Advertising Isn’t a Commodity: Stop Acting Like It Is

Matt OwensThis is a guest post from Matthew Owens, partner at Owens Harkey, a full-service marketing agency that provides a range of marketing, advertising and public relations services with a concentration in media buying. Owens has more than 25 years of experience in advertising and shares a passion for continuously thinking of out-of-the-box techniques to improve and grow the company. Owens was named the Advertising Person of the Year in 2012 by the Phoenix American Advertising Federation (AAF) club.

My father, our agency’s founder, told me once that during the “Mad Men” era, you could reach 95% of American housewives with just three TV spots. That is no longer the case, and advertising agencies are wasting millions of their clients’ dollars thinking like the old days.

The industry needs to stop commoditizing advertising procurement and start finding creative solutions that actually work for their clients.

The Vehicle Matters

When we commoditize advertising, we care more about the message than the vehicle used to deliver it. Some advertisers believe a print ad and a TV spot hold the same value, as long as the circulation and viewing numbers are at similar levels. This sort of thinking wastes clients’ money.

It may be more labor-intensive, but we can get better results when we focus on how we deliver messages. Does a 30-second TV spot really make sense for your client? Or would he be better served with a lower-budget — but more effective — print campaign?

Clients and agencies often want the sexy $5-million, award-winning TV spot, even if it’s not going to sell more product. I say we can do better for the brands we represent by broadening our focus and de-commoditizing the media buying process. We need to look at the whole advertising effort, focusing on what’s best for the client and his product.

New Possibilities

The amount of time an agency holds a client relationship is declining, and many small agencies feel they cannot scale. Why? Because they are playing by the same broken rules as everyone else. If agencies would shift their thinking by putting as much creative thought into the media buy as the ads themselves, they could provide more value for the client’s money, increasing business for both the client and themselves.

When you start thinking about new ways to approach buying, the conversation changes. Negotiations no longer center around rates and placements, but on communication possibilities. The media is no longer an adversary, but a partner in communication. What do consumers need to know? And what’s the best way to tell them?

Strategy Makes the Difference

Agencies need to put as much thought into where they’re providing their advertising messages as they do for what they’re saying within them. After all, the media buy itself is the most expensive part of the campaign. Doesn’t it make sense to spend as much, if not more, time thinking strategically about it and negotiating terms?

The media is surprisingly receptive to new, out-of-the-box ideas. Just ask your media partners to help you develop some creative solutions that work better for your client. For example, in a TV spot, consider buying as little as 5 seconds or as much as 3 minutes. What does your client need to do to stand out in the crowd? How can he begin to do more educating and less selling? How can he behave in a way that makes him more believable?

There’s no award for the best media buy, it’s true, but we have found media to be open to these new conversations. As a result, our clients’ market shares are increasing without upping their ad spend. When we can increase our clients’ bottom lines, we are actually doing our jobs as agencies.

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