Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

To in-house or not in-house – the biggest question of 2020

Rowly Bourne the founder of  Rezonence, starts the new year with one of the biggest questions of the moment

“Should brands in-house ?” That has certainly been the question, at least for the industry press in 2019; and the evidence suggests that it’s a debate that will continue to rumble into 2020.  A recent article by Ronan Shields from AdWeek – Taking media in-house is not a case of one size fits all. As experience shows, the realities are not so black and white – illustrated it’s a complicated debate with a number of differing opinions. 

What’s interested me is that the debate hasn’t seemed to evolve much; since the K2 Intelligence report for the Association of National Advertisers in 2016 the argument has centred around trust, transparency and efficiency (both in cost and processes).  Don’t get me wrong, they were – and still are – all valid arguments for in-housing; but since the dawn of the GDPR, I’m surprised data privacy – and more recently consent – hasn’t taken centre stage in the debate.

That’s not to say that the issue has gone unnoticed, as Nicole Ortiz from AdWeek highlighted with EA, but it’s rarely cited as a factor – let alone the driving force – for change.  Take into account both the value of clean data to a business as well as the size of the potential fines for GDPR breaches – and there seems to be no issue more central to the debate.  With something so important, do you really want control to lie with an external agency? This has been my view for some time now, and it’s only getting stronger the more conversations I have on the topic.

Conversations with brands have highlighted three things.  First, that the long arm of procurement is stretching out to data privacy.  Having started with marketing, their influence is clearly impacting on decisions around data and consent management.  Understanding only the immediate prices of data, they fail to fully appreciate two crucial costs; the first being GDPR fines; the second – more importantly for me – being the long term cost of brand damage from a data privacy issue.  As I mentioned in a previous article, consumers these days are highly sensitive to brands behaviour and moral compass – and the damage a breach of consumers’ trust can do to a brand is something that procurement is failing to take into consideration.  And before you start thinking that GAFA seem to get away with it – they definitely do – they are merely the exceptions that prove the rule. You’d be foolish to think you’d get so lucky.

The second was how difficult obtaining a consumers’ consent – the way the ICO states – really is.  There is a general mistrust and apprehension amongst consumers to knowingly give anyone their data, but your best chance as a brand is doing it directly.  Research looking specifically at the UX behind achieving valid consent found the consent notices required would lead to less than 0.1% of users agreeing to the use of third-party cookies.  It’s brands, not third parties that have the relationships – outside of GAFA, consumers are clueless to who and what adtech is – meaning your best chance of consent is asking directly.

Thirdly, and perhaps most crucially, was the growing importance of consent in marketers’ minds.  There’s been a lot of talk about data being the new oil, given its value and importance to businesses – but for me, consent is really the new oil.  Dirty data will do more harm than good for 99% of businesses, so having a users’ consent for that data is what will really make your business tick. Countries have started wars over the ownership of oil; if data, and more importantly a users’ consent for that data, is of equal importance to your business – your business should be in control of it. 

Having spoken about the issue at length with agencies, brands in-housing and taking control of data and consent would be a blessing in disguise.  Almost across the board, agencies feel the contracts they have in place make the responsibility, and therefore the head on the chopping block for data being gathered compliantly under the GDPR, their clients. It’s an understandable position to take; after all, agencies are buyers of media – it’s easy to follow why it shouldn’t be their risk or responsibility to collect and manage data for their clients.  

My discussions with the ICO have made it crystal clear that contracts won’t come to the rescue; everyone in the supply chain will be held equally responsible – something that has failed to resonate with agencies.  Brands in-housing data and consent will lift the burden of risk on the agencies, meaning they can get on with doing what they do best – buying media.  

Data privacy and consent are the single most pressing issues for our industry, wherever you sit in the ecosystem; there should be nothing more important in the in-housing debate.  And for once, brands and agencies should be in complete agreement on the desired outcome.