Sue ElmsSue Elms Co-founder, BE Insight

We are entering a new era for media, and it is long overdue. There is an industry shift happening – media is becoming more human, and objective and independent insight is salient and meaningful again.

I won’t mince my words. The industry has finally looked in the mirror and realised that its once-erudite features have become distorted into those of a buffoon. Beguiled by the hype surrounding self-proclaimed first-party digital data, spellbound by short-termism and all-too-willing to abdicate to data-driven “performance” targeting, AI and the machines, it has succumbed to what my BE Insight partner David Brennan calls “un-intelligence”. In other words, “a collective willingness to relinquish our capacity for critical judgement”.

Well-trained insight professionals fight unintelligence, and we need them. They work out what is qualitative fluff, what is poor data, what is bad research and what is self-interested hype. They love data, research, analytics and any other source of insight, but they insist that these disciplines work together to deliver wisdom.

What happens when you seek to derive real insight from real people? Well, two (fairly) recent examples from the media sector spring to mind – and they both highlight the pitfalls of making easy assumptions. The first of these, undertaken a couple of years ago by Newsworks, compared the media consumption patterns of real people in the real world with the media habits of London media people.

The difference, perhaps not surprisingly, was significant. And of course, if you’re a media planner, you obviously run the risk of reaching the wrong conclusions if you assume that everyone out there behaves in pretty much the same way as you do.

That’s the lesson, too, from more recent work from Ebiquity for the Radio Centre, which contrasted the true worth of media to the perceptions of advertisers and agencies. Its conclusion? If advertisers were more objective in evaluating their media mix, they might achieve better long term brand growth.

And we’re also seeing a promising industry reassessment of brand and creative issues. The IPA, with the help of Peter Field and Les Binet, has done a lot to get the industry to appreciate that profitable brands are built through driving both short and long-term behaviours. The latter requires an understanding of emotional relationships and the differences that ensure people choose you over another, pay more for you and are receptive to your marketing efforts.

Recently, this was underlined persuasively by Unilever’s global media director Ben Johnson. Speaking at Mindshare’s Trends 2018 event, he pointed out that innovations like voice search (comScore forecasts that half of all searches will be through voice by 2020) will make it more important than ever for companies to have strong brands. If a consumer asks Alexa for a particular product and it offers them an own-brand alternative, will they be prepared to say no?

It’s a question that’s making advertisers reassess the role of creativity in the communications process. Where do big creative ideas come from? The simple answer is that they come from human truths. These are discovered by looking at a problem through more than one lens, and constantly questioning. In other words, objective and independent data-driven insight.

And of course, a growing recognition of UKOM’s importance has to be seen in this context too – notably its “people first” commitment, tapping into machine-derived data, integrated with a people-based panel to deliver genuine audience measurement.

We may lead digital lives, but we are analogue humans. Insight can look at clicks and views, but it also goes beyond them to the emotions and perceptions behind behaviours to open a whole new world of brand advantage.

Maybe one day society will have abdicated so much that our industry will be exclusively comprised of ad-machine-agents talking to consumer-machine-agents, like Alexa. In the meantime, in between the “audience” impressions we buy and the response we wish to achieve, are real people whose receptivity really matters.

They are the ones who get upset about invasions of privacy, being treated as numbers and not human beings and who can still say “No Alexa, I want Domestos!” An influential insight professional told me recently that the two biggest industry issues right now were measuring people and the morality of data. Only a humanistic and insight-led approach can resolve these.

The most important thing of all is that such approaches deliver profitable long-term growth. Look to the IPA databank for endless examples of human insight driving growth for countless numbers of brands; from De Beers diamonds (the bigger the diamond the more you love someone) to Always sanitary products (in addition to female self-esteem falling permanently off a cliff at puberty, we also live with a constant fear of failure so “keep going #LikeAGirl” everyone!).

We face real issues of un-intelligence. We face challenges in measuring people and in the morality of data. These are resolved through better human understanding derived from real insight, free from self-interest, which drives genuine advantage to brand and creative, and delivers financial returns. The climate is changing; the industry needs it to and advertisers want it to. So, let’s make media human again!

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