The upside-down world of ads: Media buys versus creative campaigns, which is more important?

What is the relationship between media buys and their accompanying creative campaigns? What should the synergy between the two activities be? Is one of them more important than the other? To begin this discussion, we must first break down the definition of what media buys and what creative campaigns are.

Media buying is the act of purchasing advertising space from a media platform – be it a television station, a print newspaper or an online publication. For a fee, a brand’s advertisement may be guaranteed a spot or a slot on the desired publication they may be negotiating with. The cost is typically decided by several factors. For example, to buy an advertisement on the website, the price is determined by considerations such as where the ad will be placed, the size of the ad and how many days the ad is slated to be featured on the site.

Creative campaigns, on the other hand, is the content that an ad embodies for viewers to consume. The people behind creative campaigns oversee the creation of concepts, narratives and the production of the message to be presented to consumers who come across the ad.

The current issue is that in most businesses, the teams in charge of media buying and creative campaigns often work in silos. This means that the folks who are purchasing the media buys may not have any idea what the content of the ad they are putting out is about.

Many organisations, in their quest to ensure “guaranteed” advertising success and to show vanity metrics to their data hungry management, have prioritised and limited the advertising conversation primarily to media buys, at the detriment of its advertising potential.

However, this emphasis on media buying is not without reason. Before the advent of data driven media, there was a monopoly of creative campaigns within the advertising sphere and it would seem like there has been an overcorrection towards measurable results in today’s ad climate.

So, the cardinal question is, of media buys versus creatives, which is more important? In anti-climactic fashion, the answer is simply this – balance. Though the answer may seem easy and obvious, it is far harder to implement, especially with the allure of guaranteed performance coupled with the advertising machinery that just wants your media buy budget. So, how do we navigate this confusing situation?

Flipping it back up

The idea of achieving balance between media buying and creative campaigns really is in unlocking the fullest potential of any advertising effects. These are 3 considerations I believe to be very useful when trying to do so.

1. Determine the overall objective in advertising for any organisation

This might sound the simplest of task to determine but many organisations and companies get stuck here the most. Most of the time, the point of advertising really is in driving more sales over a period of time, but even this is not adequate enough in determining the true objective. Every organisation has a root metric that determines the overall success of an organisation. It could be “client retention per overall sales volume”, “profit per client” or “revenue per business unit”. In determining this, the next crucial step would be to cascade the core metric into the advertising or marketing objective and thereafter, determine the core metric for advertising or marketing. In doing so, the media buy and creative teams can work together to generate ideas, as well as determine the appropriate areas for media buying to happen.

2. Free yourself from the ego of vanity metrics

A common issue that most organisations and companies face is focusing too much on vanity metrics as a determinant of advertising success. Vanity metrics are metrics that make you look good but does not help you to understand your performance in a way that informs you of future strategies or true outcomes. This could be in terms of total views for a video or number of shares per content. The vanity metric is usually symptomatic in determining advertising success but rarely the point of it. Always refer to the core metric of advertising or marketing and free yourself from the ego of vanity metrics.

3. Leadership in balancing the art of ideas with the science of data

Leadership is always central to any organisation and effective advertising is not spared the effects of it. When determining whether an idea should be developed or if budget should be spent on media buying, always determine a leader who can be impartial in assessing the merits of an idea or data insight. The leader also needs to be able to work staunchly towards the core metrics set earlier. When working with agencies, always insist that the creative and media buy teams work in parallel where possible, with the leader in charge of mediating between merits and gaps.

So, the next time someone tries to obfuscate you into action with statistics or creative excitement when doing advertising, always consider the 3 points and flip advertising back to your advantage.

Willie Lee | Managing Director and Founder | Big 3 Media

Willie has been the Founder and Managing Director of the Big 3 Group since 2008. His first foray into the media industry was more than 15 years ago, when he was working as an Audio Engineer and Music Producer while studying for his Bachelors in Business and Finance. In his time in the industry, he has produced and directed videos for major clients such as Smart Nation, Singapore International Airlines, Nike, Public Service Division, the SEA Games and many more.