Reaction To Ritson Shows An Industry In Crisis: Robert Strohfeldt

Reaction To Ritson Shows An Industry In Crisis: Robert Strohfeldt

If you have not seen, or at least heard about, Professor Mark Ritson’s presentation to the AANA then you must have been in a coma, says Strohfeldt Consulting founder and creative director, Robert Strohfeldt. But instead of joining the whingers, Strohfeldt says get off your high horses and help fix the situation.

The reactions have covered the spectrum from outraged self- righteousness to strong agreement, with the critics of Ritson receiving the most coverage.

And the questions he’s asking are not just being asked here in Australia.  The recent damming report in the US by the ANA on media transparency makes for interesting reading.

So what did he really say? Watch this:

No one can argue that Professor Ritson is not a highly entertaining and engrossing presenter. And his approach is anything but diplomatic.

But a closer inspection of the critics and their criticism, shows they are the ones with the most to lose from an evidence based assessment of social and online media effectiveness as advertising mediums.

The criticism of Ritson is a classic case of “shoot the messenger”. (Admittedly, a sarcastic one). You can read about the issues he addresses in not only industry, but more recently in the general business media, nearly every day.

Instead of acting offended and taking a “how dare you” approach, get off your high horses and do something to help fix the situation. I have been a part of this industry for over 30 years and never have I seen it so fragmented and suffering from such a lack of respect and trust.

Rather than work in the present, so much of the industry focus is on the future, trying to predict what the landscape will look like in five or 10 years. Development of strategies and executions for a hypothetical future, rather than the present, has been the result.

Google, Facebook and co. have been instrumental in creating and perpetuating the “tsunami of bullshit” that has washed over the industry.  They have seduced marketers with claims they are “the future of communications” using bullshit metrics to support their claims.  “Digital” is not confined to marketing and advertising.

Computers and the internet have dramatically changed the way we work and live. As a consequence, everyone wants “digital” – if you are not digital, you are a dinosaur. (The fact TV and radio are digital, print is read on tablets and outdoor signage is becoming predominately digital is over looked).

In addition, ad agencies have morphed into a series of mutually exclusive silos of “specialist services” staffed by people who want to be part of the future, which does not include “legacy media”.

The role of an ad agency has evolved since they first appeared. But if we want to maintain our relevance and standing in the business community, we should always provide advice (which can manifest in many ways, be it a media schedule, YouTube video, banner ad, a plain old TVC or a strategic plan) based on rigorously derived fact.

Let’s look at some of the key issues he raised:

  • Social media is “over rated” as a mass market medium

As he says, “it is social media”. It is about people, not brands. Brands, with all of their millions to spend on marketing and advertising, have only a fraction of followers that people do (be they music or sport stars, or just popular bloggers).

Yes, it does have its uses and a role to play in the mix. But that role is determined by the type of product or service for which it is being used; it is not a one size fits all.

Social media practitioners are blind to the realities of the limited commercial benefit of social media because don’t work on it; they live in it. Social media is a big part of their daily activity and as such find it difficult, if not impossible, to be objective about its efficacy. And of course, everyone is seduced by the huge numbers of social media users.

But there is a big difference between media viewing and advertising viewing.

Anthropomorphism has also become a major issue, with social media supporters treating brands as people. One of the major goals of his presentation was to get people to start asking questions about social media’s effectiveness as an advertising medium. And it is about time.

When two thirds of marketers are unsure of their ROI from social but intend to increase the spend, it is obvious that the right questions have not been asked.

  • He not only talks about a “tsunami of bullshit” in relation to online video, he clearly shows why

An online video view is any piece of video, with or without sound, that is seen for at least 3 seconds – conveniently the time that elapses before a person can skip an ad.  It is very funny, but obviously embarrassing to media people who have been promoting the “huge numbers” online video generates, versus TV.

That the industry has not picked up on this crazy metric and advised clients its meaning is useless and looked for a viable alternative that allow an “apples to apples” comparison to TV, is an indictment on the advertising industry as a whole.

Again, there are no tricks or the distorting of numbers. The distortion again comes from the people who stand to gain from advertising dollars flowing online.

  • There have been underhanded tactics being played out…

…in which some media agencies are booking and buying schedules which are financially beneficial to them as opposed to the clients’ best interests. Low margins have always plagued the media planning and buying business.  When digital came on the scene it was like mana from heaven.

Unlike the 10 per cent offered by traditional media, there were commissions and rebates at 20 and even 30 per cent. So of course there were unscrupulous people who promoted media solutions that provided them with a far greater pay off. Throw in the dodgy metrics used to support their claims and it is no wonder clients were misinformed.

When a business is remunerated by commissions, there will always be the potential for a conflict of interest.

  • The blind rush to online, at the expense of traditional media

The Magpie Generation, Ritson called them. I cannot name the person for obvious reasons, (he is well known as one of the country’s foremost media strategists), who recently said to me, “If I am given a brief and respond with a print solution as being the impactful and cost effective, I will be shown the door.

“The client wants a digital solution as they believe it is the future and they do not want to be seen by their peers as using old fashioned media. And why would I get the client offside when online pays me two to three times what traditional media does?”.

So it is not purely a case of media agencies pushing a solution that is financially better for them. They have the clients demanding a digital media/online solution, so of course they will go with what the client requests. When the media approach demanded by the client pays two to three times what may be the better alternative, why would you argue and risk the relationship?

So in Conclusion…

Just as trust is the major criteria for a successful brand, clients must be able to trust us to provide them the most effective communications solutions. Once trust is lost, it is almost impossible to get back.

But it is a two- way street. As client procurement departments have “hacked away” at agency fees for so long, it is little wonder that agencies need to find additional revenue sources. If clients want agency partners they can trust to best serve their interests, they can’t keep cutting the fees they pay.

It is a classic case of cause and effect. We can’t expect to change the effect, without first addressing the cause.


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