JW_GulfNews_Nov2015This article first appeared in GULF NEWS, 17 November 2015.

The recent news reports have not been pretty for those in advertising or media: marketers are demanding unprecedented transparency from their agencies and consumers are trying to turn off advertising.

It is time for change, but what does change look like?

Budgets are being slashed. For example, P&G, the world’s biggest advertiser, last month announced its quest to reduce expenditure on advertising by $200 million (Dh734.63). “We are strengthening marketing — greater reach, higher frequency, greater effectiveness, at less overall cost,” the CFO Jon Moeller announced. Savings would be used, he continued, “to invest in working media and sampling”.

Agencies are finding that even digital spends are not forthcoming. For example, the Publicis Groupe announced poor Q3 results, with CEO Maurice Levy declaring, “September showed zero growth due to numerous campaigns being postponed, mainly in digital operations. The level of cuts are surprisingly high and coming from many different advertisers from packaged goods, automotive and pharma.”

Marketers are all putting their media buying up for pitch. WPP, the world’s biggest agency group, has called it the ‘Media Tsunami’ in their report to stockholders. And Adweek, the trade journal, has called the unprecedented amount of global media buying reviews a “mediapalooza”.

New jargon for tough times.

Meanwhile, consumers are finding advertising invasive and irrelevant. And so they have turned to ad blocking to turn off that boring advertising that is following them around the internet, using up their bandwidth and, evidently, adding little or no value.

Something is wrong, something is very wrong. If marketers and their agencies don’t put their finger on it very soon, lots of jobs will be vacant.

Budgets will continue to be slashed to achieve greater reach and higher frequency through cheaper channels. High frequency will need great storytelling and lots of iterations of the story in interesting formats — or Jon Moeller’s effectiveness at lower cost won’t be achieved.

Big agency groups will continue to suffer as agencies like Publicis lose business to specialist agencies and big business consultancies. Marketers will demand to see tangible results for advertising, not spurious metrics like the digital click. The pervasive ‘cost-per-click’ model — where marketers pay for people who click on their online ad — really isn’t a good metric as click fraud is rife.

“Bots” doing the clicking are a global problem as evidenced by anyone who regularly compares click through rates with conversion rates.

To this end, we will see — we must see — real change in the next 18 months across the global ad industry. The opportunity is huge, here, across the Gulf. This is where the tone in this article changes.

Exciting things are already afoot.

Digital storytelling — especially mobile content — is becoming varied and engaging. Banners will not always be stills from videos or adaptations of billboards. Videos will not be reformatted television commercials.

Advertising is starting to be tailored for more than one audience, with different ads for specific online audiences. This is rare now.

But soon it’ll be mainstream. It has to be.

Similarly, transparency will become ubiquitous as marketers start to ask to review the data streams themselves. At the moment the data is kept in silos, perpetuated by Apple, Facebook, Google and friends who keep their walled gardens up.

Soon marketers will find systems to merge these data silos themselves, and in-house. This will allow marketing directors to understand the real cost of advertising.

As technology gets faster and cheaper we’ll new ways to structure and review data. As they say, silos are for farmers not marketers.

Right now the cost of a click is making it hard to see the wood for the trees. We should be looking to monetise not clicks but conversions. And both brand uplift and sales growth can be measured by tangible online metrics.

Agencies will learn to collaborate for the first time ever. Real collaboration will see media and creative brought back together, under the one roof. Or else the big business consultancies will step in with digital solutions for creative and media alike. Collaboration only really takes place away from opaque practices and vested interests. As they say, collaboration will breed integration.

Across the board, there has been a global backlash towards unaccountable advertising practices. And worse, digital — the supposed model for “accountable” advertising — is now being accused of being non-accountable.

This will change. In 2016, new talent will come into the advertising pool and with talent will come the change that the industry needs so badly.

The writer is Managing Director of Blue Logic, a digital media and data consultancy.