Viacom Wants Convergent, Audience Offering For On-Air And Online Says SVP Cogswell

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viacomFrom Adobe's 2012 Digital Marketing Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, Viacom announced "Surround Sound," which it says is its newest advertising offering extending audience buys from on-air to online through Viacom's well-known, web properties for MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and more. To do this, Viacom will use AudienceManager - which was previously known as Demdex before it was acquired by Adobe in early 2011. Read the release.

Josh Cogswell is SVP, Digital Products at Viacom, where he "heads up strategy and operations for the company's digital product team, directly managing solutions around advertising, research, metrics, and search engine optimization," according to his bio. Cogswell spoke to AdExchanger about the "Surround Sound" announcement and its implications.

AdExchanger: Where do you think Viacom started to see this change from buying placement to buying audience? How did that manifest itself?

JC:  It started when Madison Avenue started asking for it. During our process of figuring out how to sell inventory across our sites and various platforms, we understood that everyone is still asking for the same audiences that we sell on‑air.

Viacom has done a great job of coming up with the right programming mix in the past, to say, "Here are the programs that I could sell you on‑air and online," but the questions kept on coming, around audiences.

As the industry has morphed over the past many years to a constant commoditization of display, we thought that there was a need for audiences to be found across multiple screens, and for advertisers to feel that they're reaching those audiences in a premium setting.

Now, with the technologies that we have at our disposal, we can do that as long as we retain our brand identity.  And, the advertisers feel good that they're placing ads in a very effective environment, close to our well‑known brands.

We've done a few tests with a couple different advertisers and we tried to pour in some third‑party audience data metrics - we did a lot of proprietary research and realized that we really needed to invest in a data management platform to be able to do this more to scale.

Weren't you concerned at some point that, "Uh oh. Those direct sales and guaranteed media that we were selling -we're going to cannibalize that with what we think will be a lower‑CPM audience offering.”?

That's why we've not only branded our new initiative Surround Sound, but also been very clear that it starts with television buys. We still are in the business of reaching our audience on‑air, and in a vast footprint. Those same audiences can be found across multiple properties online. Because we have strong brands, and because we continue to drive higher CPMs, it felt like a very easy next extension.

But, sure. We were concerned that the last thing we want to do is sell this as the next RTB offering, and move the needle downward - but it's actually moving it upward for us.

We are extending the ad dollars that are heavy on air, and bringing our clients to buy those audiences online. That in itself, with scale, is going to bring our CPMs up.

Again, it takes a leap of faith to make sure that you are starting with the on‑air and following it through. That's the intent.

So how do you manage this: there are TV people managing the TV budget. There are digital people managing the digital budget. Is there a disconnect there for you to try to bring that together?

You're absolutely right. There are stalwarts out there that just have their organizations set up with TV buys and digital buys, and never the twain shall meet.

But we know that the future is now, and there's more of an appreciation that the marketing mix includes all the screens available.

With our client‑focused strategy, we have a convergent ad team. It's broken out by cluster, with music and entertainment, and kids and family, etc., and we are able to help come up with the right programming mix and the audience mix online for the ad buyer. Our mantra is we're going to lead them to the fish.

In general, what do you see as the drivers for the migration of TV dollars to digital?

In terms of a market statement, we are well aware that more people are consuming more amounts of media, and squeezing it into their day. They're multitasking across screens. We're excited about that as a media company because there are more opportunities for us to do something on each of these different screens, which is that much more of an exciting opportunity for an advertiser to be able to tap into.

We've done a bunch of proprietary research around this – and so has the IAB. For example, we know that half of the consumers that see a single ad on television will probably recall it half the time. That's the metric that we all know in the industry.

If the audience member receives a marketing message across multiple screens, that's going to boost recall up to 75 percent.  But, that's only a statement around whether or not they've seen the ad or not.

We've done more proprietary research, around brand adjacency to our brand, plus multiple‑screen advertising around a single, constant advertising message.

Definitively, we can prove to the various advertisers that we've done this with that there is a higher propensity to buy the product or the service that's been served across these screens.

Again, it may be partly due to being brand‑adjacent to [our properties] -or, maybe because we came up with an innovative approach to doing this, and it had to be a seamless story for the advertisers to display to the consumer -or, maybe it’s because they heard the message four times.

Whatever it was, there's a real audience carrot out there for advertisers to understand.

That said, I don't believe that advertisers, agencies, Madison Avenue, appreciate that as much as they should, which is why we're helping them get there.

Yes, we're a media company. We're structured in a certain way. We're not as nimble as we probably should be in B2B technology, but this is one example of us becoming more nimble.

We have realigned our ad sales teams. Hopefully, the agencies will also realign to appreciate that convergence is the way to go.

But again, this is a very strong, overarching statement on the market.

Adobe, Google and IBM – all were brought up in another discussion as pitching an end‑to‑end solution. On your side, are you thinking about bringing in your own end‑to‑end solution?

We're very well aware that there isn't an end‑to‑end solution right now that really solves everything we're looking for. We get that the technology is not there yet.

But, we can't wait. The advertisers we've spoken with can't wait either. There's this Holy Grail of interactive ads for online and on‑air, and convergent advertising serving, etc.

Because the technology is nascent and unproven, we couldn't wait. What we did was, we tapped into a digital audience manager through Adobe Audience Manager. And, we have realigned our ad salesforce to be client-centric.

Viacom has always been client‑centric, but now we’re hyper client‑centric and following the dollars across on‑air through online where we are held accountable for producing the audiences that we tell the advertisers they want to buy.

We're always looking for a solution that helps us manage our data better, to understand what type of program we can produce, where we should market, and how we should distribute.

Sure. If there's a company out there that can do all that, our ears are open and our wallets are...not as open… but open enough to have that conversation.

We greatly appreciate that we're not a technology company. We're 100 percent a content company. We're going to continue to make the great content that we know that our audiences care about. We want to be a part of the conversation, and I think this is where Adobe has stepped up.

We're in conversations about Auditude. We're in conversations about Efficient Frontier. We're in conversations around CQ and Day Software, and everything else they have around their stack.

I'm not a huge fan of putting all the eggs in one basket, so the overall Adobe stack may not make the most sense for us, but they've had a pretty good track record so far, so we're going to see where it goes.

By John Ebbert

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