Here’s Looking at Your Future Kid 2.0

 “Here’s Looking at Your Future, Kid” was originally published in October 2005. The article depicted the daily work activity of Toshiko Jones, a fictionalized character whom single-handedly managed media buying across multiple channels-digital, linear, outdoor, print-all from a single desktop.

This question is, a decade and a half later what did I get right and what did I get wrong?

Upon first glance, my initial reaction to going back in time to this article was “OMG. I can’t believe I had the nerve to prognosticate about programmatic buying in 2004 and use 2020 as the benchmark for the future.” …And here we are…

In my overly optimistic view of the future, ALL media type from digital, to print, to outdoor, and linear – was trading on one single marketplace. This was helped by the prediction that:

“Measurement of branding effectiveness was now real-time…. The methodology included measuring the number of subscribers who viewed the commercial messages, the potential number of family members viewing, the duration and attention paid to the message, and their value to the product in terms their demographics. It was a kind of EKG for the brand.”

In order to prove her point and win over a client, our hero sits them down and on a real-time basis, demonstrates how a test budget of $250,000 could yield a better response using her centralized buying platform:

 “On a minute by minute basis, Toshiko shifted the balance and placement of media in reaction the performance of each distribution channel…Sometimes the change in a broadcaster’s programming influenced results, sometimes a local breaking news story diverted a metro population’s attention, necessitating a shift of media to an adjacent market. Changes in distribution material (creatives) could be made as well, by sending subtle changes to brochures or telemarketing scripts electronically. Thus, conversion could be impacted as well.”

Within an hour, Toshiko’s system had the following results:

                  “…we increased the (brand recognition) by 45 percent over traditional static placements and increased measurable response by 25 percent. Put into numbers, we just generated an additional $500,000 in leads and projected sales for your services in the one hour I’ve been sitting here.”

So what do you, the reader, think? In the original article, did I lay an egg? Or was I an oracle?

 I think the answer lies somewhere in between…

Yes, programmatic is now a staple of any media budget. Yes, the use of exchanges helps feed supply and demand. Yes, there are branding studies and metrics that help prove the effectiveness of programmatic media. Programmatic TV buying is now available. A buyer using a platform like Media Ocean can do a lot of research and buying more efficiently. And yet……

Our industry is still incredibly fragmented. Digital, linear, print and out of home exist in media silos more often than not. Standardized measurement and management of discrepancies in delivery are the bane of our business. Programmatic itself has made a huge impact, but it augments the efforts of publisher direct sales efforts, as opposed to replacing them.

Part of this mess is technology, part of it lies in the institutions. Agencies and Publishers alike are not ready to throw up their hands in surrender to fully automated buying and selling, when so much of what they do and so many of their resources, are dedicated to direct relationships.

So today in 2020, do I see a world where Toshiko Jones, media-buying wizard, can single-handedly manage a massive budget, and pull all the levers within a single application, the same way a day trader would? Sadly, no. Which leads me to the conclusion that the automated future for our industry will be a more gradual evolution than we expected, and not an instantaneous revolution.

If you are reading this, you are as curious about the future of our industry as I am. If you have your own thoughts on where we will be 5, 10, 15 years from now feel free to write to me below:

“Here’s Looking at Your Future, Kid”

(Originally published in iMediaConnection 10/4/05)

Technology gives birth to applications that measure activity and make decisions at an increasingly accelerated pace. Examples are numerous, ranging from the computer in your car that regulates engine performance, braking and passive safety systems, to the systems that drive the financial markets of the NYSE and NASDAQ.

As these systems are introduced, they change the way businesses are structured, create the need for new skill sets and force companies to rethink how they approach traditional markets.

The media business is not exempt from this effect. Measuring online activity is becoming more sophisticated. As this trend continues the traditional roles of marketing directors, media planners, buyers, media operations execs and staffers will change.

The following is a look at an alternative future that might be the result of these changes to our business.

Welcome to the year 2020

At 6:00AM on May 4, of 2020, Toshiko Jones took the elevator down to the ground floor of her residence and waited patiently for her car service. While she waited, she surveyed the horizon of lush green mangroves on one side and an expanse of placid, slate-grey ocean on the other. Her Gulf Coast home was located in an exclusive development, a retreat occupied by the elite and wealthy.

Toshiko could afford it. Her firm, Media Asset Management (MAM), handled the purchasing and distribution of advertising for the top 10 corporations in the United States. She was one of a handful of individuals with expertise in the real-time purchase, placement, optimization and measurement of multi-media campaigns. The roles of the media planner, buyer, trafficker and marketing manager had converged into a new function — a Media Asset Manager.

Like the most prestigious financial asset management firms of the past (Fidelity, SmithBarney, et al), media asset firms now had corporate clients who entrusted them with exorbitant budgets and relied on them to generate the highest return on their investments. So MAM was responsible for buying, selling and placing media on a minute by minute basis across all media channels including Vidline, Satradio and Print.

Even conservative clients who balked at this model eventually saw the value in granting a company or individual the aggregated responsibility and authority to plan, buy, sell, traffic, measure and optimize media in the same way that stock portfolios were managed.

After all, it was done real-time now. Companies who insisted on giving their permission on each and every aspect of media buys and placement quickly found that they didn’t have the time, attention or expertise to evaluate and optimize every five minutes. Companies who refused to get in the game found that their brand, their sales and their futures where outflanked by competitors who felt perfectly comfortable letting control freaks like Toshiko and MAM take the reigns of their media budgets.

Toshiko grabbed a handful of jet black hair, pushed it away from her neck and held it for a moment. The sea breeze was warm, and heavy with humidity. She heard the whir of the hybrid from the frontage road, anticipating the arrival of the limousine. She let her hair fall and collected her bags, eager as always to make the trip to New York and present her media strategy to a new prospect — in this case, Danbury Genetic Enhancements.

As she often did, she reflected during the outbound trip on events that took her from being a simple ad trafficker to CEO of MAM — a company that leveraged the enormous change in media to achieve a valuation that rivaled old school edifices like Chase, Microsoft and Google. Again, the same question arose in her mind…

The past evolves into the future

How did the dysfunctional mediascape of 2005 evolve so rapidly into a real-time marketplace whose sophistication in trading rivaled the New York Stock Exchange?

After all, 2005, the media landscape was a mess. A large corporation could look forward to working with a creative agency, a media buying agency, an interactive agency, a direct marketing agency. Yes, yes, there were large global agencies who gave the appearance of doing it all, but at best their internal divisions seldom knew what each other was doing. At worse, the agency was a virtually a shell that outsourced to dozens of independents.

In 2005, the operations landscape fared no better. You could expect to traffic scores of creative files and equal number of media outlets. Video was sent to broadcast companies. Audio to radio. Gifs and rich media to hundreds of websites. Bluelines were messengered back and forth to print vendors.

The change for the better was precipitated by the following breakthroughs that took place over the last fifteen years:

  • Broadcast, online, ecommerce and direct marketing were consolidated into a single subscriber service dubbed “Vidline.” This was the realization of convergence. The old-style TV went the way of the eight-track. The PC as a stand-alone device fared only slightly better — it was used by the same types of curmudgeonly Luddites who once said the CD would never replace the cassette deck.
  • Media operations converged into a single application that supporting all media, brought about by the rollup of companies who once were focused exclusively on ad serving, or video content management, or email distribution, or audio, or ecommerce transactions, or print. A single application now handled that distribution and reporting task across all media. Toshiko’s MAM was one of three companies who accomplished the rollup of these operational functions.
  • Buying media gradually changed from a process that focused on a largely manual process of matching audience with programming, to a real-time trading exchange whose buyers and sellers could shift media dollars on a minute by minute basis, depending on their goals in branding, cost per lead, ecommerce, et cetera. Up-front buys still existed, but the basis for negotiation had adapted to the changing marketplace.
  • Measurement of branding effectiveness was now real-time. The creation of the Rickert Branding Scale gave companies like Toshiko’s the ability to gauge not only the direct response aspects of media, but the branding effectiveness as well and with the same real-time reporting. The methodology included measuring the number of subscribers who viewed the commercial messages, the potential number of family members viewing, the duration and attention paid to the message, and their value to the product in terms their demographics. It was a kind of EKG for the brand.

Lost in thought and reflection, the time passed quickly and Toshiko found herself at her destination at 53rd and Park. The old Lever Brothers building still had an elegance that enabled it to withstand the test of time. The fact that Danbury Genetic chose it for the corporate headquarters was, perhaps, a good omen.

The presentation was held in the boardroom — a massive room that seemed out of proportion to the total number of attendees. Rice Hopkins, CEO and Heather Williams, SVP of Marketing were the attendees, both seated at the head of a rich, mahogany conference table. Toshiko positioned herself a couple of seats away. Close enough that she could still see her audience, far enough to establish a distance that hinted at the exclusive expertise she brought to the table.

“Toshiko, thanks for your time,” began Rice. “We’ve had a lot of discussions and I
see this as the decision making meeting. To recap, we’re old school when it comes to marketing. In the past we’ve exercised a lot of control. We use agencies who present the creative ideas, separate media groups that present strategy and tell us where, when and how our name will be presented. We really can’t assess the results until well after a flight has concluded. It’s a very hands-on process that, frankly, is time intensive and manual”

“As we’ve discussed, Mr. Hopkins, that eats a lot of your time,” Toshiko said. “True enough,” he said. “But it’s hard to give up control. Part of that is me; part of it is our product. We engineer genetic changes in utero for parents who want to customize their kid the same way their grandparents customized their cars. All of our marketing is heavily regulated by Federal guidelines, and we ourselves have to make sure our claims are balanced with disclosure on the risks.”

“Understood,” Toshiko said. “And that’s one area we don’t want to get involved in– the creative.

“Listen, can we cut to the chase?” Heather asked. She shifted in her chair with visible impatience. Toshiko couldn’t blame her. Heather was about to cede control of a valuable marketing function. Her role would be diminished. Rice gave her a good glare, and then nodded at Toshiko.

The media maven as media trader

Toshiko plugged in her laptop, toggled the display so that the MAM Control
Screen filled up the 8 x 6 foot flat screen at the end of the conference room. “Great. Let’s go.” Toshiko rose to her feet. She always felt better presenting on her feet, pacing and gesturing to stress her points. “You’ve given me a test budget of $250,000 to prove that MAM can do better than your traditional methods. You would spend that money anyway, and it’s a fraction of the $75 million you’ll spend on various media this year. It’s a small price to pay for a test that will change the way you do business forever. So, I’m going to take that money and invest it now in your vidline schedule. It’s 5:45 PM now, and over the next couple of hours we’ll put that money to work for you.”

“As you can see, I’ve taken the money and allocated it to the traditional media you
currently use. See the tab marked ‘vidline’? You’ll see there are placements that are scheduled for 6 PM airing — two minutes from now — across NewsCorp, GoogleVision, YaNews and BBC.” She let it sink in. “In sixty seconds, we’re going to view the initial results of those placements.”

Toshiko focused on the media dashboard. Selecting the “vidline” tab transformed the screen into a series of four separate grids, one for each distribution channel. In the corner of each grid, a bar pulsated as if waiting for something to happen. At 5:59, something did. Toshiko click on a rapidly flashing, blue asterisk labeled “Distribute” and at once each grid sprang to life filling the screen with bars and lines that took on a life of their own.

Toshiko’s expert eyes translated the activity in an instant and she narrated for Rice and Heather. “We just distributed your creative to the four target networks and now we’re viewing the responses to your marketing campaigns. We can measure the response to your video commercial by counting the requests for additional downloaded information packets as well as increases in your call center activity. In addition, the line traveling along the “y” axis shows the changes to the Rickert Branding Scale.”

“Let’s see what the impact is from these first placements,” she continued. The NewsCorp placements have done extremely well, generating 25 percent more leads and increasing the Rickert Scale from the baseline by 35 percent. That’s a relatively high index for your category and product — and it means that both response and branding have increased. But the YaNews placement really bombed. Let’s see why… ah… they’re promoting the Amor Awards with graphic video segments. No wonder the attention is off your product. Nice of them to keep that programming change a secret.”

“So, what do we do? I want to sell your YaNews flight on the open spot market. Someone will snatch it up with a product that is a better fit for the programming. Let’s heavy up on the NewsCorp placements by trading or purchasing on same media marketplace and see the effect. I’ve initiated that change now. Next placement airs in five, four, three, two, one.” And so it went for the next hour. On a minute by minute basis, Toshiko shifted the balance and placement of media in reaction the performance of each distribution channel. Both the increase in the Rickert Scale for branding and the actual response were important. Sometimes the change in a broadcaster’s programming influenced results, sometimes a local breaking news story diverted a metro population’s attention, necessitating a shift of media to an adjacent market. Changes in distribution material could be made as well, by sending subtle changes to brochures or telemarketing scripts electronically. Thus, conversion could be impacted as well.

The demonstration came to an end. Toshiko took her hands off the keyboard,
wiped her brow with the back of her shirtsleeve and faced her prospects, letting it all sink in.

“Well, what did that prove?” spoke Heather. Toshiko couldn’t have set it up any
better if she supplied Heather with the script.

“Good question, and here’s the answer,” said Toshiko as she toggled the screen
display. “You’re now looking at two screens. The first screen shows the projected results of your marketing campaign if you had allowed the placements to go on unchanged over the course of a full week. At best, results flatlined, and in general, their effectiveness diminished over time. The second screen shows the projection given MAM’s active management of your media assets. In just the first hour alone, we increased the Rickert Scale by 45 percent over traditional static placement and increased measurable response by 25 percent. Put into numbers, we just generated an additional $500,000 in leads and projected sales for your services in the one hour I’ve been sitting here.”

“So,” summarized Toshiko, “you can either continue to do things old school and
have your competition overrun you, or you can give up control and let the experts in media buying, distribution and operations actively manage your account on a minute by minute basis. You give up your financial assets to SmithBarneyWatch –you’d be just as smart to give your media assets up to MAM.”

And with that, Toshiko closed the display and calmly stared at her newest clients.


So is this science fiction or science future?

I believe this is a plausible future. The internet has driven a measurement revolution in media that won’t go away. As media converges, that same accountability will become as much a part of the traditional vernacular as GRPs are today. Decision making will be fast and furious, and — like the fund managers who manipulate stock portfolios today — a new class of experts will be responsible for getting the best yield out of a media budget.

Minute-by-minute.

Hour-by-hour.

Day-by-day.

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