Why Every CMO Should Consider Chopping Media Budgets Next Year

Three Ways to Spend Ad Dollars Shaved from Media Budgets

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This is probably the first (and last) time you'll hear a media agency CEO say it: Slash your budget!

I realize I run the risk of being crowned in the royal annals of marketing blasphemy. And that this sounds awfully strange coming from someone responsible for buying and placing media. But I firmly believe most brands could -- and should -- spend far less today to reach their target consumers.

Over the past 15-plus years in the media space, I've witnessed clients pour massive amounts of money into media buying, full-stop. The vast majority have failed to recalibrate models based on the efficiency of new technologies that allow for consumer targeting.

There was a time not so long ago when the game favored those with the most money; that time is not now.

Want evidence that smaller media budgets can succeed? When I was at Wieden & Kennedy, I watched as the agency proved to clients that it can pay off to invest healthily in creative, while leveraging comparatively tiny media budgets. The results included award-winning campaigns like Old Spice's "Responses" and Nike's "Write the Future." Those efforts didn't just touch consumers, they were loved by consumers -- and achieved success without massive media outlays.

Marketers, if you save money on media, you can funnel it into creating more attractive, richer content. Here are three ways to use your newly found marketing dollars:

1. Go soup-to-nuts on the creative process. Spend more upfront on the ideas and concepts from creative agencies. Then, once you select the best one, spend more on production to make things look better. Or bring on an A-list celebrity endorser if it makes sense. Ipsos has reported on the efficacy of this approach, saying a few years ago in a white paper: "Creative has a disproportionate influence on the success or failure of an ad campaign. Ipsos ASI's global advertising database shows that creative quality accounts for about three-quarters of variance when explaining differences in ad recall levels. Weak creative rarely earns good recall based on heavy media."

2. Establish a "fall-flat or phenomenally-successful" fund. Doing something new that culture will respond to is often risky. And risk doesn't always pay off. But having a culture that can tolerate the occasional campaign that falls flat could open you up to campaigns that will succeed. Case in point: Burger King -- a historically experimental and risky brand since its first days of working with CP+B. When the agency introduced Burger King's "creepy king" mascot into commercials, he was hailed a disturbing brand pitchman. Yet the brand continued its pursuit with its agency, Pitch, which brought the King back early this year in a new way: surprise appearances. He was one of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s groupies before the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight, and was spotted in the grandstands at the 2015 Belmont Stakes.

The good news is, no longer are all experiments public and expensive. Stunts and online and social can all be testing grounds where you can fail for a bit and invest when you see signals for success.

3. Focus on doing, not saying. Instead of making ads, create something that tells people what your brand stands for. Rubber Tracks from Converse -- a network of community-based professional recording studios, is a great example of this. The brand shows its support for artists by allowing musicians of any genre to apply for free studio time, letting artists keep the rights to their own music. In return, Converse gets way more brand loyalty than competitors spending bigger on paid media.

To be clear, I don't see media as an all-out waste. I just think it's a giant mistake to overinvest in media. As anyone who's gearing up for football season can attest, the frequency with which an individual sees the same ad, particularly for big brands, is staggering. Increasingly, you're also getting the same banner ad in your mobile browser for a hotel you visited and never booked (and probably never will).

It's time media agencies helped clients adjust their models. You simply don't need to buy as much to reach as many of the RIGHT people -- and for marketers, that's great news.

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