Valentine’s Day: A Token Of Industry Affection

Valentine’s Day: A Token Of Industry Affection
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine
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In this opinion piece, Atomic 212 General manager Rory Heffernan (pictured) shares his reflections on the origins of valentine’s day and its relevance to 2021.

And just like that, summer is on its way out and we’ve arrived at Valentine’s Day, perhaps the holiday most widely derided as an invention by marketers. But in what could turn out to be one of my very last Google searches, I stumbled on this cracker of a Valentine’s Day history by NPR that details the “muddled” origins of the day, and the ancient pagan festival of Lupercalia which pre-dated it – complete with Roman drunkery, animal sacrifices, sex and executions.

The public rituals of the 3rd-5th century AD definitely set a stark contrast to the (literally) sanitised Valentine’s Day that lies ahead this year, yet offer a timely metaphor for the way our industry’s previously private business has been thrust into the public arena.

With industry award nights and events only just starting to eke out of the confines of Zoom, Hangouts (or in some sorry circumstances, Teams) and return to the office (and the pub) only now starting to become a reality for many pent-up marketers and agencies, perhaps it was only a matter of time before the industry’s dirty laundry overflowed into the mainstream, with the events of January making headlines via the news media bargaining code and interim ACCC report.

One has to wonder if the intersection of private and public is set to continue throughout the year – if so, it’s more important than ever for marketers to be very aware of what is happening in their backyard.

Jilted Lovers

With 2020 barely in the rearview, the year in media got off to a major bang with Google’s very public announcement that the proposed news media bargaining code was unworkable with their Search engine, and thus they would be pulling the pin on google.com.au (I wonder if they would hang on to the domain?).

The government (primarily through Josh Frydenberg) and Google (via Mel Silva) traded blows from their respective pulpits. Frydenberg rejected Mark Zuckerberg’s advances in such a public way that it was reminiscent of a failed high school courting attempt. Microsoft then popped up and engaged in a Public Display of Affection with the government, letting us know that Bing was ready to go…even if Teams is a bit slow to start sometimes.

An apparent softening then occurred as conversations were taken indoors and Google launched its News Showcase product, the very one that was touted by Google as the ideal solution from the outset. As reported by Nine, discussions have since been in place between Google and the major Australian news outlets, after several smaller publishers (including Crikey and Schwartz Media) already agreed to participate in the launch.

With movement on the code expected in parliament in the next week or two, it appears the slings and arrows fired by jealous lovers of ad revenue have cooled somewhat, so we may expect a less dramatic outcome.

Part two of the Google Wars played out quietly in tandem, with the ACCC handing down the interim report from its digital advertising services inquiry, with the final report due in August. The focus of the report was set largely around ownership and transparency in the digital supply chain, more specifically raising concerns about Google’s dominance across the chain.

Google’s exclusive access to or integrations with their own inventory (in YouTube) and targeting capabilities was raised as a potential issue. We’ll have to wait until the full report in August to see whether the ACCC decides to deem Google’s position as anti-competitive or self-serving. If the news code saga is anything to go by, I would hope to see the quiet competitors of Google in the SSP and Ad Serving space hit the mainstream with the same gusto that News Corp and Microsoft have – with representatives of Adform, Sizmek and Pubmatic arm in arm in a drunken festival of love with the Australian government.

The report also referenced potential conflicts of interests between advertisers and agencies, in terms of remuneration, rebates and agency ad tech, although in this case indicated that any issues here are best resolved in private through stronger advertiser understanding of fee structures and due diligence in procurement/contract authoring.

For many of us Romans, this part of the pitch festival is already working well for marketers and the organisations they represent in most cases  – the marketing team engages in the “matchmaking lottery” with its preferred agency shortlist, while the goat and cattle sacrifices of fee and media rates occur behind closed doors with procurement and auditors or pitch consultants.

Behind Closed Doors

Increasingly widespread discussions on what should be public and what should be private will continue to disrupt the best efforts of marketers to demonstrate value in 2021, best seen in Facebook’s response to Apple’s iOS14 update in a comparatively minor January story.

A string of furious releases and webinars from Facebook detailed widespread changes in its Ads Manager platform, symptomatic of a wider issue as web browsers tighten privacy controls and wreak havoc on analytics tools and ad servers alike.

Apple’s very public alert to iPhone users that advertisers are often kissing and telling without consent – in nefariously pinching their data and sharing it around for all to see, is unlikely to result in a public outpouring of affection for marketers and the digital reporting that they hold dear.

Although it’s not yet clear if anybody in Australia clicked the “Allow” or “At Least Buy Me A Drink” buttons, I expect that many online dashboards and weekly reports may be starting to indicate some level of trouble in paradise, dependent on the level of “probabilistic” conversion reporting already in play.

Google’s threat to remove Search from the market may have been ill-timed, should the “cookie apocalypse” continue on its current trajectory and the ease in which marketers could previously demonstrate ROI from Paid Search (and other performance channels) is replaced by sweaty brows presenting downward arrows to hostile online boardrooms.

Although Bing was quick to recognise the revenue opportunity, media planners and publishers may have been equally excited at the prospect of the “lower-funnel” budget, long held so tightly by Paid Search, being freed up for investment for other opportunities and channels to drive growth.

The TV networks will hope to continue the good times brought on by 2020 as they navigate any further disruption to sport and production. As I write this, Victoria is dealing with a fresh coronavirus cluster seeping out of hotel quarantine, the system in place to defend the Australian Open, a key broadcast property for Q1.

With the first weekend of the tournament now landing on the familiar dates of Lupercalia, we can only hope it takes the more modern form of a hygienic and fruitful Valentine’s Day for all involved.

If the first 6 weeks of the year are anything to go by, the muddled landscape of the past 12 months shows no sign of clearing. Perfect conditions for our industry, our motley crew of problem-solvers, to thrive.

Whether you represent a brand, agency, publisher or tech company – there’s no shortage of challenges to sink your teeth into…or goats to sacrifice in hope of purification. For now, a friendly reminder that Interflora is still delivering Valentine’s Day flowers to Sydney & Melbourne (hey, even if Google leaves, SEO lives on!)

Happy Lupercalia!

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