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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thinking Beyond Stage One

This morning I finished reading Thomas Sowell’s APPLIED ECONOMICS (Basic Books, 2009). Like all of Sowell’s books, he takes a subject that is often too dense for most readers, Economics, and make it clear and understandable.

The subtitle to the book was “Thinking Beyond Stage One.” Sowell talks about how so many ideas for economic policy are superficially appealing but often cause long term problems because most people never ask the question-- “And then what will happen?” after the policy is implemented. He gives marvelous examples of how sincere and well intentioned leaders may think hard about POLITICAL consequences but have not thought out the long term economic or social results of their actions. It is a fine read and makes you check your initial premise on an issue at every turn.

This idea of “Thinking Beyond Stage One” strikes me as relevant in the world of media strategy these days. A few young planners have contacted me in frustration about the superficial nature of what is going on within their departments or entire shops. Here are two of the best examples:

The first person was a young lady who asked me a thoughtful series of questions about TV attentiveness by daypart. I told her that 30+ years ago many of us would put probability of exposures weights on each daypart when putting together the optimum mix. For example, we might set primetime at a 100 index, late night at 75 (many asleep during programming) or early morning at 65 as viewers were not viewing but making breakfast or school lunches for kids or maybe shaving or showering. Sometimes in the ’80’s, an anchor on The CBS Morning News might have said, “If you are away from the viewing area, you might want to see this,” which was a clear admission and recognition that attentiveness had to be low from 7-8 am. My young friend was interested but her boss said she was complicating things way too much. “Just put together an efficient and affordable daypart mix and screw the research that the old man sent you,” is a sanitized version of what she was told. Being a bit of a terrier, she came back to me with the following: “Don, if you used those weights successfully 30 years ago, what would you use now? Most of us have another device going when we watch live, about half of us have a DVR, commercial free Netflix share is growing and You Tube takes up more time with many of us, so the daypart registration weights that you talked about using before I was born (I laughed out loud at that) have to be much, much lower today.” I had to agree but have not seen any updated research that truly reflects 2016 attentiveness habits to TV. We used to use probability of exposure weights for magazine ads as well depending on size and position in the book. How much of that is still done? So, it seems that even though the landscape has changed dramatically many people are not Thinking Beyond Stage One.

A young man hit me with a similar lament regarding media mix. This is an age old question but superficiality still seems to reign. How much of each medium is enough? He finds that he is using more on line and mobile and Facebook as he can track results better than with many conventional media options. “I know that 100% digital is a mistake for all my clients right now but I now lay in the digital (measurable) vehicles first. Once I have a base there, I move to TV, Radio and Print (if I have the money). If I try and discuss media mix options with my boss, he gives me 30 seconds and only asks if I have cleared the mix with the creative team.”

Young staffers need encouragement. I realize that part of management’s role is to use time efficiently and not get mired in analysis paralysis. Yet if you are a supervisor in a media group or an agency principal, try and dig a bit deeper and think about the long term consequences of your actions. Are you Thinking Beyond Stage One?

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

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