It’s The End Of The Upfronts As We Know Them (And I Feel Fine)

bobrupczynskitv(updated)On TV And Video” is a column exploring opportunities and challenges in programmatic TV and video.

Today’s column is written by Bob Rupczynski, vice president of media, data and CRM at Kraft Foods Group.

You can’t fool me. I see you there. You’re reading this on your phone in the middle of another NewFront (or maybe upfront) presentation.

I bet you are waiting to see which celebrity they are going to truck out on stage next. Kim Kardashian? Miley Cyrus? Beyoncé? At this point that’s really the point of these shows – pure entertainment. Throw in a few shrimp cocktails and glasses of champagne, and we can really start to live it up “Mad Men” style.

Upfront week signals the beginning of the buying season when billions of ad dollars will be painstakingly negotiated and transacted over the next few weeks and months, not to mention the millions of dollars spent on the productions trying to sell those ads. I believe 2015 is the right time to ask our tightknit ad community, with very few exceptions: How many buying and strategy decisions are really being decided based on anything seen in these presentations? In a world where advertisers can no longer expect a single ad message to be relevant to all consumers equally, how can sales teams expect their all-for-one solutions to uniformly fit the needs of the ad community?

Let me state loudly and unequivocally: Content and environment remains of the utmost importance. It is, and should remain, a key component of the marketing equation. It’s just simply not the future currency of media transactions. At a time when fragmentation continues to explode, addressability is the solution. Surely programmatic opportunities will be a part of that future, but that’s simply one tactic within a larger strategy. Data-driven decisioning, automated or not, is what will drive brands into the future.

Many networks and content providers are privately discussing how they plan on moving from content first to audience first, but it just hasn’t translated to the main stage. Hearing how networks plan to change their entire models seems like exciting news to me. It’s a groundbreaking change that will shake the foundation of the entire landscape.

Infusing data in order to target and guarantee custom segments, such as NCS purchase-based ones, will take some of the guesswork out of the buying process and ensure that the right brand message is reaching the right consumer, regardless of their particular niche viewing habits. There is absolutely room to mix in a healthy dose of “art” into what is rapidly becoming a scientific world. Like most, I want to ensure that my brand data is being applied against the right contextual environments, but I’m now of the mindset that being pitched on individual shows is no longer relevant.

We live in a real-time environment. Making investments on singular programs, the vast majority of which will be cancelled before they even get going, is just not a sustainable way of doing business. The audience, well beyond demographics, is now priority No. 1. I don’t need to know exactly what the content is, I need to know who is watching and how that fuels the programming strategy. Investment into data and technology, in terms of both time and money, will help power our collective brands forward.

We are well past the point where saying the word “data” multiple times within a presentation counts as being forward thinking. As marketers, we are yearning to understand the secret sauce. We want to hear how the data is being used. From where is it sourced? How is it actionable?

While I’d love to believe that hauling out celebrities to market the latest two-minute trailers in historic New York City venues will lead to smart strategic investments, I know that is simply not true. What will eventually move the entire industry forward is, unfortunately, a series of intensely detailed and technical conversations around platforms, data and measurement – most likely in a poorly lit conference room.

For what it’s worth, I’m not the robot-loving curmudgeon I appear to be. One of the best parts about my job in media is the relationships I’ve cultivated and the friends I’ve made. While NewFront and upfront weeks are great opportunities to see those friends and share a glass of wine, the real work and strategy is happening far away from the bright lights of Broadway.

For how many more years will the upfronts, as we know them, exist? It’s entirely possible we may look back on 2015 as the true tipping point of change. So sit back, relax and take it all in one final time. It looks like the next clip is headed your way. Now back to your regularly scheduled presentation.

Follow Bob Rupczynski (@rupp), Kraft Foods Group (@kraftfoods) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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