HCF brings digital media in-house amid growing transparency debate

Health insurance brand HCF has brought its digital media – including programmatic, search and paid social – in-house in a bid to give it greater control of its digital advertising.

Mumbrella can reveal HCF will continue to work with Blue 449 (formerly Match Media) for its traditional media buying, but in order to be more efficient and transparent, has transitioned to running its own digital media operations.


Chief marketing officer at HCF Jenny Williams told Mumbrella: “I’ve talked about transparency and being able to be more effective and efficient with our media dollars – this is why we’ve done this. It allows us to own and properly leverage our digital data in this space. We have built up our internal data analytics capability along with a more data-driven mar-tech platform for content delivery. This will enable us to better optimise the targeting and messages between owned and bought channels to deliver more relevance to the audience and be more efficient with media spend.”

Williams said the move will put the brand in a better position for media optimisation and enable the team to more effectively rollout a “test, learn, optimise” approach.

The health insurance brand has partnered with media consultancy Mindbox for the transition, which Williams saying HCF’s model and approach will become more common in the industry.

“This is a great example of agency collaboration, in which HCF, Mindbox and our creative agencies are working hand-in-hand to deliver the best possible customer communications journey. In the last 18 months, we have been on a marketing transformation journey and this is an ongoing part of the process.”

Explaining Mindbox’s role in the transition, Williams said: “Mindbox has set us up to own our data IP and work with our analytics team to manage the data we need to provide customer insights and optimise their journey.”

Nic Halley, owner of Mindbox told Mumbrella the company was well-placed “to assist with HCF’s complex approach to digital media now and as programmatic shapes the way media is sold”.

“Through collaboration and counsel, we are assisting HCF in this move to create greater efficacy and efficiencies in content delivery, driving engagement. It will also provide HCF with ownership of data IP that will inform future optimisation of their customer communications journey,” Halley said.

Williams: “Bringing media in-house is about control and transparency”

The news comes after Williams spoke at the Ad Tech summit earlier this month and argued the old media agency model of “here’s a few million dollars, go generate some leads” is “no longer fiscally responsible”.

“I would argue that the idea of bringing media in-house is about clients having control and transparency,” she told the leadership panel.

“The challenge is, why would I pay, not only what it costs them to earn money, but an agency margin on top of it? That’s the bottom line. Why would I not hire them myself instead of paying an agency margin?

“And at this point in time I can structure their remuneration such that what I want to achieve is what gets delivered and I can invite them to a meeting and not think they’re going to try to figure out how to up-sell. Those are the bottom-line facts about why it makes sense to have people in-house versus outsourced.”

The move by HCF is also in line with advice from Nick Manning, chief strategy officer at Ebiquity, who said at last week’s AANA event – The Media Challenge: Achieving Transparency Effectiveness to Drive Business Outcomes – that the onus to tackle the transparency problem may be with marketers.

“You as advertisers have to understand how you tackle this and how you reduce the level of wastage that is inherent in the online and programmatic system,” he said.

“It is very important you have an active stewardship program at your disposal to make sure that you make all the right decisions…

“Media has to be treated as a significant business discipline. It is a lot of money. For many of you, it’s one of your biggest costs as a business. Therefore, you need to actively manage those costs, those investments, as much as you would any other investment in your business. And it is your money that we’re talking about here. The advertisers pay for the entire industry…we are becoming even more an ad-funded industry,” he said.

Sunita Gloster, CEO of the AANA echoed these sentiments and shared insights from some AANA members who had said “the only viable option to get transparency in this area [digital advertising] is to bring it in-house”. Gloster conceded many AANA members are “on the journey” to making that business decision.

HCF’s decision also comes as the global backlash against advertising on platforms such as YouTube due to brand safety concerns reaches Australian shores. Kia and Holden were the first Australian brands to suspend their advertising on the video platform after various international companies, including AT&T, Verizon and GSK.


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