By Jay Small • Chief Operating Officer, LMA

MIAMI — Borrell Miami presenters trotted out coronavirus jokes early, like a thoroughbred headed for the fourth gate at the Derby.

Matt Britton
Matt Britton begins his keynote presentation at Borrell Miami.

The conference kickoff on Monday, March 9, featured a cheeky-geeky video on why fist bumps are so much better than handshakes. The crowd — robust despite a bit of last-minute attrition thanks to virus-related corporate travel bans — laughed. Then keynoter Matt Britton, CEO of Suzy and expert on youth demographics, launched with this:

“Welcome to the last conference ever on Earth.”

More hearty laughs ensued, but this time, you could almost sense the moment it occurred to all of us how much the truth and context of the day made the line funny and sad. It was probably best to get obligatory references to the virus and its impacts out of the gate in early good humor.

Digital natives are restless

Britton, for his part, moved quickly into a fascinating discussion of traits and behaviors of younger generations, particularly millennials (born 1981-1996) and Generation Z (born 1997-mid 2010s).

“Millennials were the first generation to grow up with the internet in the household,” Britton said. “Gen Z was the first generation to grow up with mobile phones. Mobile advertising isn’t even a new discourse for them. It is kind of like their dial tone.”

He described how younger generations favor experiences — particularly travel — as a social currency over possessions, and how that trait was both driven by the emergence of social media and a contributor to the growth of social platforms.

How do millennials exhibit this social currency? Instagram. Britton gave us a term for it: DIFTI, or Did It For The Instagram.

“In the ’80s and ’90s people would define what they were by the cars they bought, the things they bought,” Britton said. “It was the rise of consumerism, and all that stuff showed society what you were all about. Once upon a time the only way to show your experiences was through photo albums, remember that?

“Now experiences have replaced physical items as new social currency,” he continued. “Instead of a Rolex or new sneakers, now it’s a status update. People think millennials are narcissistic, with all the selfies, right? But the core human driver is no different from why all of you care about what brands you buy.”

Britton gave other examples: the restaurant you go to not for the quality of the food, but for the selfie-friendly decor; the people who rent private jets that don’t leave the ground (!) just to take selfies in the luxury cabin.

Consider how that notion compares or contrasts to the picture Bill Livek, CEO of Comscore, painted of a new advertising landscape.

Ads work? Prove it!

Livek said we are moving toward a time in which clients and media buyers will insist on stronger performance measures including attribution to prove campaigns lead to product sales.

“Advertisers are increasingly becoming accountability driven,” Livek said. “Attribution — you being held accountable for an actual sale — may be a convenient way to prove performance, but it is a misnomer. We shouldn’t just be getting credit for the last impression before you buy a product. There is a whole consumer journey that you set up.”

Hearing that soon after Britton’s descriptions made one wonder how attribution will work when people value experiences over physical products.

Despite the challenges of achieving such strong accountability, Livek indicated optimism for local media in the new ad landscape.

“Local media is actually healthier than it has ever been. The future has enormous possibilities because of this accountability-driven world,” he said. “As long as we can improve measurement of consumers at the same rate as consumer and technology segments are changing, we are going to be in a great place business-wise.”

Membership: can you subscribe to that?

Catherine Badalamente
Catherine Badalamente explains Graham Media membership initiatives.

The move from New York to Miami isn’t the only big change this year for the conference. Borrell Associates formed a new partnership with Local Media Association to develop a first-ever, half-day Consumer Revenue track, with discussions of digital subscriptions and consumer membership models.

Membership concepts are gaining traction with some TV broadcast groups looking for paths to better one-to-one relationships with people in their communities. Early initiatives described in this track focused more on that engagement, less on immediate revenue potential.

“I don’t look at membership as necessarily the thing to replace digital advertising,” said John Conway, general manager of digital platforms at Capitol Broadcasting Co., owner of WRAL-TV and in Raleigh, N.C. “We hope it can be one more thing to help diversify revenue. But we all heard about the death of the third-party cookie. That means first-party data becomes even more essential.”

“We really suffer from this idea of a one-to-many philosophy,” said Catherine Badalamente, vice president and chief innovation officer of Graham Media Group. “We would love to change that to more of a one-to-one conversation.

“It isn’t just about driving people down the funnel for a new revenue stream. It is about making our product better.”

Bill Day, vice president at Magid, expanded on that idea.

“You all are solving this as a media problem,” said Day. “Competitors are solving this as a technology problem. They started by saying, ‘What do consumers need? How can I build technology to meet what they need? Then I can sell advertising against it.’

“Solve it as a technology problem first, and a revenue model second.”

More takeaways

“Return on investment for OTT [Over-The-Top video] might not be explained correctly up front. That could be a problem and I think you’re seeing it here, because 19% of our survey advertisers who bought it said ‘don’t know’ about effectiveness.” — Corey Elliott, Borrell Associates

“We call it data puke. So many numbers without context.” — Amy Adams Harding, Google

Half of advertisers aren’t sure about what they’re spending: 32% think they’re underspending, 15% think they’re overspending.” — Gordon Borrell, Borrell Associates


Amy Adams Harding presenting via Zoom
Coronavirus-related travel bans kept a couple of Borrell Miami presenters from attending in person, but they were able to present via web conferencing. Google’s Amy Adams Harding (that’s her in the upper right corner) delivered her talk virtually to a packed room.