Our Ecosystem Faces Challenges. Exclusive Interview with David Cohen of MAGNA at GABBCON

As part of the GABBCON conference held in New York this past week, I had the chance to meet with David Cohen, President North America at MAGNA whose keynote addressed the path for the agency of the future. 

According to Cohen’s presentation, agencies need to adapt to the future. They are in the intelligence business and need to invest in innovation in order to navigate what is a complex world. “Consumers are moving faster than brands and agencies and this is unprecedented,” he warned, “Our ecosystem faces challenges driven by technology change and exponential growth that is driving media consumption change.”

To prepare for the future, agencies need to be able to analyze marketplace context, understand the business economics (the business of running the business), build trust and transparency, leverage technology, data and automation and win the talent war with diversity, culture, training and development. “Whoever has the best people, wins,” he concluded.

I sat down with Cohen and asked him the following questions:

Charlene Weisler: When do you see the industry getting away from the proxy measurements of age and gender?

David Cohen: Today we are doing both at the same time. We are focused on standard age/sex demo and at the same time we are measuring what that looks like for a custom audience. I think about that as two rails that are going along horizontally – we are keeping track of both. Your question is ‘when do we slough off the standard age/sex demo’ and I have to believe in the next three to five years that will become much more material. We have a joke that Adults 18-49 is not a buying demo, it is a family reunion. We think that this huge swath of audience doesn’t make very much sense.

Charlene Weisler: Do you think we will get to standardized segmentations, an industry standard, or will it all be custom?

David Cohen: That is a great question. As an industry, when we say auto-intender, we need to mean the same thing for some big broad swaths of custom audiences. I do think there is a need for an alliance -for a group of people to get together. It could be Facebook, Google, some of the big media companies to define what we mean for the following twenty big segments. There will always be custom but I do think we need to get to some level of standardization. We are pushing for that.

Charlene Weisler: Someone mentioned at today’s conference their interest in measuring individual ads. Do you think we will get to a place soon where you can see your client’s specific ad performance?

David Cohen: I hope so! There are so many things that we need to figure out in the ecosystem that if I were a betting man, I would say that is not going to be in the same three to five year horizon. But we would love it to be. We are trying to get to an industry standard watermarking technology. Nielsen has that, CIMM is working on that. We are trying to make that happen. The question is whether the industry is ready for that.

Charlene Weisler: Do you have any predictions for this year’s upfront?

David Cohen: I think we are going to continue the drumbeat from the past couple of years. We have already gotten a prediction as to where ratings are heading. They are not going up. They are going down probably to the tune of low double digits in primetime. We think that demand will be relatively flat. We think that it will be a market that is softer than last year but still quite strong. We are trying at MAGNA to give our marketers an opportunity to potentially have alternatives. It is all about whether there is another place where we can put our ads that is high quality and is measureable. We are working very hard to do that. We did that last year with YouTube and we are trying to expand that for this year.

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