Skip to content
Tom DenfordApr 27, 20234 min read

Why Are Media Investments Becoming Less Effective?

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



I have a question. It's a simple question with probably a very complicated answer. How can we be in 2023 and asking ourselves if media is as effective as it used to be? At a time when media can be ultimately targeted, personalized, and optimized for performance and effectiveness, why is it not working?


In theory, media should be working harder than ever, with more and more channels and platforms dedicated to capture our attention.

A giant engagement machine

It should be easier than ever to reach the right people in the right place at the right times. We are giving more of our attention to media than ever before and we spend more time with screens than any humans that have come before us. 


Algorithms are working hard, curating content to our interests, suggesting posts, articles and movies we might like based on our prior behaviors, keeping us in the cycle of consumption. A giant machine, designed to make attention addictive and increase our engagement. We are more immersed in content than any time in history, yet advertising is seemingly less effective than ever.

Remember magazines?

Decades ago the magazine industry boomed once it realized that niche interest titles could be highly profitable because they delivered the niche audiences that advertisers were looking for. 


Advertisers looking to target certain demographic or socio-economic segments could easily pull up a list of magazines that reached that audience segment. In fact, you’d find that most magazines were largely written for the purpose of advertisers to reach a certain audience, not to cater to the interests of the reader per se. 


Look at the various magazines available at newsstands today. Yes, they all on the surface look like they cater to the reader's interests and hobbies. However, they exist primarily for the purposes of audience segmentation on behalf of the advertisers whose ads they carry.

Advertising dollars don’t flow logically to audiences

Audiences have fragmented into even smaller groups based on interests and behaviors. Today digital publishing and creator tools have created an almost infinite segmentation of audience and so in theory advertisers should be more empowered than ever and more confident than ever that they can and will reach multiple micro segments of audiences that fit their targeting as part of their marketing objectives.


Technology should have created more effective targeting and less waste. But here we are with the industry acknowledging that at a broad scale media is probably no more effective than it was 20 years ago.

We’ve lost the craft of connections planning

Part of the problem perhaps is that we've looked to optimize at a granular level and the industry has become obsessed with these micro level optimizations, attributions and various ways of calculating return on investment. But perhaps we all know the reality is that we have lost the craft of connecting our consumers to a brand message or product story that is interesting, entertaining and motivating enough for them to take action. 


We have boiled media down to the bluntest of currencies and allowed media to become a highly complex financial engineering exercise, far removed from the hopes and dreams and professional aspirations of the brand marketer.

Optimization is strategic, not tactical

I know sometimes that marketers feel pressured to drift into those lower funnel conversations about media because everybody else around the table is usually talking about lower funnel metrics to them. Everybody in every agency is an expert in conversions or attribution or optimization. It's easy to forget that marketing is a science and an art. It is as important as ever to seek innovation and creativity and magic in your marketing. This is not the preserve only of the creative agency. Media thinkers must have a bigger impact on the success of brands. Media briefs have to include brand metrics, media investment cannot operate in a silo.

Media matters to brands

Brands deserve better media and brands that get the full value of the media investments will flourish. Let's remind ourselves that we are all in service of the brands that we love. No matter where you work in media, whether you work as an advertiser, an agency, a vendor, publisher or whatever, we are all serving the same purpose: to ensure that brands show up in the world in the right places, at the right times, to the right people, in the right context, with a message that is relevant, interesting, entertaining or useful. And that's it.


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.

Sign up here to receive the weekly column and to stay in the loop with other industry and ID Comms happenings. 


5 Ways a Better Media Audit Will Help Grow Your Brand