Expanding The Definition of Media Quality- Lunch With IAS & Retail Industry Leaders

Everyone loves lunch, but not everyone was invited to IAS’ recent exclusive roundtable event in Sydney last week. Some of the best retail marketers in the business descended on Aria for a mouth-watering chat about media quality, retail media networks (RMNs) and attention and an equally mouth-watering feed.

While the discussion was held under the Chatham House rule — essential given that some leading lights from Australia’s largest businesses were in the room and looking across the table at their biggest rivals — we can give you the hottest unattributed takes.

RMNs have quickly become one of the hottest tickets in the digital marketing town. Giving brands the ability to market to engaged audiences in contexts where they are almost certainly ready to buy.
Understandably, grocers and alcohol retailers drove the early expansion of the sector in Australia — selling tasty-looking dishes and sippable cocktails through owned-and-operated channels as part of a broader emphasis on lifestyle is a fairly easy sell.

However, despite the early success of these sectors, which attendees from the brands involved were more than happy to attest to, it’s clear that Australia lags some way behind the US and UK.

While 20 RMNs were launched in 2022 in the States, less than five were launched here. The poms, meanwhile, have been quicker to establish best practices and oversight of retail media networks, with the ISBA taking a driving seat in coordinating the industry.
The marketers present lamented that most of the Australian industry bodies were too channel-specific to really focus on RMNs — through the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Australian chapter and the Australian Association of National Advertisers were touted as potential leaders.

Regardless, the group was bullish on RMNs in an Australian context. The consensus view in the room was that if businesses can connect emotionally with consumers and ensure that they do not lose sight of consumers’ actual wants and needs, the results could be huge.

As high-margin, high-return channels RMNs were seen as a great way to increase market share for businesses without investing vast ad dollars on media that might not hit the right audience. However, there was a marked split in the effectiveness of RMNs for brands that see high-frequency shoppers — again, grocers and alcohol retailers — compared to clothing retailers and other shops that see less frequent custom. But, owning and operating your media channel does give businesses a distinct advantage compared to other media channels — namely a level of control over quality and context, as well as deeper campaign performance reporting.

Nobody wants their ads to appear next to the type of content reserved for the deepest recesses of 4Chan. But, while there are obvious extremes to the world of media quality, it is in the grey where campaigns are won or lost — a sentiment that many in the room shared.

One particular gripe, however, was the increasingly high walls of the big tech platforms.

Agency execs bemoaned having to work with different platforms on slightly different terms every time. One even said they felt on the back foot when dealing with the large tech platforms and that the relationship was uneven, to say the least.

What’s more, one agency exec said that there were so many different channels within platforms and that the role of each channel determined the purpose of campaign messaging. This led to even more work for agency staff in ensuring media quality.

From the marketers in the room, it was clear that there was a burning desire for consistent measurement metrics across platforms. The feeling was that this would not only make marketers’ lives easier but it would also improve competition in the market. However, as it stands, the different tech platforms vary widely in their willingness to embrace a consistent measurement metric.

Privacy was another meaty topic that served up some robust opinions in the room at Aria. One agency exec suggested that changes to privacy rules on platforms and increased regulatory scrutiny had forced them into significant changes in their campaign management. In particular, declining first-party data sets made effective targeting harder and campaigns less impactful.

Other execs felt that the ongoing conversations around Privacy Act reform were slightly shortsighted and were not fit for purpose. Most execs felt that the pushback led by the likes of the IAB and ADMA was not only necessary for their businesses but the Australian digital economy as a whole.

Everyone in adland has an opinion on attention — the supposedly king-making metric that will be able to solve all the campaign analysis headaches. However, while many in the industry have been bullish on attention, the execs at Aria were not convinced.

One client-side exec said that it was “just another metric” and that effectiveness and ROI were still the ultimate determiners of campaign success. One retail exec said that attention was just consideration plus action. Another said that attention was “irrelevant” if it didn’t lead to a conversion and its usefulness was entirely dependent on the value of that consumer’s endpoint.

One exec went as far as to say that attention was a “BS metric” created by media owners to create something that sounded better than a CPM.

On the agency side, one exec suggested that attention should be an overall campaign hygiene metric indicating whether ads generally got seen by the right people, rather than being a single source of truth.

As desserts and cheeseboards made their way around the room, the tone of the discussion shifted to focus on the industry’s approach to the bigger themes in society.

Sustainability was first on the agenda. One exec from a retailer said that no one on the media side was doing enough to stem carbon emissions generated through ad impressions. One retail exec added that emissions generated through ad impressions were a tiny part of big businesses’ carbon footprints. The biggest gains were, are, and will continue to be garnered through scope one and two emissions.

There was also a level of disconnect between the different types of brands represented and their messaging around sustainability.

Reps from beauty and consumer brands present said that sustainability and diversity were hugely important for connecting with younger consumers but that the nature of the conversations made it difficult for those brands to speak about it in their marketing. They added that they strived to make sure their marketing on the topic was authentic and was not tokenistic.

Alas, there were no doggy bags to take away from Aria. There were, however, a host of tasty tidbits for the attendees.

RMNs are not perfect for everyone. However, where they do work, they can drive serious business results. But, marketers should never lose sight of the consumer, no matter how enticing the ROI.

Similarly, the lack of industry-level leadership is a growing cause for concern as the sector expands. It is imperative that the industry works towards a consistent measurement standard to make sure that campaigns are seen by the right people but also that the best work from the best businesses is rewarded.

Ensuring high-quality media is as important as ever for advertisers and brands — both from a brand safety point of view and from an effectiveness standpoint. But the lack of transparency from media platforms — especially the big tech players with their walled gardens — created a problem for marketers that needs to be addressed.

Attention, meanwhile, might be slightly illusory for advertisers. It sounds impressive but it is hardly groundbreaking.

And, as ever, everyone wants to do more for sustainability and diversity. While the causes are noble and worthy, there are a host of problems standing in the way of advertisers. These do not denigrate the causes. Instead, they make everyone work harder to achieve the goals they have set themselves.


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