Ebay advertising boss: media agencies laid the ground for their own demise

Panel (L-R): Hegarty, Moore, Holdway, Time Inc UK's Dan Coleman (moderator), Wilkins, and Bassett
Panel (L-R): Hegarty, Moore, Holdway, Time Inc UK's Dan Coleman (moderator), Wilkins, and Bassett

A hard push by media agencies to "commoditise" media succeeded at their own expense, Rob Bassett, EU director of Revenue Labs at eBay, has told the industry.

"They got the stage where they’re pushing to their own demise because they deskilled what they do," he said. "I would love it if there was more of a move to thinking a bit harder about media choices and putting craft rather than analysis at the heart of it."

Bassett was part of a panel session at Advertising Week Europe alongside Bartle Bogle Hegarty founder Sir John Hegarty, Domino’s sales and marketing director Tony Holdway, Karmarama executive chairman Jon Wilkins and Charlotte Moore, digital content director, Marie Claire, InStyle and Look at Time Inc UK.

In a strong defence of digital platforms, Bassett called out the cries of "something must be done" that have been amplified this week by the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

"Something is being done, and the EU is responsible for it," he said, referring to GDPR, which comes into force in May. At that point, he argues, "the internet will be probably the cleanest and best regulated of all the media."

He also criticised economic testing as "a model built to prove that TV advertising works", saying that assessments of its effectiveness often overlooked factors like brands increasing their stock in retail outlets at the same time they were on TV.

Hegarty, meanwhile, compared the current moment in time to the early days of other technological breakthroughs, such as the printing press and photography, which he said were initially dominated by technologists and only found their creative potential later on.

"Crooning only came about because someone invented the microphone," he said. "All of a sudden I could stand on a stage in front of 100 people and sing as if I was singing to one person."

Creatives needed to become the crooners of digital media, he said: "In the end we’ll get used to the technology and say, 'what can we do with this?'"

Brands and media outlets were right to prioritise mobile, Wilkins said, but needed to be very careful about gaining "permission" to appear in that space.

"When you move into mobile or any format, the expectations of the receiver are quite different," he said. While testers may respond positively to a particular ad on TV, they may be put off when exposed to it on a mobile device.

"You see a lot of brands that are quite lazy," Wilkins lamented. "They just run their TV ads on YouTube or wherever, and they wonder why people get pissed off."

In response to a suggestion by Bassett that context was overrated as an idea – because "people don’t remember media placements, they remember ads" – Moore jumped to the defense of the contribution of media brands.

"We direct where the next trend is going to go," she said. "I don’t think ads do that or necessarily can do that."

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