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Media Buying - Should brands buy media direct?

Pete Davis
By Pete Davis  //  Thu 29th September 2011

Traditionally, with brand owners, media buying has been built on a three-way relationship between the brands themselves, media owners and media agencies. However, with the arrival of various platforms and channels that are encouraging marketers to take more control of this and do their media buying direct, we are seeing an increasing commoditisation of media.

While I fully support marketers taking a greater interest in and more control of where their media money goes, I think we have some way to go before trading media direct becomes the norm.

It is very possible that technical media like online will be bought directly by brands to a greater extent in the future, as this medium often supplies clear reporting data with click-through rates easily to hand. However, the notion that this model will be rolled out to encompass TV, Radio, Outdoor and Cinema, as well as other more niche channels, is simply not feasible.

Commodity trading requires a set amount of product (airtime, online ads space), set amount of time and a price. While this can happen with some media like online, and to some extent radio (through sites such as, other forms of media including TV, magazine advertorial and sponsorships, come with add-ons and qualitative aspects that make them a much more complex proposition than a simple numbers game.

The power of these media for brands is not just about buying the relevant space for their target audience as cheaply as possible, but how that space is then used to bring smart media ideas to life. Brands are not in the business of doing this, and trying to do so would be a dilution of their core focus – they don’t have the time, expertise or infrastructure to perform this role effectively. Furthermore, if all media was bought direct by clients, this could greatly stifle creativity in media and it’s this crucial ingredient that makes great media campaigns stand out. The best media campaigns aren’t about price, they are made possible by the creative flair, knowledge of the marketplace and the imagination brought by a good agency.

From a purely financial perspective, brands can negotiate on price, and the auctions help this, but they will never have the bulk buying clout to bring the prices down in the way the media agencies do. Economies of scale will always favour the specialist buyer. Also most brands will not know enough to be able to say what the true value of the media they buy is to them, and therefore cannot say if this is a good price or not. Most will simply not have the specialist knowledge about TVRs, deal ratios, OTHs and coverage and frequency etc.

Finally, with so many media channels already to choose from and so many more appearing on an almost daily basis in an ever-growing marketplace, brands cannot expect to keep up with this evolving landscape in the way a media agency can.

This however does not mean that brands should give up all responsibility for media to their agencies. I strongly believe a client’s understanding of media is vital to the success of its campaigns. The more clients are aware of what media owners can offer and how media works, the greater contribution they can have in discussions with their agency partners. I would argue there’s a vital education role needed from media owners first, before they should expect clients to jump into media buying.
A media savvy brand manager is a great asset to the client/agency process, but taking on the media buying themselves across complex campaigns is currently a step too far and could ultimately make their campaigns less impactful.

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