DIY Online Marketing: The End of Media Buyers?

Interactive media buyers have gone through some rough times over the years. Following the dot-bomb, September 11, and the subsequent recession, agencies started making cuts. Many buyers and planners lost their jobs. Some opted to change industries entirely. Those who stuck with their trade took pay cuts and saw their creativity stifled by agency directors who thought it best to play it safe. Finally, it looks as though our luck may be changing.

Media buyers and planners are again in high demand. According to TalentZoo, the number of media jobs now available is about three times greater than last year. And recruiting industry insiders say demand is high for those with online experience. Things are looking up.

Or are they?

Media buyers may no longer want for work, but another phenomenon now threatens to obstruct our progress: do-it-yourself media campaigns.

Consider, for instance, the recent trend toward viral marketing. Since it started to take off, the Internet media space has managed to garner an amazing amount of attention. That’s great for our industry as a whole, but what of media buyers? Online viral marketing started as just one aspect of a greater campaign — an afterthought marketers threw in to a contest to boost their media buys. But many of today’s viral efforts don’t involve the purchase of online media at all.

General Mills’ recent online film spoof of “The Italian Job” promoting Lucky Charms was distributed directly to U.S. students and 20-somethings, but no online ads promoting the effort have been seen. The Gap also rejected ad placements in lieu of promoting its “Watch Me Change” site entirely by word of mouth. With advertisers now able to execute viral campaigns without corresponding media buys, is there still a place for those who specialize in negotiating ad placements?

The increased blog use for corporate marketing is equally disturbing. Prior to this trend, businesses looked to advertising to help them build a relationship with their customers. Branding campaigns were used to create a positive association with conglomerates and to humanize even the most faceless corporations.

Now companies use blogs to satisfy these intents, generating traffic via their corporate Web sites and word of mouth. No longer must a business rely on online advertising to connect with the public. Blogs can do this and more.

In many ways, online media has become a self-service communications channel. Advertisers, even those with little online experience, are discovering what consumers have known for years: at its core, the Internet is a medium “for the people.” It doesn’t necessitate assistance from the pros. One can develop ad creative using a home software program, launch a site using inexpensive Web design and hosting tools, and promote one’s initiative with blogs, discussion boards, and good old word of mouth — all without traditional advertising agencies, media brokers, or placements experts.

Where does that leave media buyers, whose livelihoods depend on the demand for ad placement expertise? There’s no denying the need for evolution. Today’s buyers and planners must prove their worth by showing versatility and demonstrating expertise in new formats to makes themselves indispensable. Though it’s certainly possible to work without media buyers, they possess a knowledge of the Internet space and its users that professional and amateur advertisers alike would be remiss not to exploit. Having access to DIY online advertising is one thing. Making it work is quite another.

At the same time, it’s highly unlikely traditional Internet advertising will suffer extinction any time soon. Techniques may be maturing to better serve consumers’ changing wants and needs, but until the Internet adopts a pervasive fee-based content model there will be a place for in-site advertising. And advertisers will need to reach the consumers sites attract.

Modern media buyers aren’t just buyers; they’re planners and strategists, too. This makes us even more valuable than ever before. But we can’t breathe a sigh of relief now that economists say we’re back in demand. We must stay on our toes. The last thing we want is for the next DIY campaign to be of the job-search variety.

How do you think DIY online marketing is affecting media buyers? Write me with your thoughts.

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