The Guardian Changing Media Summit 2016

The Guardian Changing Media Summit 2016 took place in London, UK on March 23-24 for the 11th time. The event gathered together a few hundred media professionals from various sectors to debate the hottest issues in the media business. In this report I present some of the highlights of the event.


Case The Guardian

The host of the event, The Guardian, is a good example of the current state of the media. As most of the legacy print media houses, their traditional income sources are shrinking and the new digital income streams are not yet able to fill in the gaps. In the case of The Guardian, this has lead to cuttings like in many other companies. The challenge of building bridges between the old and the new world was described as “changing aeroplane’s motors during a flight”.

However, CEO David Pemsel was able to present impressive and promising year-on-year growth figures for their digital services: video 52%, branded content 67%, programmatic 67%, mobile 45%, and video watching 255%. Pemsel told that The Guardian aims to get back in black within three years by relying on four growth areas: membership, branded content, video and data.

Soft values, bigger profits

One of the leading themes of the event was the importance of soft values in media business. The most debated subject was how the brands can marry purpose with profit. According to various surveys millenials are more willing than other consumer groups to support and endorse brands if they share the values the brands represent. However, the flipside is that if brands cannot be true and act according to their values and purposes, millenials are twice as active as other consumer groups to bring brands down by means of social media.

Another key theme was creativity in marketing. For example, Sir John Hegarty of BBH argued that consensus is dangerous and that brainstorming in creative work is waste of time as exceptional individuals do the most valuable work. This statement was fiercely confronted by people who stated that in current marketing data is the key to everything.

The main outcome of the discussion was that data is of crucial importance but if data rules the creative work in a wrong way, marketing fails to inspire people, as it will lead to same conclusions and outputs. At the end of day, marketing is more art than science, and creativity needs always diversity and challenges.

The third key soft value theme discussed was the relationship between women and sustainability. According to various research results women are more committed to brands than men, and 65% of women are ready to share their brand experiences in social media. However, the commitment requires proved benefits such as rational/functional, personal and collective benefits such as sustainability. If these are met, female consumers are also prepared to pay premium price for the product. Sustainability can drive business but brands’ higher purposes have to be integrated into the product, marketing content has to resonate with consumers’ lives, and advertisers have to able to measure the results.

Ad blocking – the new punk?

Ad blocking is one of the hottest issues in current media business. On the other hand, it was considered to be a real threat but, on the other hand, many warned to overestimate the importance it even though in some countries like Germany as many as 35% of all consumers and up to 80% of millenials use ad blockers. Consumers have various reasons to use ad blockers but, in any case, it is only a symptom of bigger reasons.

There was a lot of self-criticism in the air as various parties said that media business as a whole has forgotten that consumers should be at the core of the business and not in a supporting role. The roots of ad blocking are in the gaming as players wanted to increase the speed of Internet connections. One of the initial thoughts of creating ad blockers was also that they would increase the value and the price of “real” content. Nowadays ad blocking can be seen even as a new punk movement, which is, among other things, a means to show anti-corporate attitudes.

Finding a cure for the ad blocker disease

Finding a cure for the “disease” and educating consumers is not easy. It was considered that there are no short-term solutions but the most important thing is to build long-term trust between brands and consumers. All the parties in media business, including tech companies, should contribute into this process. In addition to this, traditional marketing thinking and measuring systems should be improved so that consumers feel that they get the right messages at the right time, which in turn would reduce the need to use ad blockers.

Consumers do not think first and foremost ad blockers but use it only if the content is not interesting or entertaining. Some speakers visioned that within five years or so there will not be advertising as we know it any longer but, as the differences between “real” content and ads will become subtler, only various kinds of content into which consumers are related to in various ways. However, media agencies emphasized that there will still be a need for professional “orchestrators” like them but their role will be less visible.


TV advertising vs. online video

The TV vs. online video debate was kicked off with the definitions of television and video. It is getting harder to make the difference between these two and, in many cases, it does not even serve any purpose. For example, the representative of Channel 4 said that they do not consider themselves as a TV but a content company with agnostic attitude towards various distribution channels.

Digitalization enables more targeted advertising also for TV. However, it was considered to be, at this phase, technically complicated and requiring a lot of work. Programmatic buying is making its way to TV advertising as well, but TV will remain a mass media and therefore the share of programmatic buying can take only a limited share of the whole pot. It was stated that TV is still two to three times more efficient media for advertising than online video.

The fact that consumers are using different kinds of devices and screens will change the TV advertising business. In addition to technical features and changing user habits it was mentioned that the latest neurological research has proved that our brains process messages in different ways depending on the device. This was considered to be a potential game changer as we learn more about this.

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