Could a media algorithm pass the Ogilvy copy test?

More and more people have told me not to bother re-writing my text book Media Planning – Art or Science? next year. Apparently the debate is over. Media strategy is definitely a science and by Christmas I’ll be replaced by an algorithm.

I’m told algorithms are much more efficient than media strategists. They unerringly match available media-owner inventory against the best prevailing price and hey presto, more GRPS than you could possibly hope to hope to fit onto a single Excel spread-sheet report. After all, media exposure is just a commodity and the cheaper the price, the more cost-efficient the campaign.

Given the explosion of media offerings, I would have to concede that point. Algorithms are better at statistics than media strategists. But I’ve never met an algorithm that could pass the Ogilvy copy test the way media guru, the late Alan McClarty did. Just to prove a point to himself! And of course to prove a point to Robyn Putter. Because if media didn’t contribute to the overall communication and creative debate then Robyn would just send you back to the media department and make you eat worms.

Nowhere are algorithms more superior at media strategy, apparently, than in monetising their “understanding” of consumer search-psychology and click-thru patterns. They will match message to relevant consumer environments with unerring accuracy. And for good measure, from a media perspective, they’ll only charge you for actual exposure. Page impressions. Unique hits. Likes. Retweets. Whatever you want! You only pay for what you actually get. Zero wastage. Procurement heaven!

So given the incredible insight of even the most mundane algorithm, you’ll imagine my amazement yesterday when I discovered that the unthinkable has happened. An algorithm has failed to perform. Well, failed to perform from a human perspective that is because I’m sure the media cost efficiencies were impeccable.

In researching social media trends this week I have sadly been drawn to YouTube and the horrendous imagery surrounding the Pinetown truck crash in which 22 innocent people were killed. An absolute tragedy that should be made compulsory viewing for all motorists in Mzansi. Horrible! Imagine my amazement then to discover that KFC has a pop-up TVC for their new breakfast offering slap bang in the middle of that footage.


Seriously? This is good media placement? Maybe we old media strategists are dinosaurs. Maybe we don’t have Google’s statistical aptitude but I’ll tell you something Colonel Sanders. No media strategist with even half a brain would attempt to sell fast-food at someone’s funeral.

By the time I launch this comment into the blogosphere, I’ve no doubt that there will have been an outbreak of sanity at KFC and this TVC will have been removed. But I know one thing for sure. It won’t be an algorithm that has removed it. It will be an intelligent and sensitive marketer. And if it hasn’t been removed then my advice is send your algorithm for counselling. After all even The Terminator had a gentle side.

I was recently sent an email from a media company offering me a platform which “uses a real-world algorithm which blends available ad space with the desired target audience reach, frequency, price, budget and asset spread to optimise an online media plan with limited waste.”

They claim, “we love maths but we love media a little more.”

Well in response to that let me say that I am going to rewrite my book next year. And I’m still going to call it Media Planning – Art or Science.

Because I love advertising but I love media a little more!