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News Analysis 25 Nov 2020 - 3 min read

Digital marketers are asking to be robbed, retailers have gone too narrow: GroupM digital boss Venessa Hunt on why she's leaving to spearhead a reset

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

Venessa Hunt says brands and agencies have made a big mistake in going too narrow and chasing the cheapest digital prices, hollowing out purchase funnels and inviting fraudsters to cream off a sizeable chunk of their budgets. "If half your spend is only seen by a robot, you've got problems," says the outgoing GroupM Chief Digital Officer. Now Hunt is on a mission to turn the tide, leading the Premium Content Alliance's digital division and convincing marketers that they can build brands through digital channels - if they can stop kidding themselves that paying peanuts begets anything but monkeys.

What you need to know:
  • GroupM’s Chief Digital Strategy Officer Venessa Hunt is exiting WPP's media arm after five years with the business.
  • Hunt is charged with leading the Premium Content Alliance’s (PCA) new division, ThinkPremiumDigital, to promote the digital channels of members including Foxtel, Foxtel Media, Nine, News Corp, 10 and Seven.
  • Her key challenge is “balancing the unstable ecosystem” which favours Google and Facebook - which trouser 81 cents of every digital dollar spent in Australia.
  • Hunt also aims to prove that premium digital channels can be used for brand building, not just performance, and will promote brand strategies more sophisticated than hunting cheapest CPMs.
  • She says digital marketers must drop that approach “at all costs” to curb growing problems, such as ad fraud, spoofing and invalid traffic (IVT).
  • Retailers in particular have not properly engaged younger audiences for a long time, says Hunt, and must urgently rethink digital strategies.
  • Hunt says her views in this interview are not representing the position of GroupM.

“When digital started our first thought wasn’t to find brand opportunities, it was to create quick sales-driven campaigns. Those brands got stuck on performance and many are major Australian retailers and companies which haven’t connected, on a brand level, with younger consumers in a long time.”

Venessa Hunt, Chief Digital Strategy Officer, GroupM

Conversion, Damascene style

After five years as GroupM Chief Digital Strategy Officer, Venessa Hunt has a firm grip on what's right and what's wrong with digital marketing. Now she's attempting even things up in what she sees as “one of the most necessary" roles in industry, spearheading  ThinkPremiumDigital, the lobby group for Australia’s premium publishers.

“There is so much focus on the user-generated content (UGC), social and the digital video space as part of the wider industry conversation,” Hunt says speaking on behalf of ThinkPremiumDigital, ahead of starting the role in January.

“What’s gone missing is the discussion around the value proposition premium publishers have with their own digital channels.”

Which is where Hunt comes in, aiming to hammer home the message that digital's trajectory has travelled too far down the path of performance at the expense of brand, with the defining metric simply the “cheapest CPM available”.

Hunt believes this has created an “unstable ecosystem” in the Australian media economy, with international platforms taking most of the money out of the market and creating little value in return.

“Those dollars are not fed back into the local economy or content landscape, and it’s becoming an increasingly untenable situation for premium publishers to fight back against,” Hunt says.

“Content is becoming more expensive to create, with consumers demanding higher levels of interactivity, better customer experience and more add-ons.

“The international players are making money out of this – but it’s still coming at a huge cost to premium publishers, so brands need the tools to make better investment decisions and rebalance the current situation.”

“Brands need to be bold in their investment in dynamic creative – because no consumer is going to value a brand that places a loud, shouty radio ad between their podcast as they try to sleep.”

Venessa Hunt, Chief Digital Strategy Officer, GroupM

Performance push back

A key objective for Hunt will be pushing brands to see digital as a means to build brands, not target people who are already buying.

“Digital got a little lost at the start – it was a smaller part of the media mix even five years ago – ultimately leading brands to focus more on cost over production,” Hunt says.

“But now you’ve got brands using up to 50% of their budget on these channels and premium publishers are included in that.

“We spent too much time looking at methods of targeting and one-to-one marketing, where often people see the same creative over and over. We now need to look at finding ways of utilising premium publishers’ digital channels to do real brand building.”

Hunt suggests brands should start with “digital natives” in the lucrative 18-34 demographic.

“When digital started our first thought wasn’t to find brand opportunities, it was to create quick sales-driven campaigns, which ignored what is now a very desirable consumer audience,” Hunt says.

“Those brands got stuck on performance and many are major Australian retailers and companies which haven’t connected, on a brand level, with younger consumers in a long time.

“They may be visible through above the line campaigns but not as frequently, so their publishers need brands to dial-up their investment in that space and not be led by the lowest CPMs.”

“Brands and agencies, more than ever, have to be willing to drop their cheapest CPM, CPC or CPA at all costs, as fraud continues to follow the money.”

Venessa Hunt, Chief Digital Strategy Officer, GroupM

Pay peanuts, get robbed

Hunt will also attempt to improve marketers' understanding around issues pertaining to ad fraud, scambots and invalid traffic, much of which is as a result of the ongoing “hunt for the cheapest CPM”.

She says too many agencies and clients remain caught up in “paying peanuts and ending up with monkeys”. Or worse.

“Brands and agencies, more than ever, have to be willing to drop their cheapest CPM, CPC or CPA at all costs, as fraud continues to follow the money,” Hunt says.

“It initially might not appear to cost you more on a raw CPM basis, but if half your spend is only seen by a robot, then you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands. When the right tools are used, fraud can be reduced to 1-2%. We’re not talking about a UGC environment, we're talking about longtail websites."

Hunt argues this where premium publishers have a strong hand, given high levels of viewability and a significantly lower risk of brand safety issues. 

“You don’t have to buy the cheapest option. If you’re the brand complaining that there is too much fraud or IVT, understand that there are ways to buy around it, that is by making a premium investment,” Hunt says.

Yet that is dependent on brands having a clear understanding of how to best utilise digital channels - and Hunt says many are still using content that is not designed specifically for digital formats.

“As an industry we've been too focused on device capability, rather than creating content that suits the behavioural trends of that device,” Hunt says.

“Squashing a 15 second TV ad onto a mobile screen, for example, or putting a radio ad in an audio streaming break – that just won't work anymore.

“Brands need to be bold in their investment in dynamic creative – because no consumer is going to value a brand that places a loud, shouty radio ad between their podcast as they try to sleep.”

Australia's big publishers hope marketers can be attuned to the same wavelength.

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

Market Voice

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