Like their partners in the Canadian news industry, the country’s media agencies are undergoing unprecedented transformation. The National Post is holding conversations with leaders of Canada’s largest agencies on the fast-changing fundamentals and where the business is going next. This week, Carrie Barlow, president and founder of Vancouver-based Barlow Media, speaks to writer Rebecca Harris.
How has the media buying landscape changed since you started out?
When I started in the advertising industry, the core demographic group that we built our world around was 18 to 49. We (fought) to get clients to move to adults 25 to 54, where the primary labour force and most engaged audiences were making the greatest life decisions – those big investments like assets and cars and homes through to consumer products and even societal care and community action, like volunteership or even voting. Now, the median age in Canada is early 40s… and someone who is 55 is still making significant life decisions (with many) having their (adult) children live at home with them. So, we’re seeing a whole new way in which we are shifting in communications to these groups.
(Another big change) is diversity. There is significant growth in recognizing the multicultural communities that play such a significant role in the economic success of (Western Canada). And then there is so much media fragmentation with audiences having so many options of how to consume information, news, entertainment and education. With that audience segmentation, single mediums can no longer deliver the audience reach they used to.
What challenges are unique to local media agencies?
The biggest one is the perception that bigger is better and it’s generally not the case… There’s also (the perception) that we’re limited in access to sources and tools of the trade. But the reality is, we all invest in them. You simply cannot generate solid work or perform without them. We’re also perceived as less cost-efficient and with that, less cost-effective. I always tell this to people — you can call us terriers, but we heavily invest time and effort in our vendor relationships for the pricing access as well.
How are brands capturing attention or breaking through the noise?
The biggest growth that we’ve seen out West (is) in media integrations. And what that means is the convergence of church and state. We’re utilizing the entire (offering) of a media vendor, from broadcast to digital to their social offerings. But we’re also tapping into their content, (such as their) news and social feeds. This holistic experience is for the audience because they’re busy and they may be using one medium to get information versus another.
(We’re also seeing growth in the) need for storytelling and bringing the audience into the conversation. People want to know the truth. They want authenticity. Social media really relies on that and influences attention. And once that connection happens, it begins to show up in their feed, it becomes part of their daily intake of information and if they share it, it’s now being organically viral. So, we’re not relying on one single forum of communication. It is multi-layered and each is firing differently in that whole conversation.
Where are clients investing now and where will they be spending in the future?
Let’s be honest. Clients want faster results and faster performance versus slower brand building. Return on investment on any media spend has to find a place within the exposure funnel… and ROI is so key right now. This leads to greater want of short-term performance that is measured almost immediately: a click or a view versus a brand character action, which takes time and is more complex to measure.
We’re seeing a desire for greater consumer participation… That’s not contesting, or ‘share with us’ or ‘take a picture and post it.’ We’re seeing greater desire to include consumers more authentically within a client’s marketing. That means consumers are not only sharing their content and telling (the client’s) stories, but they’re (doing so) with their own words rather than an ad pushout. It’s very authentic. Even visually, it’s not staged. Real and relatable is so important. That puts pressure on media to conform outside of how (ads are) served today. Everything has to fit within a 30-second unit or a 15-second unit, and (there’s) pressure to say it shouldn’t. That storytelling may take longer, that visual may need to be shorter.
Can you share a prediction on where the industry is headed?
Everything is being fuelled by AI. On a small scale, the ability to learn faster about an audience is right there and it’s starting to happen very quickly. We’re seeing the early stages now with addressable TV, which means you and your neighbours will be watching the same show and you’re going to be served (ads) differently based on the (audience) intelligence we have. Programmatic is all about buying against audience profiles in its simplest form. AI will accelerate the scale, and it’s going to define audiences and what’s holding their attention.
We’re seeing this happen even in the (digital out-of-home) space where you’re no longer cherry-picking a billboard. You’re cherry-picking a segment of an audience and their traffic patterns and where they are… So, all these things are being rewritten to scale based on all the intelligence we can get regarding each (audience segment).
Read the rest of the series of conversations with leaders of Canada’s largest media agencies on where the business is going next:
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