The WPP winds of change are blowing for publishers

His predictions have a self-fulfilling tendency, partly because he is a man of vision and insight, but mainly because he is the owner of the largest marketing services company in the world. As such his words tend to be less predictive and more instructive.  

So when you notice a pivot in his opinion on any given topic it is normally time to sit up and take notice. 2015 has been a particularly interesting year for any avid Sorrell-spotting fan as it seems that the winds of change are blowing through WPP. 

If you read [hastily and optimistically] between the lines there are three statements Sorrell has made this year that might signal a turning point to the often brutal and disproportionate cuts to advertising expenditure publishing companies have had to endure this decade.    

Analogue is back in vogue

For the last few years, Sorrell has been vigorously beating the drum for advertisers to follow the eyeballs and divest from analogue media, and in print particular, by pointing out that it receives a disproportionate share of investment relative to the amount of media time it occupies in the consumer’s day. 

In March this year, Sorrell suddenly made a u-turn on his position, stating at the Broadcasting Press Guild that there was an argument for the effectiveness of news brands and magazine media, even in their traditional form, and maybe they are more effective than people give them credit for. 

He then added that recent research found that traditional media can be more engaging and that readers are more likely to retain information from printed magazines and newspapers than from mobile and online content.

At the time speculation was rife that his sudden shift in sentiment was likely related to the fact that Kantar was one of the contenders for the new audience cross-platform measurement system due to replace NRS in the UK. 

But interestingly enough, Sorrell repeated this titbit in July on a call with investors at which point Kantar had been eliminated from the race. 

Google falls out of favour

In early September Sorrell had a few stern words for the major digital players like Google after it was discovered that Google has been charging marketers for YouTube ad views even when the video platform’s fraud-detection systems identified viewers as a bot rather than a human. 

He warned that clients are becoming very wary and suspicious and unless companies like Google and Facebook can start showing compelling evidence that their advertising is being viewed by actual human beings, marketers would shift their focus back towards traditional media such as press and television. 

His comments couldn’t have been timelier. A few weeks later the UK became the first country where digital achieved a 50 per cent adverting market share and a new study in the US showed that 1 in 3 advertising dollars spent online is being lost to ad fraud. This would suggest advertisers could be losing more to ad fraud in the UK could than their total investment in news brands, and magazine media, radio and cinema combined. 

You can read more about it here.

The return of brand building 

More recently Sorrell stated that the “the worm will turn” and that investment in brands will return when he spoke at the D2 Creativity conference. 

“The case is proven – it’s very easy to prove that where you invest in brands, and invest in creativity and invest in data, you win,” Sorrell claimed.

His pitch was thinly veiled as it’s no coincidence that the areas that he wants businesses to invest in happen to be the cornerstones of WPP’s business. 

Beyond the obvious invitation for businesses to start using WPPs services, there is an interesting theme starting to emerge from the WPP stable around brand building and advertising effectiveness.

Earlier this year Millward Brown (a WPP company) highlighting what it refers to as “climate change for the advertising industry”. In summary, Millward Brown believes that the digital advertising ecosystem is becoming so cluttered that consumers are being put off and are actively starting to avoid advertising. This decline in advertising receptivity in return is impacting overall advertising effectiveness. 

Interestingly enough the company has also highlighted the need for brands to reconsider their investment in newspapers, magazines and OOH (Out-of-home) as these channels continue to play a crucial but undervalued role in brand building and driving sales. For OOH, the key strength highlighted is a reach that rivals TV, but for newspapers and magazines it is about the impact that it delivers on the consumer.

These developments at WPP signals that there is an is an opportunity for publishers to re-establish the critical role their platforms, both analogue and digital, play in engaging consumers and landing brand messages in an increasingly cluttered advertising market. 

Such opportunity, however, does not come cheap and will require investment not only in more comprehensive measurement systems that accurately captures and present audiences across all platforms but more importantly invests in work which showcase the effectiveness and impact of our networks on consumers. 

Seems like a worthy investment. No?

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