Procter & Gamble says it is basing ad investment plans against ‘media sufficiency’ measures. UM’s Adam Morton considers what this tells us about the status of effectiveness in today’s marketing organisations.

At the start of each year, industry experts ponder the latest trends and predictions for the year ahead. More often than not, the focus is around developing technologies – we’ve all got to stay at the cutting edge, right? Blockchain, QR, AR, VR, AI, NFTs and the Metaverse have featured heavily in recent times.

A few years ago, I wrote an article questioning whether the industry’s chase for innovation and the marketer’s inner magpie was resulting in some important marketing fundamentals being lost. It wasn’t to deride progress, I wasn’t being a luddite. It was simply a rallying cry for brands to ensure they adopted strategies aligned to proven marketing fundamentals before embarking on exciting new tactics. In 2023, I find myself reflecting on the same topic.

Of course, evidence-based marketing and academia is nothing new. Sharp, Binet and Field and Mark Ritson’s research, analysis and commentary, for instance, hasn’t been hidden from view. The importance of mental and physical availability, and the dangers of short-termism and over-focusing on ROI have been well-documented and discussed for over a decade. Countless marketers and brands have, indeed, taken heed when developing their strategies, using this knowledge alongside their own measurement and analysis.

Despite all this, as we move through 2023 something feels different. Yes, we still saw lists of top 10s at the end of last year. But, alongside these, there appeared to be a greater (and very welcome) focus on marketing theory and best practice.

While for many the fundamentals hadn’t gone away, there is a sense that ‘brand is back’ (or at least there is a greater emphasis on it). Context matters (and not just because of the impending demise of the third-party cookie), while – to date – the media word of the year appears to be ‘sufficiency.’

An increasingly common topic of conversation

Media sufficiency essentially means ensuring investment levels are high enough to be effective and deliver the brand or business objectives; whether that’s reach, share of voice, share of market, sales or revenue. In the most basic terms, it is about understanding what budget we need to get the job done.

Neither working out the required budget to deliver one’s objectives, nor the term sufficiency are new. Yet media sufficiency has become an increasingly common topic of conversation over the last six months, extending beyond CMOs.

Procter & Gamble Chairman and CEO Jon Moeller said in Q4 last year: “What we need to understand is what are our reach objectives, and are we sufficient and spending to achieve those reach objectives. What are our objectives in terms of the number of weeks on air achieving that reach? And that’s how we’ll measure sufficiency.”

Some might be left wondering what exactly what was being done prior to this new focus on sufficiency. Were budgets set independently of understanding what investment levels were required to deliver one’s objectives?

Many media planner and buyers will be extremely familiar with looking at cover curves to identify the point of diminishing returns and working out the budget required to get there. Just without referencing the terms of sufficiency. So why now is it common parlance? Why is the importance of reach (while never having gone away), being further prioritised? Why in some instances is what is essentially old, being badged as new? For those that have always believed in the fundamentals, these questions can be difficult to answer.

Having the right debates and discussions

Rebadging and repackaged, previously known thinking makes for innovation, right?

If it means the right debates and discussions are being had, then ultimately that’s a good thing. A greater emphasis on reach naturally leads to healthy conversations and analysis around audiences and targeting. (Who do we need sufficient reach of?) Cue debates around the merits of mass marketing and reaching all category buyers, versus targeting and higher value audiences.

While our world is increasingly binary, I would argue they both have value; they aren’t mutually exclusive. Dare I say the ‘fundamentalists’ know it’s long AND short, it’s brand AND activation, it’s mass AND targeted, with the weighting (somewhat) dependent on variables across brand, budget and objectives.

The focus on sufficient reach should connect with the increased interest in attention. Again, not a wholly new subject matter. While it’s long been known that ‘not all impacts are equal’, with the fragmentation of media and the plethora of opportunities now available in which to connect with consumers, this statement has never been truer. Thankfully, with more and more data to help quantify this, it is enabling us to not just plan for reach, but attentive reach to further campaign effectiveness.  

Studies on attention have highlighted the limited time we often have to connect with consumers, while its claimed ‘attention spans are getting shorter.’ Yes, consumers have more distractions, more content, more screens vying for their attention – and simultaneously they have more control over, and higher expectations of, what they engage with. But I’d argue it’s too simplistic to say people are less attentive.

We’re able to focus on films that are getting longer and will seek out Christmas ads that entertain. It’s baffling, therefore, that when brands should be working harder to produce more engaging work, recent research from System 1 has shown that creative is increasingly focused on narrow attention. Rather than assuming the viewer is interested and ready to buy, shouldn’t we remember it is emotive story-telling that can be encoded into people’s memories – as well as perform in the short-term? A further cause to look back?

For many years it has felt marketing has been in a semi-state of paralysis. Seemingly aware of the problems, yet in many instances not doing anything about it. Lessons were either not being learnt, or the learning wasn’t being applied.

Post-pandemic, many individuals and industries have paused and reset. Let’s hope marketing is doing the same now, enabling us to look forward to a brighter more effective tomorrow.