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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Sort of 2016 Media Forecast

In recent weeks, I have received a number of requests from readers and friends to put together a 2016 Media Forecast. I was very hesitant as I do not see the next year with much clarity. The economic world, among others, is in great flux. After years of explosive growth, emerging markets are taking a rest. The low cost of oil is affecting Russia and Brazil significantly and many do not see the supply overload righting itself until 2017. The muscular US dollar will likely only rise as interest rates inch up in 2016, and, as a result, American exports will suffer. Friends who are uber-bullish about the stock market seem to ignore that part of the relative strength has been companies simply buying back their shares rather than investing in innovation, personnel, or capital equipment. An old friend told me to go ahead with a forecast saying, “Don, you have been on this forecasting beat for 40 years; you must know something.” He is correct. What I know is what I do not know. And, I have never been more uncomfortable as I look ahead to 2016.

This year, I decided an interesting tact would be to avoid going to my “old reliables.” These are people whom I have known forever and whose judgement I respect. Instead, I went to an ENTIRE new crew of contributors for a forecast. Candidly, I have been disappointed. There were too many remarks that were self serving. I received comments along the lines of “my medium is in tough shape. But my station (magazine, newspaper) will prance through 2016 smiling.” Others said that, “in 2016, we may have a brokered GOP convention. Think how much ad spend we will get in my state after decades of virtually nothing.” Finally, “you worry too much. Things are going to get better each quarter.”

Let me share a few things that I have often used as benchmarks for economic activity. They may not get much press but they have been my ultimate checklist over the years.

1) The Labor Participation Rate--the talking heads on TV talk about the relatively low unemployment rate. Yes, employment has slowly improved over the last few years. At the same time, my acid test, the Labor Participation Rate, is terrible. One group says that it is the lowest since 1977 while another group says that it is at the lowest level ever. Why split hairs? It stinks. One is only considered to be unemployed if he or she is actively seeking employment. If you are discouraged and stop searching for gainful employment, you are no longer considered unemployed.
2) Caterpillar (CAT)--the fortunes of the Illinois based company with the distinctive yellow backhoes and other earth moving equipment is a simplistic touchstone for me of global economic health. If CAT is not getting new orders, then ground is not being broken both in the U.S. and around the world. Right now, Caterpillar appears to be struggling. That is not a good sign for economic activity.
3) Trucking--most goods in the U.S. still move by truck. If the action slows as it has, that is not a good barometer of a vibrant economy picture.

Oversimplified? You bet! Scary. You bet?

Okay, here are a few fearless forecasts for 2016:

1) Digital will continue to grow at a double digit pace.
2) Social media will likely have a majority of its action in mobile vs. laptop. Not by much but a clear winner.
3) Mobile will continue to invade our lives but growth as an ad medium may be short of expectations.
4) Conventional media will continue to weaken due to what I have dubbed “internal deterioration.” Yes, TV could be up a few percentage points overall and radio in many markets will hold steady but their share of the ad pie will get smaller despite headlines touting increased spending for elections and Olympics. Newspaper and magazines will continue to decline.
5) Outside the U.S., the rate of growth will slow a bit as China softens (still growing but at slower pace), and Russia and Brazil and other natural resource dependent countries struggle. Europe will move forward a bit in most countries.

A sleeper. You have all heard of cord-cutting--some people give up on cable or satellite and make do with Netflix, Hulu, You Tube and other options. This year, you may hear about cord-nevers. These are young people who have never had a mainstream TV service and see no reason to get one. They tend to be well educated and increasingly affluent. How will you reach them? Hint--Big Data will help.

Toothless comments? Perhaps. Yet 2016 strikes me as being a year of murkiness and contradictions.

Here is wishing all of us a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016 despite the headwinds that I see ahead.

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Endowment Effect in Television Advertising

Those of you who have studied Consumer Behavior, Psychology, or Behavioral Economics are undoubtedly familiar with what is known as “The Endowment Effect.”  Quite simply, it occurs when a person or persons ascribe more value to things merely because they own them.

A few examples might include when a couple decides to sell their home. Their realtor may give them an estimate based on similar homes in the same zip code but the owners insist that their home is special and deserves to be premium priced. Used cars are another great example. A seller explains that his/her old car is a “cream puff” that was beautifully maintained and has mysteriously low mileage. Selling something on e-bay? The odds are good that the owner believes her collectible is going to fetch a top price after a lively bidding war.

Over the last few years, I have come to believe that, in television advertising, the endowment effect, is beginning to wane. Historically, literally going back 60 years, media planners and negotiators always took the attitude that one “pays more to get more.” In other words, you paid a higher cost per rating point for a spot with a 15 rating than one with a three rating. The appeal was that the 15 rating reached a larger unduplicated audience so you were willing to pay a premium, often significant, to get that substantial audience all at once. The Super Bowl remains an outstanding example of this principle as it consistently delivers 44-45% of US TV households each year, and importantly, commercial attentiveness is higher for The Super Bowl than any other TV event.

The problem is that today there are few things out there that even deliver a fourth of The Super Bowl’s audience. And, commercial avoidance via DVR’s, Netflix, Hulu, or simply using the remote, is at an all time high and gaining ground. So, even if one buy’s one of today’s top rated primetime show (assume an eight rating), many will tape the show and edit out commercials as they watch it. The advertiser has paid a premium for the large audience but what are they really getting in terms of attentiveness?

Separately, there is the issue of sports programming. Sports has always been premium priced on a cost per potential eye ball basis. While it varies by telecast and quality of the audience, let us use a 20% premium as a benchmark for advertising in a sports vehicle.  Today, some people tape football games and play them back. The average game has 12-13 minutes of action. Do people dutifully watch commercials or listen to sometimes inane commentary when playing a game back? It would appear to be highly unlikely. On fall Saturdays when college games are broadcast, it is not unusual to have seven games playing simultaneously. Hardcore pigskin fans can jump from game to game during commercial breaks lessening the impact of advertising dollars placed in specific games.

Some have commented to me that my point is well made but it is all relative. In the 1980’s, General Hospital on ABC Daytime was a soap opera that delivered a 20 household rating and was often used by buyers as a primetime surrogate depending on the product advertised. Simultaneously, some late news (WPVI in Philadelphia, for example) also delivered killer numbers that could bring buys in nicely. Today, an eight is the new 20. I see their point but there does not seem to be a lowering of the premium over ordinary fare consistent with the precipitous drop in ratings.

Now, I fully understand that TV costs are determined by the law of supply and demand. So, if media negotiators continue to bid up the prices of a handful of selected shows with either strong numbers or attractive demographics, that is simply the way the market works. Yet, when will it end or slow down? We all know that TV does not work as well as it used to not so many years ago. Measurement of a host of digital options is getting better and better so a shift away from TV may start to pick up speed and soon.

Agency media people continue to give certain aspects of TV an endowment effect that remains on steroids despite crumbling measured delivery and attentiveness. Something has to give.

To Media Realism readers all over the world, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Key to Success is Failure

For most of my adult life, I have read or heard people talk about positive thinking and how some people are just born winners. There is no question that positive thinking is a good thing but to me the greatest success often comes to people who have had some hard knocks, learned from it, and overcome the difficulty.

Like many New Englanders of my generation, my childhood hero was Red Sox great Ted Williams. Urban legend has it that in retirement, Ted one said that baseball “is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” Ted was right about baseball. If a guy hits .300 consistently for 10-15 years, he is a virtual lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown.

Actually, Ted was wrong that a .300 batting average would only make you a success in baseball. Ask any advertising agency executive about his or her new business batting average. Yes, many shops have hot streaks, but virtually no one bats .300 at new business over the long pull. If you are not talking about the three-four shops who make the cut for the creative or marketing shoot-out, then the average for everyone is much much lower than .300 as many do not make the cut at the RFP (Request for Proposal) stage.

How about the new rage in marketing--Targeting models employing Big Data?
Well, look at Groupon coupon redemptions. The number is something like six coupons out of 10,000 mailed out. Amazon does far better with their Zappos offers as they have a clear look at purchase history but still, despite the best targeting ever, the failure rate is staggering.

How about science? From the time I was able to read, I also was informed of the genius of Thomas Edison. Yet, Edison performed thousands and thousands of experiments before he had a breakthrough with electricity or movie cameras. He was quoted as saying that discovery was “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Know many investment millionaires? Most will tell you that most of their purchases lost money or were lackluster. A couple of 10 baggers (1,000% return) or one 100 bagger (10,000% return) put them on easy street.

How about those dealing with addiction? Most fail a few times before turning their lives around in re-hab. And, it is a verifiable fact that the majority of “overnight successes” in the entrepreneurial world may have struck gold on their third or fourth attempt.

Failure is so important in the business world. If you learn from your mistakes, you improve your chances significantly on your next effort. And, importantly, failure teaches you true humility which is the differentiating characteristic of many great leaders.

So, we all have failures and will continue to experience them. Analyze them and try and learn from them. Dust yourself off and get back in the game. Over the long pull, failure can be your friend.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Big Deal About Big Data

Over the last few years, unless you were in a very remote part of the marketing world, the term “Big Data” has become increasingly prominent. Just what is it? How important is it going forward in the discipline of Consumer Behavior and the world of Advertising and Marketing?

To me, Big Data is the legitimate heir to popular terms of the new century such as dot.com, social media, and wireless. It means a lot of data. No joke! That is it!

The issue to me is not that we have more data than ever before, a great deal more of it, but we have far more analyses. A tremendous amount more.

The driving force of this marketing or sales revolution is not the massive data itself. It is the AVAILABILITY of the information. To repeat, Big Data means more analyses, but, at the same time, it also means more bad analyses as well. In today’s world, there is no way to escape people crunching numbers (I have done it forever). And now, marketers and analysts have vastly more numbers to review.

Today, by employing Big Data, marketers, especially online players, know a great about their regular customers and they are constantly fine tuning their methods. A friend said that he is searching for the holy grail of communication--making the right offer to the right person at the right time.

How do they do it? To wildly oversimplify, they essentially get needed information two ways:

1) Loyalty cards--This is clearly the most direct way for a marketer to learn your shopping habits. Retailers “bribe you” in essence, by obtaining your personal data with rebates, gifts, or other benefits. The best example that I have ever found was a few years back when JPMorgan Chase issued an Amazon credit card. The carrot that they offered was that you received three reward points for every dollar purchased on Amazon with the Chase Amazon card. All other purchases received one point for each dollar spent with the card. With a powerful incentive in place, a large number of people put much of their expenditures on that one card and used Amazon more often. So, in crude terms, Amazon gets the platinum mine and you get the shaft. Only a few would think this. Most would say they get the benefits of a souped-up Amazon reward plan. A handful, generally very mature would worry about privacy. The younger demographic by a rate of 95% to 5% would opt for convenience over privacy. So, with the loyalty card Amazon has a rather clear view of your spending habits. They can customize offers to you and others like you to push you over the edge and grab a deal.

2) Loyal or Regular Customers--A retailer or company site will graze through your past shopping records and look for clues to your shopping behavior. If you come up without a clearcut profile, they will link you with customers who “look like” you in some way or share several demographic characteristics. This leap of faith is known as PROXY DATA and can include basics such as age, income, nine digit zip, education, subscriptions to selected magazines and even if you have a cat or a dog. The mountain of Proxy Data that is being built up almost defies description. Companies have massive databases that cover nearly 75% of all US Households. They peddle this information to many takers and slice it up in infinite variations. A few examples are:

1) The basics such as age, gender, education, income and ethnicity

2) Consumption data--What do this household spend on liquor, fine wine, even ice cream.  Ice Cream? A quick story. On Saturday, my wife sent me to a toney grocery store to pick up two items. As I passed the ice cream section, the marketer in me stopped. They had a brand unfamiliar to me that was selling for $7.25 cents a pint. I laughed to myself and wondered who would be buying ice cream priced at over $50 a gallon. An instant later, a very beautifully dressed woman said, “Excuse me, sir, may I get in to the freezer.” As she put two pints of the designer ice cream into her shopping cart, she smiled and told me that her daughter was home for Thanksgiving break and just loved this ice cream. I very quickly drew a demographic profile of the lovely mom.  Coincidentally, we checked out at almost the same time and left the store simultaneously. My hunch was correct. She hopped in to a new Land Rover and, as she drove away, I saw a sticker on the rear window for both Brown University and Williams College. With that, I could narrow her home to one of three zip codes. If I can do that by inspection, imagine what a marketer can do with a few dozen data points!

3) Lifestyle data--How often have you moved (average home stay is seven years in the US) and how long is your marriage and is it your first.

4) Neighborhood information--How long do people commute to work and how many own their dwellings

In 2008, when the economy appeared to be in shambles, the great Chris Anderson wrote a magazine article entitled “The End of Theory.” Anderson is the author of THE LONG TAIL (a book which I highly recommend) and is the former editor of WIRED Magazine. It was the first article that really brought the concept of Big Data into the mainstream. His thesis was that data would become so big and so complete that models to reach target prospects or even project sales forecasts would be obsolete.

To quote, the lead passage from his article we find: “This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out of every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is that they do it and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.”

Now, that you have looked up the definitions of taxonomy and ontonology, let us continue.

If you study Consumer Behavior with any depth, you soon realize that the true causes for buying defy simple measurement. With so much data available, we may weigh various data points incorrectly and make unwarranted assumptions.

Big Data is wildly useful but it cannot tell you why fads occur or why all of us at one time or another make impulsive purchases. Statisticians refer to these as LATENT FACTORS as they cannot be seen or observed. Is Anderson totally right about the future of Big Data? I doubt it for one big reason. My favorite statistician, Kaiser Fung, put it beautifully when he wrote, “It is just hopeless to distill the kaleidoscope of human behavior in to a set of equations.”

What does this mean for the future of both Consumer Behavior as a marketing discipline and for the future of Integrated Marketing Communications? Plenty, but the impact of Big Data is not clearcut. One could make a safe bet that as logarithms improve marketers will depend more on online and mobile options to reach people. Traditional media has to struggle even more than they do today. Facebook may grow in stature as the word of mouth it provides re products and services will help while legacy media flounders.

Remember, that statistics are no substitute for judgement but unbiased analyses should be a great help to marketers going forward.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com