Many of you have heard it, some of you have said it: "This campaign is under-performing the last one we did in this placement so we're pulling it and reallocating to a new publisher." Or there's the flip side: "The placement is blowing the roof off the same one we bought last time, we'll definitely keep buying it."
The premise of these sentiments is that the hole in the page is responsible for the success of the campaign. However, there is a much more obvious difference-maker. It's the creative.
Yes, there are wonderful placements (big, above the scroll, on pages with high natural time spent, closely aligned with audience passions) and crappy placements (tiny buttons, below the scroll, invisible). But a piece of inventory never created an emotion. It is the creative that either earns attention or doesn't, moves people to action or leaves them cold. An ad with a compelling message will do better than a coupon to sample Soot Cola in the same placement. Late last year, comScore released a finding that the creative is 4x more responsible for the success of a campaign than the media plan.
Media agencies hate hearing that. They are often so far away from the creative idea, and so often blamed by the creative agency when the idea turns out not to be so great and the campaign flat-lines, so it's understandable if they feel that this finding dis-empowers their expertise and undermines their value in the advertising ecosystem.
The truth is that media agencies have a valuable role to play -- if they are genuinely allowed to play it and not consigned to simply buying audience as cheaply as possible. For one thing, the creative is no longer the only "Big Idea" that matters. In fact, the only real big ideas cross disciplines and rely on experts informing and inspiring each other with possibilities they hadn't considered before. For another, while it isn't the hole in the page that carries the value, agencies have an invaluable role to play in selecting media partners that are honest, provide services beyond the audience & inventory, have beneficial pricing model, develop innovative communications paths, and have the ability to pull off complex programs rather than just traffic ad units.
The bottom line is that the current system tends to silo expertise rather than bring it together. The clients' responsibility must be to ensure that all the disciplines in their roster add value to each other and judge them on their shared success rather than by discipline-specific metrics alone.