A win-win in media planning starts with compromise

Twitter UK's planning chief contributes to our series on the future of media planning.

It probably hasn’t slipped your attention, but we seemed to spend much of the past decade fighting an enemy that had to be spectacularly defeated – saboteurs had to be crushed, swamps had to be drained, the liberal elite had to be taught a lesson and Arsène Wenger (and then Unai Emery) had to go. 

Everything from our sport to celebrity gossip to politics came with a "winners and losers" mindset and narrative. How did that work out for you? 

At the same time, media planning went through something of its own "no compromise" phase.

Efficiency and data-led targeting became non-negotiable principles for many planners, while at the same time a misreading of Byron Sharp's How Brands Grow emboldened many "reach fundamentalists" to conclude not only that reach was all that mattered but that the concept of creating something engaging had to be royally trashed along the way. 

The resulting brand-safety crisis and decline in trust that this lack of creative thinking contributed to are well-documented.

So in the decade ahead, why don’t we try another way? 

A win-win situation or result is one that is good for everyone involved. A deal that works for all parties, with no obvious loser. 

It occasionally takes the form of something older readers may remember as a "compromise". It was last seen in the UK in around 1998. And it can transform the way we approach media planning.

At a very simple level, there are three parties involved when media gets placed: the brand placing it, the media partner running it and the people seeing it. 

Too often, one of these parties is de-prioritised or simply not really considered, but the best media planning – win-win planning – happens when we spend time thinking about how all three stand to win.

At a fundamental level, for the brand to win people need to know which brand is being advertised. 

You would think this was obvious, but then you might look at most recent Christmas ads and think again.

Beyond this, media planning can help brands win by distinguishing themselves from the competition.

While we’ve recently seen a rise in category-based customer journey thinking, I would argue that if your brand could simply swap media plans with a competitor without anybody noticing the difference, then media planning has missed an opportunity.

And, of course, brands win when their media plan communicates the right things about the brand to people – both consciously and (though, often overlooked) unconsciously.

For the media partner to win, media planners need to be media experts. Again, you might think this was obvious, but the media planning role can be such a broad and busy one that media planners often don’t have or make time to look much beyond topline numbers and consider the core questions underneath it.

By core questions, I mean how does this medium work, what work is generally most effective in this medium, how do people really use or consume it in their everyday lives and – crucially – what is the art of the possible in this medium?

The answers are nuanced (the answer for Twitter will be different to that for Instagram, even if both are broadly labelled "social media") and as a result it takes time to dig into them, but it is time well-spent.

It is, of course, much more efficient to think of media in a simple bucket called "social" or "outdoor", but understanding nuances helps to create a far more effective plan for all concerned and it's in this detail that creative media magic is often unlocked.  

The final party that needs to win – and perhaps the most overlooked – is the people themselves. If the media partner winning is about understanding the art of the possible, for people to win media planners need to think about the art of the desirable.

While asking for media planning to consistently delight people may set the bar a little too high, we should surely at the very least be actively trying to avoid annoying people and avoid planning media placements that just don’t "feel fair" to the average person.

In the short term, we might "get away with" an unskippable 30-second ad in front of a 60-second video or wrapping a newspaper we’ve asked people to pay for with a massive ad for a supermarket.

But we would do well to remember that the people who just want to read or watch something don’t feel like they’re winning in these scenarios, don’t think positively of the brands doing it and in the long term just won’t bother coming back to the media involved.

The key point is that none of these parties winning – brand, media partner and people – needs to be mutually exclusive. Indeed, the best campaigns from the past decade achieved the perfect balance of win-win planning.

Coca-Cola’s "#ShareACoke" campaign used Channel 4’s audience data and addressable pre-roll technology to serve people an ad featuring a can of Coke with their own name on it.

Warner Bros’ "The Lego Movie ad break" on ITV replaced all the spots in one break with Lego versions to create the most popular ad break that YouGov had ever measured.

Samsung brought BuzzFeed’s #WhatToWatch show to Twitter to help people overcome the agony of choice that is choosing something to watch in a golden age of TV.

And Sport England’s "This girl can" Spotify campaign served up motivational messages to athletes who hadn’t played their exercise playlists in a while.

Each of these examples gave people something unusual or engaging to enjoy, understood the art of the possible in that media and was clearly owned by the brand in question. And, importantly, data was used to enhance and lift an idea, not to replace it.

Let’s all try to be a little less "win-lose" and a little more "win-win".

David Wilding is director of planning at Twitter UK

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