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How to Ensure Authenticity in Your Media Planning Process

Article by Amy Xu and image by Sam Pouliot

Inauthentic. It’s a single word that captures a wide range of emotions. The feeling of being misrepresented, stereotyped and put in a box. The feeling of being pandered and sold to, but not seen or heard. It’s a word that every brand wants to avoid being associated with, but as brands increasingly try to be more inclusive in their marketing and advertising efforts, they find themselves stumbling into the pitfall of inauthenticity.

So what can brands do to avoid inauthenticity in the media planning process?

We’ve seen many examples over the years of brands missing the mark in their brand messaging, but what does inauthenticity look like in the realm of media planning? According to Ellery Wilkins, director of media planning at Mythic, this can look like cliched or heavy-handed messaging and placement that feels like it’s checking a box rather than actually serving to resonate with real people. To avoid this pitfall, here are four best practices to follow to ensure authenticity in the media planning process as well as be a good steward of the brand’s business:

First, take a step back and ask the hard questions to ensure your efforts won’t be performative

It’s easy to take a client request and run with it, but it’s important to take that step back to ask your client why they want to invest in this targeting effort. Are they doing this because it’s just important to a board? Or can the brand really meet the unique needs of this particular target audience? If they can’t deliver on the needs of this audience, no matter where the media is placed, the messaging will always ring false.

Second, invest in representation and research for true understanding

“I think a lot of that [inauthenticity] is a result of a media, planning or client team that isn't doing the research to make sure that there are actual representatives in the room in the conversations going ‘Hey, that doesn't feel authentic,’" Wilkins said. “And then expanding beyond that, whether it's through testing groups or pulling in other agencies who have a place in the space to say, not necessarily, ‘Are we doing this right?’ but, ‘Are we speaking to the end user in the way that they want to be spoken to?’”

You may face pushback on the additional costs research requires, but doing your due diligence is worth the investment. Especially as targeting capabilities change as we get closer to a cookieless digital world (where you can’t just click the button to target based on a psychographic or demographic) marketers and brands need to have a better understanding of audience nuances so they can determine how best to bring a brand to life for a number of different potential consumers. “A lot of times there is extra cost, but doing the research ensures that the message is beneficial to the end user and isn’t just checking the box,” Wilkins concluded.

Third, make sure you’re balancing targeting specificity, authenticity and efficiency by finding audience intersections

Even if a client wants to pursue targeting a very narrow audience, it’s the job of the media planner to show them the reality of their budget. “If you start to dissect it too much and try to reach very specific audiences, you're going to lose efficiencies in your media buy, and you're also going to have a lot of undue waste,” Wilkins explained. Not only will this result in waste, but you may also risk being perceived as pandering to your target by being “too on the nose” and miss out on connecting with other audiences that may also resonate with your message.

But this doesn’t mean you still can’t capture that particular audience. It helps to think of targeting like a Venn diagram. “When you take a step back and look at how all of the different psychographics and demographics match up, see where those things intersect, and see how you can then reach a larger portion of those audiences, you can figure out where you can reach. And that [efficiency] is a big part of media buying … figuring out where we can reach more audiences, while still having those more curated experiences,” Wilkins said.

Last but certainly not least, approach media planning as part of the overall strategic planning process

To consistently deliver an authentic media planning strategy, media planning needs to be viewed as part of the overall strategic planning process. If these disciplines - research, strategic planning, creative - work in silos, not only will you run into inefficiencies, but you’ll likely encounter misalignment and missed opportunities to better connect with your audiences. By working together throughout the process, you’ll be able to address key questions early and ensure the messaging is not only appropriate but is going to be received as both authentic and compelling.

In a world where attention spans are limited, we're glad you stuck with it and made it to the end of this article because we certainly think it was worth the read. If you like what you saw and want to know how you can partner with a team that's brimming with creative ideas, reach out to our CMO, Taylor Bryant (, and get a conversation with Mythic started today.

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