The Digital Transformation of Television | Rob Norman
David McBee: Hello. And welcome to Simpli.fi TV, the web series and podcast for agencies, brands, marketers and media buyers. I'm David McBee. Our guest today is Rob Norman, the former Chief Digital Officer of WPP's GroupM and a member of Simplifies board. Rob managed the world's biggest ad budgets and played a significant role in the market's transition to digital media. Rob now advises multiple digital marketing businesses and continues to advise advertisers in the United States, the UK and India. Having served for nine years as a director of BBC Global News, Rob remains engaged and concerned with issues like misinformation, brand safety and the integrity of media markets for brands and consumers. Rob, welcome to Simpli.fi TV. Rob Norman: Well, hi, David. It's great to be here. Nice to see you. David McBee: It's great to have you. Thank you so much for taking some time out. You have had an extensive career. I feel very grateful to talk to you. You've seen the rise of probably every digital tactic over the years. So I want to just ask you, what strategies do you feel are really critical for advertisers right here in 2023? Rob Norman: Well, when you say extensive, you really just mean long and heaven knows it's been long, and I was there as a spectator, if you like, sort of the birth of Google, Facebook, and all of the others. So the transition's been pretty extraordinary to watch, the transition of audience, the transition of user time spent, and ultimately the tradition of advertiser dollars as well. And we now live in this multichannel world that consumer no longer distinguishes between a digital world and an analog world, much lesser broadcast world and a satellite world. And people are doing what they want when they want and using the best available and most convenient screen to do it on. And so everything from communication to content, to entertainment, to shopping, to services is taking place in multiple devices. And I believe that the big puzzle advertisers are constantly trying to solve is how does that digital consumer journey look now, recognizing that it looks different for different people in different places and for different categories. And so our job, if you like as practitioners in advertising, is to make sure that we connect brands and services to consumers at the time that they've got the greatest chance of being influenced, either to remember something, think more favorably of it, or to act on it. That's the job. David McBee: And what strategies do you feel do the best job of that right now? Rob Norman: Well, the most powerful medium in advertising that's moved hearts and minds it's television. Television has evolved as much as any other media. It was slow to the evolution, but has now moved incredibly quickly. We've reached the tipping point where OTT or CTV viewing in terms of time spent is greater than linear viewing in time spent, which was hard to imagine 10 years ago. We've seen some very recent acceleration and we never thought 10 years ago about the idea of HBO with ads. We never thought five years ago about the idea of Netflix with ads, and we didn't think one year ago, or even one month ago about the idea of Amazon Prime Video with ads. So what we're seeing is a new, on demand, multi-platform video viewing experience of the highest possible quality on the best quality devices, which enables advertisers to use their weapon of choice, the most powerful media for changing hearts and minds in a way that maybe we couldn't have understood digitally a few years ago, so that's the big thing. Clearly using that with the data that's available is the thing that differentiated from the old ways of using TV. And so TV, which was in the words of one Google executive, broadly speaking, a faith-based medium has become increasingly a fact-based medium. David McBee: What digital data do you think is the most powerful when it comes to CTV targeting? Rob Norman: Well, it's getting hard to use personally identifiable information now. And we had a window in which you could find and collect any amount of information about individual users and use it for targeting. We probably did that unwisely because the window is now closed on that and the regulatory environment around privacy and the use of data has changed, and it's changed the benefit by and large of the consumer and not really to the benefit of the advertiser, so you are left with more distant kinds of data. So there's intent data is a very powerful data signal and the one obviously that birthed Google Search. But among the most powerful data signals we have is location data and the ability to find people in the geographies where goods and services are sold and where we hope for the consumer to act, so it's possible that location data is the most valuable single signal... That's very hard to say, single signal. And of course, the other piece of data that's of super interest and has grown in its value and in its perceived value in the last two or three years is transaction data, which is driving that whole marketplace that people now commonly refer to as retail media. David McBee: All right, so if we can target based on intent beta, did I say beta? Intent data and location data and we've got these transactional signals... Man, I'm just really tripping over my words, sorry. Transactional signals, why are linear buyers so hesitant to adopt CTV if it seems superior in these ways? Rob Norman: Well, CTV has some advantages definitely, and we've discussed some of them briefly now. But the principal advantage of television over all other media was reach, and the idea that you could reach many people simultaneously or at least in short periods of time, and a lot of academic work has been done that shows that the biggest driver of future sales is increasing penetration to sell to a new customer. And a lot of the work that's been done in the digital world has been more about optimizing your activity to people you already know. But a lot of work has been done in growing brands is about growing your custom base and increasing penetration. So TV has been great at that and hasn't required an enormous amount of data signals to be effective in that application. So if you are able to maximize your reach and do it relatively inexpensively without paying additional sums for data signals or geographic targeting, then linear is just fine. What we've reached now, as I said a few minutes ago, it is that tipping point of linear versus CTV and OTT TV consumption in which more time is now being spent in the OTT and CTV world, which means that reach is achievable there and reach is declining in the linear world. And it's my sense, and I think the market signals would suggest this, that tipping point away from linear towards CTV, but also converged with a decrease in the price of CTV versus linear TV is the thing that's going to drive it over the edge. David McBee: Yeah, definitely. And I think that's one of the reasons that CTV prices fluctuated so dramatically over this last year. Rob, as someone who is deeply involved in media strategies, what advice would you offer to other agencies and brands who are aiming to optimize their campaigns and engage with a diverse target audience in a meaningful way? Rob Norman: Well, I've only ever found one thing that all advertisers agree on, and the thing that they agree on is the desire to achieve predictable, profitable growth. They all like that. Everyone liked growth, everyone likes the growth, to be profitable, and marketers and need it to be predictable because of all the people in the big decision-making table in a company, it's often their thing and their call center, the application of money to which is harder to predict than some of the other people. And so my sense is to have a very, very clear idea about what your objectives are, have an equally clear idea through either testing or historical knowledge about what tactical it is that most closely and most quickly fulfill your objectives and then really stick to it and be highly observant and try and use all of the data that can be gathered from digital and other advertising to constantly refine your decision-making. And so be very, very clear and focused about your goals and be very, very clear and focused about your need to collect data and imply that data, that empirical evidence, if you like, to your future decision-making. Because what you are always trying to do in media is to allocate money to the right place, to optimize the place that you've allocated it to and to attribute the effectiveness of what you've done to inform the allocation process in the future. So the road to predictable profitable growth is smart allocation, vigorous optimization and very diligent attribution. David McBee: Great advice. One quick question out of the blue. In your extensive slash long career, did you have a favorite campaign that you worked on? And if so, what made it your favorite? Rob Norman: Well, favorite campaigns are often not the most important campaigns in the world. I used to like working on movie releases. It was always fun. It was always fun getting into the tension of doing all of the work over a number of weeks, identifying target audiences, building strategies and so forth, and holding your breath on a Friday night to see what happened in the box office. I also particularly loved working on retail campaigns and I was always entertained by the fact that Macy's had more one day sales than there were days in the year if you added up all of the sales in different places, different goods. So I guess, my interest was a lot of those action oriented kind of campaigns because I'm an impatient fellow and you got to see the stuff early. But I suppose the stuff that intrigued me in a way most was looking at long-term advertising effectiveness stories and looking at the relationship between advertising and what would happen to the recall and awareness and the sales of the brand years and years later as a result of seeds that were sown over time. And whilst I was as impatient as anybody else, it was the times that you needed to be most patient and need to have the greatest consideration were actually the most rewarding in the craft I worked in. David McBee: This is going to be out of the blue, but when I was 16 years old, I used to plant trees. That was my teenager job. And to this day, once in a while I'll drive by one of those trees and say, "Hey, I planted that," and it's enormous. Are there campaigns that you look at now and you're like, "I got them started. I'm the reason they're the big deal that they are?" Rob Norman: Well, I don't know if I ever did start them in that way. I was around and working at WPP when the Dove campaign, which revolutionized the whole way that personal care was thought about and the empowerment of women in those brands, and the changing of body types and stereotypes, I was there then and saw amazing things change in the way people thought about advertising them. So I suppose if you were going to pick a single one, that would be it. I was not there and had nothing to do with the launch and the growth of Red Bull, which I think remains a fascinating story about a market that seemed to be impossible to penetrate. And I was there at the beginning of internet only banking and so forth. And I think seeing those things that drove either big changes in the way brands and their audiences and cohorts of the population were perceived or big changes in the way that people behaved and interacted with goods and services, I guess, is the most fascinating. David McBee: I love hearing those stories. All right, cool. Well, before I let you go, I like to ask all my guests real quick, is there a favorite podcast or a book that you feel was instrumental in your success? Rob Norman: Well, there were no podcasts when I started. The wisdom that I always remember is that of Jeremy Bullmore. Jeremy Bullmore was for the generation, the creative director of J. Walter Thompson, and later was chairman and a member of the board of WPP. He passed away this year. He was 93 years old. And Jeremy, in terms of the understanding of brands and understanding of the dynamics of agency and client relationships was unsurpassable. And to him I attribute the favorite quote in advertising, which he was once asked by a conference attendee, how many people worked at J. Walter Thompson, and Jeremy thought about it for a second and answered, "About half," and I'll always remember that he's a master of the one-liner, and the irony was beyond anything I aspire to. David McBee: That's great. Well, thank you so much. What is the best way for viewers to learn more about you? Rob Norman: Well, they can follow me on Twitter @RobNorman if they wish, or on X, I should say. I'm on LinkedIn, of course. I don't write as much as I used to, but I do respond to everyone. So if people ever want to reach out to me on LinkedIn and fancy a chat, I'm always up for that. I think it's very, very important that people who have been blessed by longevity of being paid by someone else to do what we do, make themselves available to other people who are hopefully on a pathway that gets them to the same place or somewhere even better. David McBee: That's a great philosophy. Rob, thank you so much for being my guest on Simpli.fi TV today. Rob Norman: Absolutely, my pleasure. David McBee: And thank you all for watching. Simpli.fi TV is sponsored by Simpli.fi, helping you to maximize relevance and multiply results with our industry leading media buying and workflow solutions. For more information, visit Simpli.fi. Thanks for joining us today. I'm David McBee. Be awesome, and we'll see you next time.
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