Marketers should strive for clarity in media, not simplicity.

There’s this narrative popping up at the moment around the need to simplify media. The narrative has come to bear because some believe that media has become overly complicated. You know, lots of acronyms, over-engineered buying and selling, regulatory involvement, 100’s of metrics etc. Our good friends at ID Comms are even championing the word ‘simplify’ as being the marketing word of the year for 2020.

As someone who has worked in programmatic for nearly their entire career, I get it and respect that opinion. I understand why on the outside looking in it’s complex. It’s why I created a mentoring program. It’s why we train IAB members. It’s why brands come to The Programmatic Advisory as consultants for support. But complexity isn’t the problem. Jerry Daykin (Senior Media Director at GSK) wrote a good article on this recently where simplification is being used in terms of media roles and strategy as opposed to the actual process of planning/buying/selling and measuring media, which I totally agree with.

As Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simple”.

I disagree that media as a planning/buying/selling/measuring process needs to be simpler. Simplicity in media has significant repercussions.

Walled Gardens & Opaque pricing

Marketers could well be at the mercy of a handful of companies in a not too distant future if they keep selecting them ‘because they are easy to use’. These walled gardens regularly ignore industry initiatives, put restrictions on third party providers and operate opaque pricing models. This is largely disastrous for brands. It’s also disastrous for innovative and new companies who come to market to try gain any traction.

It’s risky to wish that media becomes less than x amount of companies globally as it suffocates what our industry can do. The net impact is felt by the consumer as advertising funds so much of the media they consume. Supporting the open-web is critical for a sustainable industry.

Incorrect KPIs

Last-click is still the most adopted KPI model for brands and that’s largely because it’s simple to understand. It’s fundamentally wrong and overstates the impact of certain channels yet is selected because it’s the simplest (and setup as default in most adservers and analytics tools).

Under-valued people

If media was so simple then anyone could do it. Our industry needs people from a wide variety of backgrounds so that the industry innovates technically – and ideally this is on top of open protocols. People who dedicate significant time and energy become under-valued and will likely leave the industry.

What brands need isn’t media to be simpler, they need clarity.

Media is a series of integrated processes that deliver consumer experiences. Media is not a product which you pick up off the shelf and press go.

Marketers don’t need to understand the technicalities of media, they need to understand marketing. Programmatic isn’t the marketing strategy, it’s what enables a sub-section of it.

In the same way as I am a business owner in the UK and US and I don’t need to understand the absolute ins and outs of the entire tax systems in multiple countries (it’s incredibly difficult), it’s why I hire an accountant and a tax specialist who have dedicated their education and career to understanding the intricacies of their heavily evolved industries, I just need to know what I need to do and broadly why.

It’s also why I have friends who spent years in medical school to research and improve blood matching for donors, I don’t need them to make their process simpler so I have less of a headache understanding it, I just need to know it has positive impact if I or those around me ever need it.

It’s why, as you read this on one of your devices, you don’t need to understand the technicalities of HTTP or HTML, you just need to be able to read content when you wish, not know how it technically gets delivered.

There are so many examples like the three I listed in which you can see why there’s a need for complexity in delivery, but you don’t need to know the ins and outs of it. If you did, well then you can dedicate more time to learning!

Media isn’t going to get any simpler so I would urge those that push for simplification in media to be careful. Whilst you may think there’s this ideal world of a handful of platforms where you type in some budget and away you go, you run the risk of poor campaigns, marketers businesses not thriving (reducing our industries significance), an un-auditable supply chain as well as being at the mercy of a handful of companies.

I should of course note that I run a consultancy in a complex ecosystem and that part of our sell is that ‘you don’t need to understand, we’ve got this’ but I do genuinely get offended when people say that the programmatic industry tries to make things complex so that they can benefit from that complexity.

Having seen how other industries evolve (online gaming, finance and software in particular), they don’t ever go backwards, they go forward by being happy to operate within areas of uncertainty. IBM is a good example of a company that is doubling down on blockchain, blockchain isn’t simple, but some of the use cases are clear and IBM expects it’s customers to need them to navigate the many applications this may have for them.

Clarity is what brands should strive for. Clarity in how budgets are being planned, clarity in targeting, clarity in metric application, clarity in commercials, clarity in people on the account. Clarity. All of these are easily achievable without even needing to know what header bidding or SameSite=none is..!