Tyranny of choice
Tyranny of choice
|Kathy O’Meara on why our crowded mediascape is making things tough for the best of sellers|
While wandering through the hallowed corridors of the inspirational John Lennon International airport, I had a light bulb moment for my company’s logo: ‘Life’s a pitch and then you buy.’ Brief, à point, sorted. It got us talked about and even earned a mention in Marketing, which is all you can hope for in a random collection of words.
Trouble is, life simply isn’t that simple any more. Years back, as a fresh-out-of-the-wrapper salesman, one could stride confidently into any London agency, clutching copies of Jackie, the Beano and the Dandy, confident of securing a couple of outside back positions – or an insert at the very least. Nostalgia is not what it used to be.
These days everyone in the selling business is well aware that choice – and, hence, competition – has increased exponentially. It is not just a case of He/She Who Shouts Louder – it is He/She Who Shouts Better. In a rapidly changing media landscape there is a dichotomy: agency consolidation and fragmented media choice.
A simple glance at the ear/message ratio presents a stark imbalance. The Irish agency scene neatly divides itself into seven groupings: six global behemoths: Omnicom; WPP; Interpublic; Publicis; Havas; Aegis – and several local media independents.
On the sales side, we have seven innocent headings – press, TV, radio, outdoor, cinema, internet and ‘other’. ‘Other’ media alone offers over 100 out of home sales options ranging from washroom posters to petrol pump branding.
Press can be divided ad infinitum. In the magazine subdivision alone, there are 17 multicultural titles; radio now offers a growing choice of national, regional and local stations. The internet has 10 ad networks selling multifarious websites.
The choice is astounding. Yet one seller’s ‘unrivalled opportunity’ can be a buyer’s nightmare, one more voice to add to the cacophony of white noise. We have an abundance of choice, which can be seen as both liberating and bedevilling.
Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice categorises buyers into ‘maximizers’ and ‘satisficers.’ Maximizers are “those who always aim to make the best possible choice” and satisficers are “those who aim for ‘good enough’.”
Schwartz found that maximizers are the least happy. “Naturally, no one can check every option, but maximizers strive towards that goal … making a decision becomes increasingly daunting as the number of choices rises.”
He discovered that shoppers who confront a display of 30 jams or ice creams are less likely to buy any, than when faced with just six choices. In the latter scenario, the burden of gathering enough comparative data to make a wise choice is significantly reduced.
Agency personnel who buy for a living, such as Joe Dalton of Precision Media, understand these dynamics. “As there are fewer media buying points, yet huge media fragmentation,” Dalton said, “there’s a lot more people contacting me now than ten years ago. There’s certainly a time crunch, pressure to turn things around. There’s the mechanics of reaching the right sellers and we have to prioritise more carefully.”
Diarmuid Gavin’s Garden Design is the latest consumer magazine to hit the newsstands in Ireland and the UK. Published in Dublin by Norah Casey’s Harmonia, it is aimed at busy professionals who want to create gardens that match their lifestyle.
Dalton sees the value of consolidating synergistic media under the aegis of a sales house. “We will have a collaborative relationship with the sales house on a number of levels - they may be representing four or five different media, but they will be experts in their game and understand the nuances of the buyer / seller relationship,” Dalton said.
The function of a media sales house, representing a single access point to a selective combination of media brands (whether it be TV3 selling a range of TV channels or MediaRepublic selling 15-34s), becomes crucial for the future of ad sales. He reflects that media ‘bundling’, if handled well, can ease the path for the buyer.
Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow, claims that if an audience does not have time to listen to and understand a pitch, the pitcher will be treated as if they are invisible. Godin argues against mediocrity. Stand out products or services – however limited in their audience appeal – will still achieve cut through. But Dalton is not so optimistic.
With plenty of money floating around, there is the trickle down effect. Agencies have the luxury of being able to try different options. Even with a slight economic downturn, the buyers will switch back to the core ‘bangs for buck’ media and quirkier ones may suffer.
So what of the future? Certainly a tighter economy will sort the Purple Cows from the Fresians. But Dalton believes that the price/volume war of today will yield to more intellectual strategic planning, with specialist companies like the UK’s Naked concentrating purely on what differentiates unique media opportunities.
By offering a discreet mix of traditional and non-traditional media, the successful sales house will achieve that valuable ‘ear time’ that individual media owners may find hard to access. Yes, our tagline ‘Life’s a pitch and then you buy’ has credence.
But it’s getting the chance to deliver that pitch that’s the tough bit.
Kathy O'Meara (email@example.com) is a director of MediaRepublic.