The Buy-Side View: Q&A with Starcom’s Emma Morris


In this edition of ‘Buy-Side View’ we speak with Emma Morris, head of investment and managing partner at Starcom UK. In this interview Morris discusses how publishers and broadcasters should be working with the tech giants, why video’s impact shouldn’t be looked at in silo, and why the trust factor is so important for TV.

What is your biggest bugbear when it comes to video and OTT advertising?

I have to confess, I’ve got a few big bugbears to be honest!

The first is that we need to recognise the benefits of all video and OTT offerings for advertisers are not identical. Some have similar qualities, others are very different. Just because content can be watched on the big screen doesn’t mean it has the same power as advertising alongside quality content with high production values.

We regularly have debates with media owners and our clients about the benefits of incorporating broadcaster content into their campaigns, and the signals it sends consumers when a brand advertises alongside that content. Trust in advertising overall is at an all time low. There was a report recently from the Advertising Associating which found that trust in advertising is actually lower than that of banks and energy companies. When did that happen?

But TV is trusted by consumers, and advertising on TV signals that a brand is high quality and successful. And ad recall is strong as a result. The same just can’t be said for placing an ad next to a video about how to fix a leaking tap, for example!

Just to be clear, I strongly believe that the two can work together when building a plan. The key, I believe, is understanding the role of each medium and determining the most effective blend.

My other bugbear really is around the lack of consistency when it comes to measurement. I know that this is a common bugbear in other buy-side view articles! But it genuinely is such a huge problem for the entire industry. We really do need some consistent measurement and a single source of truth. I believe the industry needs to work together on this, they need to park those personal agendas and focus on the needs and the future of the entire market. And I generally believe that a more coherent measurement approach will be the huge game changer for the entire industry.

Which do you think video advertising is the most effective for – generating awareness and brand-building, or driving short-term sales?

Video advertising, as you well know, spans many mediums. And whilst they can all generate awareness, build brands and drive short term sales to varying degrees, the strength of premium content when building brands remains legendary. So I think agencies can sometimes be a bit guilty of looking at the benefits of individual mediums in silos rather than the power of them combined, and I think that’s the next step for agencies.

At the moment, we’re working with Google on a project to help us understand how our AV activity contributes to things like search uplift. It’s a super interesting study. I think we can be very guilty of looking at things in isolation, and the power of combining mediums is the next step we should be looking at.

Are you investing in OTT advertising? How will the shift towards OTT change your TV buying strategy?

Yes, we invest a great deal in OTT advertising. And we continuously review the OTT and TV market as any good media agency individuals would.

The reason for this constant reviewing is because the capabilities of both older and new entrants in the market are always expanding, which means the market is very dynamic at the moment. And it’s so important to stay ahead of every development, because our approach is audience and media KPI led.

In terms of strategy, we don’t work with arbitrary percentage deployments splits, and I’ve spoken to partners in crime at other agencies who say the same thing. We don’t just say we’ll always spend 70 percent here, 30 percent there, and 20 percent there. It’s definitely not a one size fits all mechanic, we ensure that we’re up to speed with a market that’s very dynamic, and arguably becoming more and more fragmented. And our buying strategies change accordingly.

It’s not even just a strategy by client, actually, it’s a strategy by campaign and by product. We make sure we keep the audience at the heart of it, and if OTT is right it’s right, if it’s wrong it’s wrong.

What could agencies do better to help clean up the industry?

Publicis Media play an active role here. We set up Publicis Verified some time ago, which is our certification process, and that indicates if a vendor has met what we believe to be industry leading standards for brand safety, consumer privacy, privacy server, and client data protection. We’ve also created Publicis Inventory Exchange, or PIE, which is our SSP. It’s a walled garden for display and video vendors that have met our Publicis Verified criteria. That lets us marry the control of those verified vendors with quality content, which is crucial for us.

We’re also working with CTV providers too. So we understand that the lack of device IDs for impressions which aren’t from BVOD services or YouTube can regularly appear as a fraudulent viewer impression on CTV providers. But working with Samsung Ads, we understand that these impressions aren’t always fraudulent, and sometimes it’s simply the result of the providers being compliant with GDPR. What we’re trying to do is work with the likes of Samsung Ads as a partner to try to come up with solutions to that.

And also transparency is a big part of cleaning up of the industry. We’re particularly proud of the fact that our programmatic model allows clients to have full transparency, so they can see exactly where every pound spent goes.

Which ad tech solution has delivered the most impact for your business?

The key partners that we working with include Google and The Trade Desk, both of which we’re doing a lot of work with as our DSPs. From an OTT perspective, we’re working really closely with Samsung Ads, and we’re very excited to be supporting ITV with the launch of Planet V. And all of these partners have, delivered and will continue deliver, sizable impact for our business.

Which metrics do you value the most when it comes to video and OTT advertising?

Sound on and completed viewable views is the most important for us. Of course reach and scale are important too, but only in conjunction with sound on and completed viewable views.

All reach is far from equal. Our clients’ ads are a window into their brand, and they invest sizable amounts into the way that their brand stories are told by their ads. And they want those stories to be both seen and heard, with an impact that’s accountable and measurable. I couldn’t get higher on my soapbox with this one!

What could publishers, broadcasters and pay TV companies do to compete more effectively with the large social platforms?

I don’t think they should consider themselves as in competition with the large social platforms. In theory, yes, they’re in competition for the nation’s time. But this is the wrong lens, in my view.

Firstly, I believe that publishers, broadcasters and pay TV networks are currently in the best position they’ve been in for a long, long time, in terms of the scale of their viewers and their targeting capabilities.

But secondly, I think that these organisations should actively engage with the larger social platforms and find a way to work together that works for both parties. I think I’ve been talking about the idea that content remains king for the last 10 to 15 years. But genuinely YouTube needs access to broadcasters’ quality content on their platform, and the broadcasters could certainly drive audience numbers with a social video strategy, particularly with younger audience segments.

I think publishers, broadcasters and pay TV companies are starting to head in the right direction. And several of them are starting to embrace social platforms already. But there’s still a lot of work to do in that space.

Which person in the industry inspires you the most today?

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside some genuinely inspirational people over the years, as well as attended events where the key speakers have blown me away while sharing the details of their journeys!

Since COVID turned our industry and the entire world on its head, we’ve had had even more visibility than usual from our leadership team, and Annette King [Publicis Groupe UK CEO] has led the group in a way that has been open, honest and genuinely inspirational, in the face of the unknown. I also find Catherine Jacob, Nadine Young, and Victoria Milligan inspirational, all for different reasons. But I could honestly talk for hours about inspiring people in the industry!

Out of all the video and TV advertising campaigns you’ve been involved with, which are you most proud of?

There are several that stand out! I’m proud of being part of the team which got the Honda Live ad up and running with Channel Four as part of the ‘Difficult is Worth Doing’ campaign all the way back in 2008, and of being the lead on the Dreams business during the launch of the ‘Replace Every Eight’ campaign which saw their business rocket, with record breaking sales in 2015.

More recently, though, I’m proud of the work the team and I delivered for the Samsung Mystic Bronze campaign with Spotify. We worked with Spotify to drip a creative of bronze and melting metal across the homepage screen. It looked absolutely amazing, and was totally worth the negotiation and creative challenges we overcame at the time. Spotify were a great partner, the client was delighted and the handset smashed its sales targets.


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