Now, innovations in the field of marketing-mix modeling are driving media planners and researchers to develop methods to justify the selection of one media option over another.
Marketing-mix modeling enables marketers to determine the precise impact the media plan has on product sales. That science had been evolving gradually among package-goods marketers ever since the emergence of supermarket scanner data, but such modeling is now spreading throughout a wide array of product categories.
`BUYERGRAPHICS' A FIRST STEP
The idea that media exposure could be correlated to consumer purchasing behavior took root in the mid-1980s and led to a brief flirtation with single-source data, called "buyergraphics."
Buyergraphics gave marketers the demographic composition of a media option and the percentage of specific product users exposed to their ads. But the cost of using such data for media planning overshadowed the benefits and it took a backseat to overall market research.
Now the concept of using sales data for media planning has been given fresh impetus since Carat North America acquired Media Marketing Assessment, Wilton, Conn., nearly two years ago.
MMA was founded by Ed Dittus, who was at Young & Rubicam in the 1980s when he developed a method for modeling such results from standalone scanner data.
Though Carat so far has revealed little about how it is incorporating MMA into its media planning, the acquisition was a wake-up call to others and has spawned a series of similar acquisitions, joint ventures and alliances.
Soon after the Carat/MMA deal, Bozell (now part of True North Communications) acquired a similar modeling specialist called Skunkworks Marketing Lab, New York.
OTHERS DEVELOPING APPLICATIONS
Recently, media independent Media That Works, Cincinnati, formed a joint venture with another modeler, Hudson River Group, Valhalla, N.Y. to focus specifically on media planning called Stratalytics. McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, has begun working with MediaPlan, a leading developer of media planning software and systems, to develop similar applications.
The first product to emerge from the McCann/MediaPlan alliance is a media allocation system code-named MediaFX. The system, which will be released in an initial form during the fourth quarter, incorporates a variety of modeling techniques developed by the trio of MMA, RSC, a marketing modeling company and Information Resources Inc. to determine which media options deliver the highest number of specific product users.
MediaPlan calls this approach "behavior-based" media planning and says the MediaFX application is but the first in a series of applications designed to make planning more of a science and less of an art.
MediaPlan's role is important, because it is a leading supplier of media planning software-claiming to supply 87% of the top 50 ad agencies and 25% of the top 20 advertisers with its Manus software-and can have a great deal of influence in spreading the use of new systems.
"Our clients have been getting more sophisticated about modeling sales data, but at the end of the day the media plan ends up getting executed against men and women 18-49, or whatever the target is as defined by Nielsen," acknowledges Susan Nathan, senior VP-director of media resources at McCann-Erickson. She says McCann, effectively serving as the beta agency for the development of MediaPlan's new systems, has a short-term exclusivity deal on them before they are released as syndicated products.
ALLOCATING INVENTORY BY TARGETS
Ms. Nathan says McCann opted to start with its allocation system because it is one of the areas of planning most prone to subjective judgment.
"Okay, you've just bought all this stuff, now what do you do with it," she says, noting that MediaFX will enable planners to allocate media inventory based on actual targets.
Like McCann, Media That Works has chosen to work with an outside supplier, Hudson River Group, on the joint development of systems that ultimately will be available to the entire industry on a syndicated basis.
But like McCann's Ms. Nathan, Media That Work's Susan Bentzinger, senior VP partner and chief strategic officer, believes the alliance gives her agency an early start and a proprietary advantage.
The definition of accountability, according to the Advertising Research Foundation, is media planning that can be measured on a return on investment basis, says Jim Spaeth, president of the ARF, which sent agencies and researchers scurrying in pursuit of that quest last fall, when it convened a symposium on accountability in media planning.
Mr. Spaeth says the results so far are "very crude" but are "encouraging" and they feed into the industry's broader initiative called Maximizing Advertising Expenditures.
MAX is a series of projects designed to develop more scientific measures for making advertising decisions, including media buys. Coordinated by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, along with the ARF and the Marketing Science Institute, MAX's organizers hope these new measurement systems will demonstrate marketing's impact on the bottom line to top industry executives.
USING SALES DATA
The most sophisticated modeling techniques available today already incorporate such assumptions into their processes, says Alan Alvarez, manager of advanced analytics at Hudson River Group.
Stratalytics-the system co-developed by Media That Works and Hudson River GroupÁincorporates corporate financial data into its media planning models to determine not only the impact of media plans on product sales, as well as overall profits and losses.
Leo Burnett Co.'s Chicago-based Starcom Media Services unit has developed Battlefield, a system enabling the agency to integrate virtually any factor that might influence a media plan, including sales data.
"The sales and business data is usually client-supplied, but it can incorporate data from any source including syndicated studies," explains Kate Lynch, Starcom's U.S. media research director.
Ms. Lynch says the Battlefield platform gives Starcom's planners the flexibility to determine which criteria are most important for building a plan; sales results is not always included.
"The focus is getting better media planning data," she says. "And now that we have the data, we can actually use it for planning. It's ridiculous for us to plan on [audience] reach, unless you can prove it's moving product."
By the same token, Ms. Lynch says there are times when other results are more germaine to a client's goals, such as adstock scores or brand awareness.
"The first question we ask is, `which element is driving sales?.' Then we access the data necessary to determine that influence and build a plan around it," says Ms. Lynch.
Says consultant Erwin Ephron, a partner of Ephron, Papazian, Ephron: "It's very difficult to read the effects of media in the marketplace. Sales results are the ultimate, but you have the diagnostic systems to determine what the contribution of media is."
Mr. Mandese is editor of "The Myers Report."