Is Brexit leading to bad ad choices?

Advertisers that cling to a digital-only safety blanket in the wake of economic uncertainty will only see the delivery of diminished returns, writes MC&C's Mark Jackson

These are uncertain times indeed. Post Marmite-gate, consumers have been warned to see price rises across the board. The pound's got the jitters. No-one seems to know if Theresa May is going to choose the hard or soft option.

We're already seeing the impact of a post-Brexit economy on media spend.

Both the IAB and the IPA Bellwether reports came out at the end of October. The IPA found that marketers are largely holding their nerve and spend is creeping up (+1.9%) but are understandably worried about financial prospects.

The IAB saw encouraging growth in ad spend (+16.4%) but critically, the strongest gains were all in digital and particularly in mobile (up 56.1%), overtaking desktop for the first time.

So what's with all that doom-mongering about the pound and the PM up there at the start? Surely this is cause for celebration? Well, yes - and no.

Brexit isn't the cause of the massive leap to digital and mobile but it's certainly a contributing factor. And it's encouraging some already entrenched bad habits in marketers.

You see, digital has been seducing us. Every click measured, every journey mapped. A marketer puts a pound in, they see where they get the pound out.

This is so much better, they think, than the old days. You'd pour money into old media and sales might rise, they might not. You were never quite sure what the trigger had been.

The high from digital certainty becomes addictive. And uncertain times make chasing that high even more attractive. Proven ROI equals job security in the notoriously fickle marketing sector. It used to be that no-one got fired for hiring IBM. Now no-one gets fired for another native ad. Even more pounds in, even more proof of pounds out. Before you know it, you're hooked.

And as with any addiction, you sleepwalk into a spiral of diminishing returns.

Pumping all your budget into digital is fine when you're in the start-up stages. There's not much money to go around. You need to target specific segments. Direct response gets your sales off the ground.

In stage two however, it's time to start testing your way to above the line. There is still no argument that offline media, including television, is still the best way to build a brand at speed and scale.

Continuing to be incredibly segmented and targeted at this stage only leads to lots of inefficiencies. By clinging to a digital-only safety blanket for whatever reason, Brexit or otherwise, you inevitably hit a ceiling. Eventually, growth regresses.

The IAB's figures may show strength today but there is a huge question mark over how sustainable that is. Ultimately the pendulum has swung too far away from other channels in favour of digital. The market is long overdue a correction.

It could be down to the perception that digital is the only targetable, measurable media which is, of course, nonsense. When you see the best digital advertisers, the likes of Facebook and Google, investing heavily in TV advertising, it tells you something about the power of offline channels.

Any performance agency worth their salt is going to be able to help brands de-risk their media spend with a controlled testing matrix. The right partner will have the ability to measure everything their clients do.

They're going to use rigorous testing metrics. Their media buys will be targeted to a core audience. Flexibility and agility isn't just possible in offline media, it's essential.

Balancing digital with line-by-line TV planning and buys as close as possible to real time means brands can benefit from any changes in market conditions. Marketers also avoid the wastage they're so scared of.

Yes, digital is and should be growing as a whole and mobile is becoming more prevalent just as we'd expect. But don't mistake this as carte blanche for an all-digital, all-the-time strategy.

In the short term, no-one may question your investment but as growth slows and competitors pull ahead, they'll certainly start to question your judgement. Find the balance and you'll find your feet.


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