Why machines (& the good old Optimiser) will never get the media planner out of a job

13 Mar,2014

By Shephali Bhatt


It’s the year 2020 and the machines have taken over. What we are talking about is a possibility a lot more realistic than paranoiac visions of The Matrix, Terminator or Blade Runner. Optimiser has completely replaced the at-ease-with digits management graduate known as the media planner.


For the uninitiated, Optimiser is a tool media agencies use to formulate plans that reap their brands maximum reach at the lowest cost. With a young legion of planners admitting that the software sometimes ends up doing 80%- 90% of their work, a machine taking over the entire role of a media planner may not be too far-fetched . But does this qualify as crystal ball gazing or stoking an unnecessary panic?


Ravi Rao

Flashback to the late 80s and 90s, where intense print plans were created by plotting 100 publications on Yaxis and data from readership surveys like NRS and IRS on the X-axis. “It would take us more than five hours to manually calculate the reach of a print plan using the least cost solution based on Kwerel’s Formula ,” Ravi Rao, leader – South Asia at Mindshare recounts. Now, the planner feeds in the desired GRPs and the client’s budget.


And then sits by as the optimiser dishes out a media plan with numbers on reach and frequency, in one-tenth the time Mr Rao and his compatriots would take. It calls to mind Arthur C Clarke’s observation about how any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And it’d be true to a large extent.


But it only ends up giving a planner more room to concentrate on strategising for the brand instead of being saddled with a mechanical chore. It really is just a tool that throws numbers at you when you give it some yourself, remarks Anagha Ingle, a two-year-young media planner on Unilever brands at Fulcrum, Mindshare.


Mostly, these numbers are used to support the decisions a planner takes, keeping in mind a dozen other factors. For instance, does the brand need to sustain a campaign or wind up with short bursts over a few weeks? Will there be repeated messaging? How heavily will the insertions be placed across channels? Which genre of channels/print titles and in which language? All questions that only a media planner has answers to, not the machine.


These are just some of the basic questions that every media planner ought to get out of the way before approving or ignoring the plan presented by the holy Optimiser. However strong a backbone it might have, the tool has limitations that continue to give the human planner an advantage . Even if the numbers desired are the same, an Optimiser won’t make complete sense for two different campaigns, meant to target different audiences.


A large part of the decision making is influenced by the marketing environment, brand requirements and the competitor’s actions. Our poor Optimiser is incapable of factoring all of this in. Deepak Ahuja, vice president at ZenithOptimedia cites an example to strengthen this point: “If I were to launch a brand like Micromax, my objective will be to spread quick awareness of the brand to its target audience. So, I’ll target channels specialising in movies, music and sport.”


The hiccup is that this tool will never show English movie channels as a viable option because to the machine, the GRP numbers aren’t satisfactory. If only an Optimiser could weigh in on the qualitative aspect of numbers. Similarly, if one was to follow the software’s advice to the tee, no one would’ve invested in spots around reality shows like Kaun Banega Crorepati because of high cost, Shekhar Banerjee, SVP and head, Madison Pinnacle points out. (If you’ve been keeping score, the humans appear to be winning.)


If it were up to the Optimiser, cricket would never have been advertisers’ favourite sport, given its high incremental cost. Humans, on the other hand, are capable of taking decisions that may not always be efficient but prove effective in meeting a brand’s objective.


That explains the BMW and Rado ads on English channels in spite of marginal ratings, and the absence of ads for deodorants from religious channels despite high viewership ratings. With TAM and IRS coming in for more than their fair share of critiques, data has been reduced to a mere stick for a blind man, says Karthi Marshan, head – marketing at Kotak Mahindra Group.


It can’t tell you with certainty what’s coming up. Hence, a client needs his media planner’s gut, instinct and experience, Mr Marshan adds. The human contribution to the media planning role is only going to increase with umpteen media vehicles available for a brand to ride on.


Anupriya Acharya

In such a scenario, superior understanding of content would be required to ensure contextual landing of brand in a particular medium, says Anupriya Acharya, group CEO of ZenithOptimedia. Another trick of the trade that one can’t expect an Optimiser to pull off.


Which is why the likes of Mr Rao and Ms Acharya are hell-bent on hiring more planners, from backgrounds as diverse as engineering and economics. For a tool can only answer the ‘where’ of a media plan. The ‘what’ , ‘why’ and ‘how’ will always require human intervention. Or at least until someone builds a machine that answers these questions better.


Source:The Economic Times

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