Carolyn McCall: Advertisers Are Beginning To See Beyond The Emperor’s New Clothes

Carolyn McCall, CEO of ITV and former easyJet CEO, spoke at an ISBA Conference entitled the Age of Accountability earlier this week and discussed easyJet’s move away from online advertising’s short term returns and the importance of trusted advertising mediums.

McCall said: “I believe advertisers are beginning to see beyond the Emperor’s New Clothes. Gone should be the days when Google and Facebook (TV’s main competitors for advertising) embed their staff in marketing departments to ‘advise’ them on media planning under the pretext that the more data there is the better data it is. Even when the numbers Facebook claimed for 16-24 year olds exceeded the numbers of them alive, there was no penalty; money kept pouring in. If that happened in TV, we would be roundly attacked and condemned. 

“I mention all of this because I am asked a lot whether as a client I questioned easyJet’s spend with the tech ad platforms. We did – as you’ve heard – and that was even before the issues around viewability, brand safety and ad-fraud really emerged. Of course, these are important and serious issues for advertisers and many have been vocal about this. But this is also about effectiveness.” 

McCall spoke about the importance of long term returns and moving easyjet away from short-termism, she said: “easyJet is a company that transacts business exclusively online, so it was assumed that easyJet should spend more money there. In fact, the opposite was true because it was just more effective doing the reverse. easyJet is very value focused but we made it a goal not to settle for superficial attribution and only short-term returns. 

“Last year’s World Federation of Advertisers survey found that 75% of the world’s top marketers weren’t convinced of the effectiveness of ‘digital’ advertising, but two thirds of them expected to move more of their marketing money in to ‘digital’ the following year. As Mark Ritson said, ‘Pause, consider this data, and gulp’.” 

Referencing the Edelman Trust Barometer which showed an overall decline in trust in media, chiefly social media and search, but a huge 61% increase in trust in TV and newspapers, she said: “There is obviously a place for using the tech ad platforms in the media armoury – but decisions about media should be about what is the best return on investment, the most effective combination to deliver the most profit in both the short – and long-term.” 

McCall’s comments follow the RadioCentre’s research with Ebiquity which showed that advertisers undervalue traditional media and overvalue online video and paid social. The research showed that newspapers in print scored eight out of 10 for advertising ROI whereas advertisers placed them at three out of 10, highlighting how vastly underrated newspaper advertising is by marketeers. 

The research also showed that digital advertising, especially online display, was not performing as well as other media in delivering the qualities required for a long-term brand-building campaign, which was at odds with the scale of investment in online advertising. 

Also at the conference was Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter and Gamble, who discussed P&G’s reduced media spend but increased reach and stressed the importance of holding the major media and tech companies to account. 

Mr Pritchard said: “As we all chased the holy grail of digital – self-included – we were relinquishing too much control – blinded by shiny objects, overwhelmed by big data, and ceding power to algorithms. It was time for us to step up, and take back control of our own destiny.

“We took more control…and what do you know…we reduced media waste by 20% and increased media reach by 10%…and while there’s much more to do, we’re growing market share and sales across more brands and countries – with some now growing in double digits.”

Jon Slade, chief commercial officer at the FT spoke to the conference about the FT’s experience of being victims of domain spoofing fraud. Slade stressed that quality and transparency were recurring requirements from advertisers and warned if advertisers were going to pay rock-bottom prices they should expect ad fraud problems. Like Carolyn McCall he called for a renewed focus on the advertising environment and long-term brand building, not short-term results. 

VP of Strategic development at App Nexus Nigel Gilbert, discussed demystifying the supply chain. He cautioned if advertisers do not start to recognise how little money lands with the publisher, there won’t be any publishers and called for an equivalent of a Fair Trade logo in digital advertising (to protect the end supplier). He called for marketers to take control of their media planning and said that using whitelists and blacklists helped but the machine was still deciding.