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Marketing Week columnist and founder of the Mini MBA in Marketing, Mark Ritson, debates his principles of ‘Bothism’ with Omnicom Media Group UK chief executive Dan Clays – as a marketer mindset, an approach to media and campaign planning, and a guide for producing creative that’s fit for purpose.

Mark Ritson’s philosophy of ‘Bothism’ has sparked much debate since he dedicated a Marketing Week column to the idea and spoke publicly about it. It represents the notion that alternative and often competing approaches to marketing – such as long-term and short-term, digital and traditional – can coexist and, indeed, deliver more effectively in tandem

To understand what Bothism means in practice for today’s marketers, Marketing Week asked him to explain its principles – and, alongside Omnicom Media Group (OMG) UK chief executive Dan Clays, to discuss how it relates to the real-world marketing strategies and media buying of today’s brands. Among the key takeaways are:

Marketers need to stop pitting channels such as TV and digital video against each other, but recognise both can be used together in a marketing plan that achieves both short-term and long-term goals.

A target audience does not consume media in one channel or another but across many, sometimes simultaneously, so brands should play to the strengths of all these channels in their media buying.

The power of the creative idea should lead a marketing plan, but it is still helpful to bring media and behavioural insights into the creative and planning processes.


Unpacking bothism as a marketer mindset


Realising the benefits of Bothism means first letting go of many preconceptions marketers hold about what brands’ objectives should be and what media should be used to achieve them. As Ritson and Clays explain, no one marketer can do everything at once, but they can get better results by combining approaches rather than setting them in opposition to one another.

Marketing Week (MW): First, what is Bothism, simply put?

Mark Ritson (MR): The idea was, if you look across marketing, we are dominated at the moment by either-or contrasts – digital versus traditional, TV versus digital video, long-term versus short-term, quant research versus qual research, analytics versus creativity, and on we go. Not only are these false dichotomies a waste of time, but when you put the two things together, they’re more powerful than either one on its own.

But it also depends upon [novelist F Scott] Fitzgerald’s definition of intelligence – being able to hold two countervailing ideas in one’s head at the same time and believe both of them to have value, which is not the strength of many marketers.

MW: What does this mean for rethinking how media channels go together in a marketing plan?

MR: TV’s not going anywhere, but there are gaps in reach and there are synergies to be had by combining digital and traditional TV together. I think media planners, and clients, are starting to be able to handle the idea that you can do both. Of all the media, digital video is the one that can do both short-term activation and long-term brand building equally well. It’s very targeted, but it’s also very emotional, which can be used to brand-build.

So if you’re a client, you’ve got this challenge of getting your head around how to use this medium. Is it long-term brand building? Is it shorter, targeted digital activation? You could use it either way. I don’t think you can use it to do both at the same time. That’s a hard message to sell to clients.

Dan Clays (DC): It’s also the responsibility of agencies to make sure we take that kind of thinking to clients. A lot of clients understand that it’s about a mixed economy of media to get the best results, and [that they need] robust measurements to create a single, viewable audience. The industry needs to ensure it has the right measurement systems in place to do that in the most robust way.

MW: How does Bothism relate to the need for brands to have a ‘two-speed’ brand plan, achieving long- and short-term objectives at the same time, and how far off is that from being the norm? 

MR: There’s been a lot of pushback on the long-term versus short-term debate. [Pragmatically, it is] useful to break up a budget, and treat [long- and short-term objectives] like brother and sister, with different metrics, different media choices to some degree, different creative, different expectations of return.

You’ve got to have a multi-year, creative, brand-building, mass-targeted, video-heavy component; alongside lots of short, targeted, performance- and product-based, more digitally attuned executions. And something that’s become more apparent is that the brands that seem to do this well have multiple people doing it for them. I haven’t met anyone yet who is a master of brand building, with old-fashioned above-the-line ideas, and [also] a master of performance marketing. They are two distinct skill sets. That means to be a Bothist, you’ve got to be able to do two things simultaneously, but not necessarily merge them together.

DC: The onus is equally on agencies to not have siloed structures. We don’t have TV buyers and YouTube buyers anymore. We don’t have a performance team that sits a million miles away from a brand planning team. It has to be structurally about how you’re integrated.

What would need to change for Bothism and two-speed brand planning to become the prevailing approaches? 

MR: The death of ‘digital’ [as a term distinguishing it from ‘traditional’ marketing] will be useful in all of this. It’s time to realise it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I don’t see what ‘digital’ marketers will be doing in 2030.

It’s easy to say we need more education, but we’re having a conversation that’s 9,000 years ahead of what universities are teaching. So maybe it’s down to industry bodies to offer more education around data and digital.

DC: We need to keep sharing evidence of how an integrated approach is more effective. And keep working as an industry on the best measurement to help clients make decisions.


Adapting bothism to campaign planning


The philosophy of Bothism sounds logical yet, as Ritson outlines, it’s rare to find a marketing practitioner who excels as a Bothist. We asked Clays to analyse from an agency point of view what a Bothist media plan would look like and how the roles of different channels have shifted in brands’ campaigns.

MW: Do brands actually buy media in a Bothist way today – and to what extent do media agencies such as OMG recommend doing so?

DC: We completely advocate the notion of Bothism. None of us as human beings walk around saying: “I’m in brand mode. Now I’m going to flip into conversion mode.” It’s just the timeframe between exposure and outcome varies, but it all has to be connected.

And similarly, we don’t bucket media, especially AV [audiovisual], in terms of being a brand channel or a performance channel. People are increasingly navigating between what might have been considered linear TV and streaming content in the same viewing session on the same device, or multiple devices in the same room.

There’s no substitute for a brand capturing a highly attentive audience in the half-time break during the football on TV, but at the same time consumers spend an average of 46 minutes a day on YouTube and there we can apply a further level of targeting. It is about playing to strengths and combining formats and platforms.

How has the pandemic changed the role of digital channels in marketing campaigns?

DC:  I’ve seen clients gain heavily through both increased investment in TV and also becoming far more sophisticated in how they’re using digital platforms like YouTube, which is reflective of how people are viewing content today. We’re seeing growth driven through smart media investment, and that comes back down to combinations.

One of the big changes that I think will have a lasting influence is ecommerce. Some direct-to-consumer brands have benefitted in ways they might not have done otherwise, with people shopping more online, and those brands are now starting to think about different types of media they never would have used before to broaden their audience.

Equally, more traditional advertisers are thinking about scaling their ecommerce proposition. Suddenly, an ad on a platform like YouTube brings them closer to conversion without distinguishing between performance or brand spend. We definitely have seen an impact of the scaling of ecommerce in the attractiveness of digital video as a result.


Producing bothist creative that’s ‘fit for format’


The concept of Bothism advocates adopting a more fluid attitude to media channels when it comes to strategy and delivery. But when it comes to campaign execution, it’s time to debate whether it’s viable for a piece of creative to work as effectively across multiple channels – with potentially varying objectives – or whether you need to design creative for specific channels and formats.

MW: Should brands and agencies aim for one creative idea across all channels?

MR: This touches another one of these dichotomies. Do you start with the creative? Or do you start with the media? It goes round in circles. The starting point is to resurrect media neutrality – accepting there’s no one superior tool. But diversifying all of your spend to a certain degree, as long as you achieve an efficient investment in each one, produces better results.

DC: When we work best with clients and creative partners, it’s because we’ve taken the understanding of an audience’s media behaviour upstream [to marry it with the creative idea]. Then we have to make sure there’s room for the disproportionate impact an idea can have. Because an amazing idea that works on YouTube, for example, needs to be given the air to breathe.

Then we need to work together as creatives, media planners and clients to grow that idea. And maybe a target audience spends 10% less time in one channel, but the creative idea is so good it will carry more impact. You have to balance the science with the creativity.

MW: What do brands miss out on if they don’t ensure the creative fits the format?

MR: Digital video has some interesting creative opportunities that I don’t think clients are grasping yet. Most of them intend to just dump a re-edited TV ad there, which doesn’t have the same impact.

DC: Formats on platforms like YouTube are also now more varied than they used to be. We’re building plans that are more bespoke to what you can do on the platform. We’ve built OMG Select, a bespoke product with YouTube, that enables us to serve our advertising to people in a specific context by creating customised content for specific segments. We have created a content segment that is specifically for lighter TV viewers, for example: 18- to 24-year-olds are unsurprisingly leaning more towards streaming platforms versus linear TV, but we are also seeing BVOD [broadcast video-on-demand] and SVOD [subscription video-on-demand] growth in older audiences, which was accentuated during the pandemic.

We can also make creative culturally bespoke to different audiences, reaching people that are underrepresented in mainstream media. IPA touchpoints data shows that YouTube actually indexes particularly highly when it comes to serving diverse audiences. The platform enables us to build audiences in different ways than just pure demographics, then we can tailor creative accordingly. It’s about how we work with our creative partners to enhance their understanding of these kinds of opportunities.

MW: Which campaigns have you seen that adopted a Bothist approach, and what impact has it had on their results?

DC: Combining linear TV and YouTube has been effective across many clients and categories. We’ve done campaigns in the drinks category, for example, that have delivered around 70% overall reach and around 10% of that was incrementally through YouTube. And in the retail category, a recent campaign that drove around 55% reach of adults seeing an ad at least twice on TV had equivalent reach of 15% on YouTube and only 3% of that was duplicated.

An advantage of how we work with YouTube is that, as we identify audiences that are effective, we can scale up quickly. As we see a potential audience proving effective, we can move into it in ways that might be more agile than other channels.

So you’re seeing examples of a mixed economy of channels driving more effective reach and frequency, because that’s how we’re all watching content now.

MR:  We’ve acknowledged the incredible job TV has done of defending brand building territory. At the same time, there is that growing realisation that you can use digital effectively to build emotion and colour into a brand.

There’s also the thorny issue of mass marketing. I fundamentally believe that when we’re doing short-term, performance-driven activation, we should target segments. It’s stupid not to – I don’t care what anyone says. I do cede to the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute that, when it comes to brand building, if you’ve got the budget for it, you should use sophisticated mass marketing [targeting every buyer in the category]. But there are gaps that can be filled with digital video. And YouTube is in a league of its own compared to the alternatives.


Article originally published on Marketing Week.

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