Thursday 27 June 2019

John McGee: Folly of youth sees digital natives hindering brands

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John McGee

Sarah normally wakes up at 7am most mornings. As she prepares for the long day that lies ahead, she grabs a quick cup of coffee and a slice of toast, runs the iron over her jeans and, if she has the time, she might flick on The Strawberry Alarm Clock on FM104 or 98FM's The Big Breakfast.

On her way to work on the Luas and as she listens to Spotify, she checks her Facebook page, scrolls through some of her friends' posts, likes a few photos and maybe reads a few posts from one of the several hundred FMCG, retail and news brands she has liked since she first joined it 10 years ago. There may also be some time for a quick scroll through Instagram where many of her friends now hang out.

When she gets to work - she likes to be at her desk by 8.50am - she wades through the many emails that have pinged their way to her PC overnight, including several from clients, a couple of internal emails reminding her about a conference she is attending next week as well as an upcoming meeting with some senior sales folk in Google. She also has to RSVP an invitation to attend the launch party of a new website in 37 on Dawson Street on Friday night.

Sarah, you see, works in a media agency in the city centre and has led a busy and interesting life since graduating from UCD seven years ago with a degree in English and History. Now 28, she never contemplated advertising, or media-buying to be more precise, as a career option but she knew a few people who interned in a media agency in Sydney during gap year and they liked it. One of them now works for a trendy content agency which she thinks is called Super Duper Trooper. The only downside is that it's in Perth, not Sydney.

But Sarah has achieved a lot in the five years since she joined the agency. She has witnessed the inexorable rise and rise of Facebook and Google, she can talk competently and confidently about artificial intelligence, augmented reality, bots and voice search. Sadly, none of these exciting technologies form part of her client's marketing armoury but, hey, they may well do in the future. She is also up to speed with programmatic buying but remains unsure whether it's a threat to her job over the longer term. With as much as 60pc of all the agency's media buys now occurring programmatically, she will start to worry when it hits 80pc.

The bulk of her day is taken up with client and planning meetings, pouring over campaign analytics, fielding calls from media owners and sales houses. Occasionally a sales pitch from a pesky magazine or local newspaper publisher gets past the receptionist and Sarah's eyes glaze over with the look of terminal boredom.

She used to like client meetings but now they can be tricky to navigate and fraught with difficulty as the expectations from overworked marketing departments has, she believes, led to a disconnect with reality.

While Sarah is not too concerned about the existential crisis that media agencies around the world are going through - that's way beyond her pay grade - she hopes that the industry will eventually sort itself out over time.

But when it comes to media, Sarah's news diet comes mainly from her Facebook feeds, a few home-grown websites which, when she has time, dips in and out of several times a week. Like many of her peers, online video is also consuming more of her time.

While she is concerned about the prevalence of fake news, the rise in ad-blocking amongst many within her peer group as well as the many transgressions by different social media platforms over the past year or two, she has been assured by the highest authorities that they are being sorted out.

Sarah, of course, is not a real person. She is an entirely fictional creation that represents an amalgam - and a possibly unfair stereotype - of people who work in any number of media agencies in Dublin or London. Sarah could be a Dave, Grainne or Robert.

What Sarah has in common with Dave and Robert, however, is that they belong to the estimated 50pc of media agency staff who are under the age of 30. Call them millennials or digital natives, the vast majority of them don't consume media in the same way other people do. And I don't mean just the older generation either. If I was to put a bet on, I would say that Dave and Sarah don't even read newspapers or magazines on a weekly, never mind daily, basis. Yet they have responsibility for allocating media spends across the entire industry. While it might be pushing it a bit to say that they are overinvesting in the wrong media - particularly platforms like Google or Facebook - it's more than fair to say that they're underinvesting in the wider media market by ignoring the many opportunities that exist for clients and brands.

What all this means for the future of media is anybody's guess but for media agencies to survive, thrive and navigate their way out of this existential crisis, they will need a strong and vibrant media industry. At the moment, that's a long way off.

And as for Sarah, well, she has yet to tell her boss that she is off to join Facebook in October.

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