planning process from day one.

The acceptance of digital ultimately led to the discussion of data and technology. How could data power smarter marketing and deliver better value for clients? We knew that this would be the x-factor for advertising.

Current day
This week, I have the opportunity to speak at the 10th Annual Festival of Media. I’m using this as an opportunity to see just how far we’ve come.

Unfortunately, with issues such as transparency, ad fraud and rebates owning the news cycle, the outstanding success of media agencies has been tarnished in some eyes, in some countries. There are reports that these challenges have placed a wedge between media agencies and their clients, but in our day-to-day, the truth I see is side-by-side collaboration through challenging change.  In fact, it’s fair to say that these problems are a symptom of change.

The evolution of media agencies has been remarkable, and those of us in the field must take pride in it.

We’ve helped clients continue to engage their customers through a seismic shift in consumer behavior brought on by digital.

We’ve wrapped our arms around data and sharpened our expertise based on the information available from clients, media partners and all third parties relevant to the client.

We’ve built teams and technologies around clients in bespoke fashion – while meeting ever-more demanding procurement demands.

And, we’ve innovated new specialist businesses and business models to give clients all that they have asked.

But we have much more to do in some areas.

Measurement in digital, for instance, is a serious problem. We need the standards and accountability of third-party verification that are standard in traditional media.

And digital ad fraud can no longer be tolerated. Over the last two years, fraud has shaken the confidence of advertisers worldwide.  We need to continue to increase the integrity of the digital supply. For our part, GroupM has built our own private marketplaces with trusted partners that ensure viewability, and offer guarantees about fraud-free environments and brand safety, based on context. 

The evolution of TV over the past decade has been one of the most interesting developments to watch. It’s not dying, but it is changing. With addressability and dynamic ad insertion technologies for both linear and on-demand programming, TV has the potential to be more targeted than ever.

And finally, ad blocking. GroupM’s recent Interaction 2016 Report included estimates that 25% of users in the US and Germany have ad-blocking applications installed, and in Austria, the estimate is 32%. The industry has only itself to blame, because we have abused our privileges with consumers. The relationship between consumers and ads needs to be seen as a value exchange and advertisers must treat the opportunity to engage as a privilege, not a right.

So what can we expect out of the next decade?

The future is ours to create


We’ve seen the explosion of data and the critical role it plays in how marketers inform their campaigns. This is just the beginning, and data will continue to be the driving force behind the evolution of advertising.

As we transition from media-based planning to audience-based planning, data is already the table stakes. Agencies will be differentiated by the depth of data — and its breadth. So called ‘walled gardens’ stand between advertisers and their ability to qualify the effectiveness of media investments. Some of us are already raising ladders and flying drones to peer across these walls. 

It’s not a small order. Deep data interpretation is very expensive, and human behavior can seem rational and irrational in equal measure, so interpretation is complex. In spite of these roadblocks, it’s crucial that we know more than we do today. The sweeping phenomenon of adblocking has made ad relevance more important than ever.

Mobile and Apps

Mobile has already overtaken desktop in almost all aspects of digital media activity. The rise of app usage presents a challenge for advertisers to create more interactive, app-native formats.

The challenge so far has been that most mobile activity features a scrolling interface versus traditional, more static formats. In the scroll, advertising is inherently ephemeral. The speed of the scroll means that ads may pass through the viewable window without being seen. Video ads, even if automatically played, may not have sound or may quickly be scrolled out of view. 

It’s challenging to ensure viewability in "feed" or "stream" based environments like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The standard 30-second spot is no longer a viable option, and while we work to create new formats, we’ll need to consider shortening videos to the length of a modern viewer’s attention span. The messaging has to catch up with the medium.

The pervasiveness of these platforms demands that we create strategies that enable brands to reach their customers in new ways. As technology, such as virtual reality, continues to infiltrate the media industry, media agencies will be able to embrace new formats that provide effective ways to reach these audiences.


Globally, e-commerce spending is expected to reach $1.81 trillion this year, up from $1.57 trillion in 2015. Those of us in the industry can look forward to media playing a much more crucial role in stimulating this growing industry.

E-commerce strategies that enable transactions anytime, on any media platform, are on the rise, and will be the norm 10 years from now. This will move us closer to a reality in which media remains powerful at each point in the consumer purchase journey, placing media agencies closer to Sales as well as Marketing.

Outcomes and Performance

In fact, there is growing demand among clients for media solutions that focus on performance against specified outcomes, rather than traditional metrics like cost per impression. These new metrics would ultimately tie into sales and revenues. Look for this to happen in the coming years as pressure grows on the CMO to show credible ROI.

The bottom line is that thanks to data and technology, media agencies are increasingly positioned as strategic partners. As media itself continues to evolve and we learn how to utilize the data more effectively, we in the media and advertising industries will participate in further transformation as the trusted advisers of successful advertisers.

Dominic Proctor is president of GroupM Global.


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