“TV remains the mass market opportunity,” de Nardis said. If you want that size of audience, there’s not much alternative. But like other global agency heads, he acknowledged that consumers are in control and shifting the way advertisers have to use the medium.
As technology grants people more on-demand options, the fixed linear experience of TV viewing is already fading into an AM-radio and film-photography past. But de Nardis believes that smart planners understand when and where consumers want to view, “they need to re-create linearity,” he said.
Newspapers, he said, despite the upheaval most have faced, are a good example of how a media format can adjust to non-linear consumption. “It used to be you bought a newspaper in the morning; read it during the day; and then threw it out in the evening.” Now with digital news sites, that line of consumption is completely disrupted.
People get their news when and where they want to. And news publications have no choice but to get better at working under those conditions. The Financial Times, for example routinely promotes its digital-first mindset. And recently a Wall Street Journal reporter remarked off record to Campaign that it was difficult to remember the last time any of the publication’s articles went into the printed paper ahead of the online release. And while there are still growing pains with online news, entities like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post and Business Insider are developing new models that work, while some of the big old names in news are also showing signs of recovery from the giant revenue fall they collectively took at the turn of the century.
So far TV today is still able to hold its old model, but new technologies and greater bandwidth have put the writing on the wall. The future of TV consumption is also non-linear. de Nardis suggests the trick to dealing with that is first to learn from what newspapers faced.
Understanding what and when people want to watch is an essential part of that. It’s not exactly the same thing as linear viewing but it can achieve the same goals for advertisers. Web platforms are ready and waiting for when consumers want to access them, as opposed to a weekly or monthly publication/broadcast schedule. The consumer then becomes the centre.
“The way I always explain it,” he said’ “is if you were a space alien and you came down and looked at how the industry is organized, you wouldn’t think it made much sense.” History, he pointed out, is the prevailing reason there are separate media companies, and separate specializations within them. But the central thing through it all should be the consumer.
Each new thing starts out as something specialized—such as social media or search engine optimization—but then it moves to the core and just becomes part of the overall basic chore of reaching people, de Nardis explained. Integrating everything, with more of a focus on whom you are reaching and not how you are reaching them, is the inevitable direction he sees for the industry and that’s the course he’s trying to set for OMD.
And since digital is the main disruptor, digital is also the solution. The company is in the midst of ongoing development of its own operating system, as media agencies have come to call their software platforms. OMD aptly named its iteration ‘Vision’ and for now it's a way to pool sources and insights from analytics and data management platforms (DMPs). But it won’t end there. Eventually, de Nardis promises, the OS will plug directly into trading desks and demand side platforms (DSPs).
But before that happens, Vision will first roll out to clients and partner agencies. “We want it to be as ‘open source’ as possible,” he contends and insists that the more data teams share, across, clients, countries and time zones, the better results everyone will see. But integrating it into client operations will be a case-by-case process. Not everybody wants, or can use, all the available data but sharing it as much as possible is an important step to the kind of customer-focused integration de Nardis advocates.
An offshoot of that too is allowing each market to learn from others. Even within OMD he says he can see how one country might excel at something that the others could learn from. The US, he pointed out, is still pioneering with data applications but China by contrast is ahead on adapting media to the multi-screen challenge, which high-bandwidth mobile technology has thrust upon the industry. Working on separate systems in separate countries would typically mean it’s difficult for lessons to leave their native territory. But a digital platform that can span the globe means knowledge spreads naturally.
de Nardis also emphasised that the automation aspect means “less routine and more strategy” because the system already allows his teams to access information in a non-linear way. “It's a canvas for ideas,” he said.
But he also stressed the long view, saying the Vision OS is not just a way to get ready for 2015 but for 2020 and beyond.
Another dimension of his forward view is Asia. “This might sound trite but it’s still very true. Every client conversation today starts and ends with Asia; it's the source of profit growth.”
Talking about China specifically he said he is surprised at how many Western journalists were surprised by the demand for Alibaba’s IPO (the largest ever globally) and the huge Singles Day shopping event. He advises people in the West to get over the shock and start learning from it.
This is the beginning of some thing new, he said, so it's time to ask, “what more can we learn on the back of China’s strength?”