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Highlights from the 4A’s Decisions 20/20 Conference

March 29th, 2019   ||    by Rick Howe

I recently attended my first 4A’s conference, the 4A’s Decisions 20/20. It was also my first that focused on the buy-side of the advertising equation.

Of course, the entire advertising industry has been transformed by automation that provides the tools to maximize efficiency, impact and transparency.

Automation has also engendered changes in management skill sets and project complexity, with an increased need for clear and unambiguous reporting. But automation has also reduced transactional costs and time requirement.

Sometimes the speed required to respond to data-driven opportunities isn’t reflected in the creative output. GroupM President of Investments North America Lyle Schwartz generated the biggest laugh of the conference when he confessed, “We can show the client 18 different discrete target segments, and then the client shows up with a single commercial!”

For the record, that comment was followed by one that generated the biggest applause of the conference, also by Lyle Schwartz: “I don’t want to start with TV first!  I don’t want to start with digital first! I don’t want to start with print first! I want to start with the consumer first!”

The conference’s star speakers were, naturally, from the large agencies and holding companies. And they provided both wisdom and star power. Nick Brien, CEO Americas for Dentsu Aegis Network set the tone by laying out the hard truths the agencies need to recognize, all under the banner of trust (and trust was the unofficial overarching theme of the entire conference). “Agencies are too passive,” he said. “We are too slow to change. Our challenge, collectively, is how do we live up to the greater expectations of consumers. There is a difference between doing things right and doing the right things.”

Tara Walpert-Levy, Google’s Vice President Agency and Brand Solutions, gave us a succinct (data-driven) definition of premium content. Forget about HBO’s flying dragons and CBS All Access’ flying starships: “What’s premium is content that consumers are personally passionate about. It’s 3X more important than celebrity, 2X more than production value. It turns out those things don’t have that much relevance.”

[Doctor’s note: I always enjoy pointing out that most of the best premium content is available free to consumers, over-the-air, on broadcast television. And as we see those audiences rebounding, we also see local broadcast advertising revenue on the uptick]

Comscore’s Sarah Hofstetter detailed our responsibility as marketers:

  1. Speak in plain English (connect the dots to show how to get from investment to outcome)
  2. Buy cleaner content (you waste any money you save buying cheap media with the costs of filtering)
  3. Demand fewer point solutions
  4. Consistent standards
  5. Only buy media you can evaluate across channels & media types

And she included these words of wisdom for the entire industry: “Buy the good stuff!”

The theme of trust circled back during Adweek’s “The Independent Agency View,” with Karlo Cordova (Wieden+Kennedy), Jeff Larson (Mediassociates) and Michele Selby (MediaWorks). The combined wisdom of the panelists is best reflected as “Trust is our currency. Agility and collaboration is an advantage for independent agencies. We can work with the best partners without worrying about who owns them.”

When the topic turned to technology, panelists emphasized the human element. As expressed by Centro Founder Shawn Riegsecker, “Programmatic may have begun as a tool to create efficiencies of media cost and benefits of scale for clients and agencies, as well as a sales channel for publishers’ unsold inventory.” Co-panelist Rob Rasko, Founder and CEO for The 614 Group, added “Programmatic has evolved into data-driven growth. And people are still at the heart of the process. It’s more than technology!”

Riegsecker quoted a leading marketer to illustrate the point: “One of the things that we have is a massive education problem. The C-suite needs to understand how profoundly marketing has changed in the last five years, and the technical implications. One of the things I run into is, if it involved the word technology, it goes to our technology group. And I’m like, no, no, no!”

4A’s, working with The 614 Group, is conducting an independent research program “to create a 360-degree view of programmatic and other forms of automation. This link will take you to the Future of Automation research site:

Dealing with the question of fraud, we learned from White Ops Co-Founder and President Michael Tiffany that the 4A’s Decisions 20/20 website was attacked by bots from Ukraine and elsewhere, resulting in 20 million hits! The bad guys apparently thought “Decisions 20/20” was a political site!

Finally, the conference dealt with the sticky (and in the near future very possibly overwhelming) issue of privacy. FTC Commissioner Noah Joshua Phillips, while handing off policy decisions to Congress, pointed out that in his personal opinion, “Consumers are most concerned about ‘bad guys’ getting their information.” They aren’t really concerned about advertisers, Facebook et al.

And perhaps the best quote of the conference, particularly from anybody who has been to Walt Disney World, came from Acxiom Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer Chad Englegau: “The best marriage of data, brand and the consumer is Disney’s Magic Band at Walt Disney World. The worst would be trying to do the same thing outside Walt Disney World.”

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