CMOpinion: Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water

The 60:40 rule of Binet and Field was recently dismissed by Professor Byron Sharp. But before you shelve it, Diana Di Cecco - in her regular Mumbrella column - invites you to take a look at what the media effectiveness duo actually said.

We’re all guilty of it; we often just read the headline. So when I recently came across one that skewered the renowned 60:40 rule, I was intrigued by what seemed like a brutal perspective.

The work on media effectiveness by Les Binet and Peter Field has reached international fame. Both leading researchers with extensive careers in the advertising industry, not to mention award accolades, Binet and Field are known as the “Godfathers of Effectiveness.”

I have read and respected their work for many years—and no, the ratio is not always appropriate—but to have it all but “dismissed” by another academic, the respectable Professor Byron Sharp, left me curious. In a nutshell, Sharp suggested the 60:40 rule was “terrible and very misleading,” further alluding that its data set (awards submissions), was flawed. So, before we throw the baby out with the bath water, let’s go back and remind ourselves what Binet and Field’s findings were. While the famous take out is the 60:40 rule, there was more to the story.

If you haven’t read Binet and Field’s Media in Focus paper (this is the one that served as an update to the pair’s previous reports, Marketing in the Era of Accountability (WARC 2007) and The Long and the Short of It (IPA 2013)), this is your lucky day because I am going to break it down for you in synopsis form—this is basically the TikTok version.

60:40 rule recap

In The Long and the Short of It, Binet and Field dissected the two main ways marketing communications work, namely, via (1) longer-term brand building, and (2) shorter-term sales activation. In analysing the impacts of these communication types, they found effectiveness was optimised when 60% of a marketing budget was allocated to brand activity and 40% was apportioned to activation. They sanctified this as the “60:40 rule” back in 2013 and confirmed the ratio was “alive and well” in the 2017, Media in Focus report.

While it was coined a “rule,” 60:40 was ever intended to be iron clad; businesses need flexibility and brand/activation media decisions are contingent on many factors including economic landscape, the brand, category and price, to name a few. The dynamics of these aspects was confirmed by Binet earlier this year in an interview with PHD Sweden where he explained that the 60:40 ratio “varies by situation.”

The data

In Media in Focus, Binet and Field are transparent about their data set. They explain the data source as entries from the IPA Effectiveness Awards (IEA) from which some samples are split into Web 1.0 (1998-2006) and Web 2.0 (2007-2016) to evaluate periods of varying digital maturity more accurately. The entries contain a detailed level of information that would otherwise be unavailable for research; when was the last time you saw a brand volunteer confidential information such as strategy, channels, performance and business results? Never. Another aspect to be aware of is that the IEA is an initiative from the United Kingdom (UK), so the ad set being evaluated are exclusively from there. Even so, the UK, Australia, and most western countries are comparable in this sense. Furthermore, as far as I know, marketing theory and measurement is global; it does not differ by country, even though, media consumption can. One might assume that because these businesses are, in fact, submitting for awards, that they might be skewed to certain types of brands, (you know, the “awards type”) who are sometimes from the bigger end of town. At the end of the day, Binet and Field have no control over which brands submit so they can only work with what they have got. I don’t see any other comparable research being conducted or data made available at scale that allows for similar or improved findings to be developed. So, yes, the data is imperfect, but in lieu of such perfection—let me know if you ever find it— it is applicable enough not to be dismissed.

Other major findings

Media in Focus is an 82-page report so it is impossible to do it justice in this column but I will summarise the key findings, albeit at a high level. Sections 1-3 of the report provide an introduction, previous findings and present the new media landscape. Sections 4-6 deliver the research outcomes, which is where I will focus.

4.0 Does Mass Marketing Still Work?

Binet and Field found that brands usually grow by increasing penetration and that brand campaigns focused on existing customers were more likely to under-perform, as were brands relying on short-term activation. They also discovered the most effective campaigns targeted all category users (a very similar sentiment to Sharp, who, in his book How Brands Grow Part 2, devotes an entire chapter to Target the (Whole) Market). While high-reach campaigns drove market share growth, positively impacting profit and media effectiveness, data-driven real-time marketing was ideal for sales activation activities. And importantly, they found the 60:40 rule still holds, also noting that online media could (and should) be used for both brand and activation activities.

5.0 How Media Work Today

In this section, key media channels are evaluated with TV deemed the “most effective medium of all”—I take this finding with a grain a salt because what is effective depends on the media consumption of a brand’s target audience, which is not something that can be generalised. While TV’s strength was found to be brand building, the most effective brand-building channel was video, specifically, online video was considered more effective than alternate online activity. The use of TV and online video together was deemed best practice, improving effectiveness. Similar trends were achieved by combining other media, such as radio, press and out-of-home (OOH); it was also noted that the introduction of digital OOH significantly improved the medium’s efficacy. Mass marketing was still an effectiveness champion overall, while paid search and email surfaced as the most effective activation channels.

6.0 How Has The Changing Media Landscape Benefited Marketing Effectiveness?

Of the whole report, this section rings truest for me from my experience and market observations. Firstly, is that digitisation has the potential to improve most media effectiveness, even though it drives smaller market share and penetration gains. Reasons for the regression include the rise of short-termism, an increased focus on return-on-marketing-investment, and a pivot toward activation to the detriment of brand building. In turn, these inclinations have led to adverse performance, such as ineffective media mixes, an under-investment in marketing, and poorer growth and profit results. The key finding was for marketers to strike a better activation vs brand (short vs long) balance to make use of today’s media landscape—with the ongoing evolution of channel development and media consumption, I couldn’t agree with this last point more. Personally, I would like to see the next iteration in this report series given the landscape has continued to change since 2017.

There you have it—the top conclusions from Binet and Field’s Media in Focus paper. You can decide for yourself if these types of insights are worthy of your consideration, and if you have the chance (and time), I recommend you read the report. There has been many a whitepaper written about marketing and advertising over time. Some provide an interesting lens for thinking differently and others are a complete waste of airtime—for clarity, I put Sharp, Binet and Field in the former category. Every now and then, a new paper is published; with a new metric in toe, usually littered with axioms and a “ground-breaking approach” to core marketing outcomes. As the marketer, this is where you step in. Not all academics are right, and you are never obliged to agree with them; the most amusing part is that sometimes they are, in fact, saying the same thing in a different way. Personally, I am a fan of academia. I have Sharp’s books and I have read many of Binet and Field’s papers. I don’t necessarily agree with every single thing they say but I respect their lens and appreciate their perspective. Ultimately it’s up to me how I use those strategies and apply the thinking.

If there’s one thing I believe everyone can agree on, it’s that there is no one size fits all when it comes to marketing, media or advertising—there never has been and there never will be. So, don’t take any one person’s word for it and never throw the baby out with the bath water. Absorb, research, test and figure out what’s right for your brand; back it up with evidence-based data and apply that.

Diana Di Cecco, The Fractional CMO @ Ministry of Mktg

UPDATE: the IPA Databank is not all UK data – almost one third of the sample covers countries outside of the UK


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