Robert Sawatzky
Mar 12, 2019

How to overcome this industry’s mid-life crisis

Mediacom global strategy officer Matt Mee looks to new systems, effectiveness research and human-centricity as guideposts to surviving marcomm's middle-aged malaise.

How to overcome this industry’s mid-life crisis

What are the signs of a mid-life crisis?

In a full entertainment (and enlightment) value presentation to Campaign360 delegates last week, Mediacom's top worldwide strategy chief Matt Mee began by sharing the following tell-tale signals of a mid-life crisis, citing the ever-venerable and authoritative source, BuzzFeed: 

  • Feeling a need for adventure and change
  • Feeling depressed
  • A loss of interest in things that used to be important
  • Anger and blame at your spouse/partner
  • Unable to make decisions about your future
  • Doubt over the choice to marry
  • A desire for a more passionate, intimate relationship

Could any of this sound vaguely familiar to agencies and brands when inserted in place of spouses and partners?

“Yes I think we now can conclude we’re in the midst of a mid-life crisis in the marketing communications community,” Mee declared.

The causes

Flippancy aside, Mee found many sources of uncertainty adding to industry’s current malaise and search for new meaning. TV has been forced to question its virility, challenged by sexier on-demand OTT and streaming services. Meanwhile new standards around video viewability are shifting to a matter of a few seconds, completely altering the perception of what it means to have consumer engagement with media.

Brands too, are being severely challenged through ecommerce platforms where product differentiation is minimised to simplify the customer experience. “Amazon is the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse” as a killer of brands, Mee playfully enthused, suggesting Alibaba posed similar challenges to brands in China.

The data dividend is another sea change, giving marketers are getting a deeper understanding of consumers and the work marketers do. At the same time, “it’s also freaking them out,” Mee contended.  Short-term accuracy is leading to long-term blindness in brand strategy.

Meanwhile outdated metrics are constantly being challenged and replaced by the latest shiny new metrics. It’s come to the point where if you’re an agency partner you feel like “the drunk man leaning on the lamp post—more for support than illumination.”

Coping mechansims

To get through the turbulence and survive this mid-life crisis, Mee suggested a mindset shift in three different areas.

1. Systems not silos

The marcomms environment may be messy, but Mee says marketers and agencies need to deal with complexity while not getting bogged down in complicatedness.

The key is to reach an understanding wherever there is interdependence, whether between TV and search or between social commerce and branding on a Facebook platform. Trying to deal with each in isolation is foolhardy but systems can help sort through interdependent factors.

2. Investing in the right attribution

A pervasive problem sees brands and agencies doing the wrong thing right, Mee argued. Here he referenced how the wrong metrics are being prioritized, noting the standardisation of last-click attribution, which distorts the value of what marketing communications provides.

“We need to spend twice as much money as we are at the moment on effectiveness research,” Mee says. There is more free attribution research out there than ever before much of it are sales pitches in disguise, which is why “bullshit detectors need to be on top levels.” Often the good research is expensive, but “the price of light is less expensive than the cost of darkness” Mee argued. “We need to recommit in this turbulent environment.”

3. Remember human-centricity

Much like a 45-year-old triathalon runner who needs to prove he is fit to breed with, brands are entered into their own form of competitive races to prove they’re worth consuming. Brands aren’t simply atomised, personalised systems, Mee says.  “Brand value sits in brands being cultural and public objects, even during this turbulent change in our business.”

Digital inventory may be 85% traded programmatically, with hard technology benefits like frequency-capping, recency and audience targeting but it’s a hard system meeting a soft system in a human being.

“We need to make sure that what we don’t do is optimise ourselves into invisibility. For brands, part of our job here is to create things that have public and cultural heft.”

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