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Cheap is good but good is better.
Tom DenfordApr 20, 20234 min read

Cheap is Good, but Good is Better

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford


In recent weeks, I've been interested in the role that procurement plays in marketing success. One of the common accusations or criticisms of marketing procurement is that they have historically focused on price and cost rather than value. Ask any agency and they’ll still tend to say the same. 

Value in, cost out

There is a movement within marketing procurement to adopt what they call a value in rather than cost out perspective. This positions marketing procurement as the guardians of the value generated from their brand's media and advertising investments, rather than purely be the guardians of the cost.

As Warren Buffett famously said, "Price is what you pay, value is what you get." This quote is particularly relevant to marketing procurement when it comes to media, as determining the true value of media investments can be a challenge.

Impressions by the truck load

Media may seem like a commodity when you're buying billions of impressions and paying for them by the ton. It's easy to assume that all media impressions are equal and then just focus on the price you have to pay. The problem is that impressions, unlike materials, do not arrive on the back of a truck. They are not created equal and cannot be weighed, measured or quality controlled easily.

Quality control or quality concede?

For years, agencies and publishers were happy to deliver what they thought procurement was looking for, cheaper and cheaper inventory. The trade off of cheaper commodity media is that it seemed to be procured in increasingly complex, hard to follow and sometimes simply opaque processes.


The procurement executive was encouraged not to worry too much about the provenance of the media impression so long as it was cheap and a report somewhere confirmed it was purchased and the price was paid. Unfortunately, this approach led to fraudulent impressions being paid for, and the quality of the media being misrepresented. Essentially, what the report said was taken at face value.

For a decade procurement and the agency congratulated themselves on delivering what looked like a better deal every day, impressions being delivered in ever greater numbers and for an ever lower cost. But who was checking the quality? Who was measuring, understanding and communicating the value-in?

Nobody wins the race to the bottom

Today there is increasing acknowledgment that the race to the bottom on price serves neither the interest of the advertiser, the agency nor the publisher. Advertisers are growing increasingly interested in the effectiveness of their advertising, having been distracted for many years with the promise of cost efficiency as being the most powerful indicator of success in media.

Advertisers need better KPIs for media which are more closely aligned to the needs of the brand. As a marketing or procurement leader, if you believe that where and how your brand shows up in the world is important, then that means media is important to your brand. If you believe that your teams, your agencies and external partners should care about where your brand appears in the world, if you think they should care about quality and context for example, then that needs to be a KPI for media that you hold everybody accountable for. 

Media decisions matter to brands

Make your agencies seek permission, not forgiveness for taking your brand into places you don't want it. It takes care, communication and clarity to establish a set of media principles and KPIs to make sure that where and how your brands show up in the world are aligned with your ambitions for your brands. Media decisions matter to brands. 

For a decade we all celebrated cheap as good but now we realize that good is better than cheap. The Ad-fraud researcher Dr. Augustine Fou, a good friend to us at ID Comms, wrote a poem to this effect which I really enjoyed and reproduce here, with credit to him.

cheap is good

but, good is always better

and it's always worth paying more for better than good

if you can get the best, go for that 

because it's always better than cheap

Cheap is Good but Good is Better

In less than two weeks I take the stage in Phoenix Arizona for the Advertising Financial Management conference hosted by the Association of National Advertisers. My speech is called ‘Cheap is Good but Good is Better’ and with a little hat tip to Dr. Fou, I want to explore how procurement's role needs to change and focus more on quality and value in rather than treating media as a commodity and cost out.

I will be reminding delegates in the room and joining from around the world virtually that we are all in service of the brands we love, and that brands deserve a better outcome from their media investments. 

I believe that when brands get the full value of the immediate investment they grow and it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we can secure a better deal for our brands by focusing on being better, not just cheaper.  


When brands flourish, we all win.




This post was featured in ID Comms’ weekly column, Brands Deserve Better Media. Each week, CEO Tom Denford shares insights on media and advertising and inspires us to work together to build a better future for the industry.

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