Marketing leaders have a responsibility to invest in the best possible media mix, but that is never easy. At a WARC roundtable held in London, senior marketing figures explored the barriers to adaptation.

How do you convince your superiors to go with the evidence and not with hunches? This was one of the central themes emerging from a WARC Roundtable held in London earlier this month. Senior marketers in the room, brand and media owners, noted the similarities in their jobs: namely, how to convince people to believe your expertise.

Never far away from this discussion are digital channels, which have become an element of interest to finance departments for their cost-efficiency and the ease of measurement. Next to digital channels, traditional mass-reach channels of OOH, TV, radio, and – God forbid! – print, look like poor value because that value is just more difficult to measure.

But that idea of measurement appears to have bled deep into the minds of marketers, even when there is compelling evidence to the contrary. In a recent study by Ebiquity, Re-evaluating Media, the disparity between what works and what marketers believe works, in terms of overall effectiveness, is stark.

At the centre of the digital conversation is the eternal promise of social, a kind of marketing nirvana that brands sometimes come close to but rarely emerge from unscathed. As one marketer from the brand side observed, social channels for many brands across many categories are actually a bit of a cess-pit as far as the conversation goes. At times, he continued, it really doesn’t matter what you post, there are always going to be people getting angry and venting their frustration.

It was a view echoed around the table. “Why are you using this medium when it’s filled with negativity?” Unless that’s what you’re looking to engage. Paddy Power is a good example of a brand that bounces off that negativity because it squares with its position. A financial services brand would struggle to pull anything similar off, and with good reason: organic social activity competes directly with the whole gamut of social media from sport highlights to funeral announcements. Getting in amongst that makes a brand the punchbag between the elation and despair.


Big brands have always had to work with the problem of departments. It is fashionable to call them silos, but really it boils down to the fact that different departments can be working in totally different universes. People in marketing and finance can be cut from completely different cloth, trained totally differently, speaking a different language.

When it comes to buying media, these divisions are manifest. The prevalence of advertising has, arguably, a lot to do with it; everybody from finance to HR has seen a lot of advertising in their lives because they have also seen a lot of TV. Extended exposure to television doesn’t mean they know how to make a TV programme, but advertising and the media in which it lives are fair game for hunches surrounding what works.

One marketer spoke about the experience of the finance steering committee, a situation in which large spend of over half a million pounds requires justification to the heads of different departments. He didn’t resent having to present a watertight case for a large scale awareness campaign – it was agreed that a business case was necessary. What appeared, he observed, was something more negative.

In advocating for a wide reach campaign, with a larger reach but more difficult to measure brand building effects, he put forward a proposition that the CEO liked a lot. But the head of retail disagreed, advocating for more measurable results. A swift financial return was a part of the criticism: after all, retail is judged on sales each quarter. But along with it was that individual’s dislike for the programming that marketing was proposing to advertise against. Why, asked the marketer, do leadership want marketing experts to think up ideas, if non-experts deploying hunches are going to shoot that expertise down?

Barriers to adapting the media mix

Perception of media channels across an organisation was widely agreed to be a core barrier to the media mix. Optimising a media mix is, of course, dependent on the brand and its objectives, but the challenge is in managing the marketing department’s money to hold some back for attribution. As one representative of a banking brand noted, however, “marketing by numbers” and numbers alone just doesn’t work. Econometrics is crucially important, but marketers need to avoid the tail wagging the dog. On the other hand, failure to invest adequately in an evidence division leaves the department vulnerable to attacks from colleagues wielding hunches.

Similarly, the pressures of the short-term go deep into the fabric of big brands. If, as one attendee proposed, you were to allocate the bulk of the marketing budget to core activity, and then a smaller portion for ideas that would be good to pursue if possible, and finally a slice for test-and-learn initiatives. Pressures of financial short-termism, manifest in the feared issuance of a profit-warning, can often lead to the test-and-learn budget being slashed.

It’s good for that quarter’s results, yes, the marketer admitted, but it also means you’re remaining in the dark ages, not looking forward to new techniques that can deliver in future. The demands of the stock market, in which shareholders demand immediate returns on a company rather than demanding investment toward the company’s future growth, are baffling. Arguably, this is one of the core advantages of small privately-owned young brands, not only the agility of a smaller team and the leapfrogging of legacy systems, but the expectation of growth rather than this quarter’s returns.

For more on effective media allocation:

Media Allocation Benchmark report