Understanding the nuance below the media surface

Making Sense: The Commercial Media Landscape

Carat's Maddy Sim and Joe Molony argue that when it comes to media behaviours, "the more things change, the more they stay the same", but when looking deeper you can see the ever-increasing fragmentation of our media diets.

Three years after we all started bandying around the term "unprecedented" with enthusiasm, how nice to review the latest Making Sense, where some of the key takeouts could be neatly summarised as “somewhat precedented”.

Same as it ever was

In a recent meeting, we were told that the job of a media planner had got much harder, thanks to the proliferation in media vehicles that we can use to reach people. Whilst, undoubtedly, keeping up with each new platform gets harder every year, 2023’s Making Sense shines a light on just how much remains the same as it ever was. People use media for the same reasons, at the same times, and time-spent-with commercially funded media isn’t going away (phew).

Paying for licenced content

It's the nuance that changes below the surface of the media format. So yes, time spent with commercially funded media isn’t going away. However, there’s undoubtedly been a shift in attitudes towards how we define the fees we pay for licensed content. It will be interesting to see whether some start treating the BBC licence fee as another subscription cost and opt to switch to other platforms.

Before the pandemic, we already had an inkling of the significance of Netflix through the popularity of series like Stranger Things and The Crown, but since the pandemic it has felt as if TV has become the New Hollywood. Olivia Colman, Robert De Niro, Helen Mirren and Harrison Ford don’t seem to consider streaming releases a step down from theatrical releases. Both Netflix and Disney+ Originals have garnered nominations in this year’s Academy Awards, further cementing the reputation of streaming services for top-tier programming.

BBC or Twitter

This year’s Making Sense challenges media planners to reflect on the confluence of multi-screening and invisible editing. One need look no further than Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. It would fascinate these authors to make sense of how many Brits had tuned into the TV coverage of the funeral, but chose to follow commentary on Twitter rather than on the BBC. This blend of personal opinion and curation of news can lead to swings in public opinion that can swiftly be accepted as fact.

So, if the broad brushstrokes of media behaviours stay (somewhat) consistent, but the nuance changes, then we should be shifting our approach to planning in exactly the same way the population shifts their media habits; ask the same questions, but employ more advanced technology to answer those questions and plan effectively.

Maddy Sim, Strategy Partner, Carat Scotland & Joe Molony, Managing Partner – Planning, Carat

Whilst the report highlights that "the more things change, the more they stay the same", it also re-emphasises the ever-increasing fragmentation of our media diets. Yes, people have the same need states as before, but boy do they have an increased number of means with which to fulfil those needs. We need to use improved tech and new delivery mechanisms to better understand the same principles we’ve been interrogating since media planning began;

  • Incrementality - If you now need nine channels to achieve the reach that five once delivered, how can you pinpoint which nine get you to the best possible total reach?
  • Attention - With so many routes with which to reach people, we need to better interrogate channel selection against more than reach. The work the industry is doing to better measure attention in advertising allows us to better plan against business outcomes. At dentsu, we’ve just hit the five-year anniversary of our regular research series, Attention Economy, that allows us to plan for, buy against, and report on attention.
  • Behavioural Shifts - If you’ve got this far in the Making Sense review you probably don’t need convincing of this fact; but rapid pace of change means we need to harness tech and set aside research time to keep ourselves updated on behavioural shifts. This report highlights how people will eschew the platforms that fail to curate the most engaging experience possible for that individual. We need to spot when those types of choices are made, at scale – and preferably before the choice is even made!

We need the tools and the data to interrogate our planning choices. Last year, Barb pulled Netflix data into its overnight viewing data. This data is invaluable, allowing those of us who care to track the impact that the cost-of-living crisis, programming choices, and change to subscription model are having on viewing figures.

Making Sense is the best in the business for giving us a yearly, zoomed-out overview of the media choices people make. It’s up to us to do the zooming in throughout the year.


Maddy Sim is Strategy Partner, Carat Scotland and Joe Molony is Managing Partner – Planning at Carat.

Maddy started off as a Paid Search Manager at bigmouthmedia not long after leaving university – and, indeed, before she really understood what the letters PPC stood for. She moved to Australia in 2011 to continue my career in digital marketing, which is where she started for the dentsu group. Maddy moved home to Edinburgh in 2014 to dentsu Edinburgh, where she helped grow our iProspect offering and then moved into Strategy in Carat. Since then Maddy has worked across a range of clients, supporting them on their marketing strategies and turning briefs into well-crafted media plans.

After uni Joe spent a summer in the mid 90s as a runner for production companies in Soho, before joining full service agency Bates Dorland as a media planner - nudged by his mum who spotted the graduate recruitment ad in the Guardian! After a stint in the BBC’s network radio direction unit, he joined Carat and resumed his media planning career in advertising. 25 years later, Joe’s still there after working with a long and varied list of clients. Joe was awarded his Fellowship of the IPA in recognition of his contributions in developing and marketing Touchpoints and behavioural science initiatives.

This article first appeared in Making Sense: The Commercial Media Landscape (Fifth edition). 

The full report and the IPA TouchPoints data is available for free for IPA TouchPoints subscribers, while an eight-page Executive Summary is free for everyone to download.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024