WFA survey shows clients all at sea as they try to navigate digital media

Advertisers may be spending money on media as if there’s no tomorrow but about half of themn have little idea if they’re doing the right thing.

According to a new survey from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) whose members spend $40bn annually on advertising, there are no fewer than five areas – ecommerce, measurement, transparency, in-housing and ESG (environmental, social and governance) – where current performance and capability don’t measure up.

The survey finds that, while media is bcoming more important and client teams are expanding, performance lags behind in all the above areas.

The biggest gap (57%) – the percentage points difference between the respondents who were satisfied with their performance and those who believed the issue was important – was in eommerce and shoppable media. None of the 52 respondents reported that they were “very satisfied” with their current capabilities in eCommerce, and many are looking for inspiration from sources as diverse as online retailers from Amazon to Alibaba, as well as D2C brands.

The next biggest gap – 51% – was found in media measurement, attribution, and market mix modelling. Ninety-four percent of respondents said they believe this area will be very important/important over the coming years. This shows that the age-old question of “what works” has not been solved by the advances in digital technology and the degradation of third-party cookies only enhances the challenge.

The third gap – 49% – is in transparency. More than 9 in 10 respondents (91%) said that media transparency will be very important/important over the next 3-4 years but only 43% are satisfied with their organisation’s current capabilities. Bigger advertisers (those with ad budgets in excess of $750m) were more satisfied than those with smaller budgets.

The fourth gap 38% – is in-housing or right-housing. While 36% of those interviewed strongly agree or agree with the statement that “In-housing won’t make sense for our organisation”, this still leaves 67% who claim to be strengthening internal media capabilities. Only 11% are very satisfied with their current capabilities here with data and technology being a major shortfall.

The final capability gap – 36% – is around the ESG agenda, which covers a host of areas including data privacy. These areas are challenging to manage because they need to be considered throughout an increasingly complex supply chain.

WFA director global media services Matt Green says:“This report shines an important light on the discrepancies between where many advertisers say they are versus where they want to be. It is not surprising that there are capability deficits in areas such as ecommerce, shoppable media and ESG, which have come under such focus in recent months. Equally considering the privacy-first transition the digital media industry is going through, which is seeing core functionality eroded, it’s not surprising that measurement presents a capability challenge to media leaders.

“Media transparency has been a focus for the industry for a number of years and, while we accept that this very much a moving target, it’s disappointing to see that this still occupies so much attention from media leaders. These issues – old and new – require the client-side to adopt new skills and they require renewed collaboration from across the industry.”

Indeed it does but hasn’t it dawned on these esteemed marketing leaders that the endless search for more data-based validation inevitably leads to more complexity and less clarity? No wonder media agencies are still making hay as clients (unavailingly it seems) try to control their vast and growing media spend.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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