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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Media Mix In A Digital World

In recent weeks, I have been receiving a number of questions and comments about the determination of media mix in a media plan. If one is honest and careful about putting a plan together, this is always a major issue but generally only to the person drafting the plan and his or her immediate superior.

For years, I struggled with this issue and spent countless Sunday afternoons at the office trying to sort the issue out properly in every plan. I used one law of economics to guide much of my decision-making--the law of diminishing returns.

In essence, let us say that TV was the lead medium at the time. I, or a team member, would look at various combinations of day-part mixes and settle on one that delivered a strong portion of our target and was in a configuration that could actually be bought in the marketplace (30% Late Fringe might look good on a computer printout but sometimes there were not that many rating points to be found in a market). When we arrived at a point where it took 20% more dollars to add 5% more in potential reach, sharply diminishing returns had set in and we moved on to another medium.

The process worked well but I and others were never satisfied. When we blended the next medium (assume radio), we took a careful look at the frequency distribution of the messages. Did we reach a large number of people 3-10 times during the advertising flight? We generally dubbed that effective frequency even then we knew that the combined reach was a formula laden with sophomoric sophistry. Still, we tweaked hard and tried to get it right.

Once, and only once, in my long career did someone ask.  My colleagues never wanted to hear the explanation but to their horror they had to sit in a conference room with clients as I took them through an early power-point. The co-workers of mine sat in back. They did not heckle me openly but one started a conversation with a client and I often had to stop my presentation until they quieted down. When it was over, there were a few questions, and then, amazingly, applause. A client came up and said, “I cannot tell you how much I appreciate what you try to do. You are taking good care of the money that my husband and I spend with you.” It remains to me the most profound compliment that I ever received in my career.

Okay, years ago some of us did media mix carefully and we did it with an elan and dedication that few appreciated. What about in 2015? This is what I hear from friends and readers:

--Soon to retire media strategist--“Media mix was always a pain in the ass to get right. But, now! Who knows? Most of my business is getting increasingly digitally oriented but where do I blend in conventional advertising? I am nearly 60 years old and I cannot tell team members with a straight face what we should do. As we cut back on conventional every six months or so (annual plans never seem to last), I rarely get to diminishing returns so sometimes I just do TV and digital. It gnaws at me. How do mobile and online interact? How do you give a reach number for the whole campaign?"

--30 something Media Supervisor--“My boss tells me that an impression is an impression so if you buy TV it does not matter if you watch on a big screen, you laptop, your tablet or your phone. The networks may say that but I do not. Everything is measured differently. And, if someone is watching on their phone are they as attentive as someone watching TV in their family room? Also, with two fisted viewers maybe people watching on their phone are MORE attentive than those who have a laptop or phone at the ready as they view. Commercial ratings by device are badly needed but in the meantime, we are guessing."

--Late 20’s Media Planner--“Your question is stupid, old man. The solution is to only buy digital.” Okay, young man. How do you determine your mix of digital options?

--40 something Associate Media Director--“My fight tends to be with creative. The young ones are itching to do new digital executions and love it when I find a way to make it happen. Often, now they say they cannot do radio. My response is “You are creative. Do it. You sound like a method actor who says I can’t read that line. If you are an actor you do it. So, if you are creative, you should be able to develop some radio.” Management has silenced me so we are delivering plans that I do not consider to be optimal. I am looking for work elsewhere.”

--A Voice of Reason--“A lot depends on who the target  audience is and what are the goals of the advertising. To get to what we feel is the optimal media mix we first do our due diligence by running current media usage reports via Experian Simmons, we'll then overlay the advertising/marketing goals (is this campaign to raise awareness, generate leads, generate direct sales, etc.). We then apply the assigned budget to see what we can afford within the different channels.  What level of spend to each is optimal. We would rather own a channel or two  versus being in too many channels at low levels to make any impact.”

So, in a digital age, this issue is more important than ever. It gets little press and little attention by agency management.  Clearly, untold millions are being wasted every year.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may leave a response on the blog or reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com


  1. Finally I have found something which helped me.Appreciate it!
    Media mix

  2. Thanks, John. I am glad that it helped you a bit. Hang in there, sir.