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Episode 12

Fariba Zamaniyan – Real Housewives & the Realities of TV Advertising

"Where data flows, power flows."- Fariba Zamaniyan

Fariba Zamaniyan, VP of Advanced Media and Advertising at Xperi Corporation (TiVo), speaks with Allyson and Brett about how creative advertising has evolved in its delivery and targeting.

They discuss everything from how Fariba got her start in television advertising, research, and analytics, to what she’s learned from the pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods industries. Listen out for how advertising creative has changed, the impact of different media, what’s next for subscription services, and why data is the new oil.


Episode Transcript

Allyson Dietz: Welcome to No Hype, the podcast about truth, science and the future of marketing, brought to you by your hosts, Allyson Dietz.

Brett House: And Brett House.

Allyson Dietz: Today, in the podcast, we have Fariba Zamaniyan, a seasoned expert in the advertising space. Fariba got her start in television advertising research and analytics in the pharmaceutical and consumer package goods industries. And much like us, spent some time at Nielsen focusing on their ad resonance solutions. I think it's fair to say that's where she fell in love with advertising and, in particular, TV. She spent the last 12 years with TiVo, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Xperi Corp, and is an expert on television and video advertising. Fariba, welcome to the No Hype Podcast.

Fariba Zamaniyan: Thank you so much, Allyson. It's great to be here.

AD: So, let's start by just asking out a basic question. How'd you get started in advertising and in the ad space?

FZ: I wish it was just like a straight road. But really it was kind of curvy at first. I guess it goes back to, I would say, my passion for this industry goes back to just my childhood. My parents immigrated to America in the early '60s, had kids like most immigrants do and they were just so consumed by entertainment and loved as much as they can get their hands on. So, we had the TV on 24/7 in my house, and I grew up with just a real love for any content that I can get my hands on. My favorites that I think back to is Solid Gold on Sunday nights or The Disney Sunday Night Movie. Those are really memorable experiences.

And I would have to say, when I went to college, I knew that I was going to be in this space in some capacity. I just didn't really know what that would be. And I graduated from Ithaca College School of Business, and I have a bachelor of science in marketing. And had no idea what I was going to do with it. And I came out and got an opportunity to go work at Nielsen. And Nielsen really became that springboard into research and analytics and really focusing on advertising. And I have to say, in those days, there was so much change. I experienced the worldwide web coming available. Yeah.

AD: That's what the www stands for.

FZ: I know, for those who don't know, right. I'm actually revealing my age in many ways as we go through this. But really, it was an opportunity that I had to enable marketers to quantify the impact of their initiatives. Whether it was advertising or point-of-sale display. So, I really kind of got my first feel for advertising in the ecosystem, by trying to understand what was the impact of a consumer marketing plan, and television, given its presence in those plans, just became that entree into that sort of measurement type of role that I started to take on.

And I really loved it, because I saw myself in the place of, "I'm a consumer, I'm sitting in front of that TV set and how are these ads having an impact on me?" And that's really what started my passion into really dissecting the ads themselves and how creative executions were designed and then brought forth onto my TV screen.

I spent a lot of time in my early part of my career, getting involved in copy evaluation and what are those attributes that are going to break through the clutter, that is going to be likable and ultimately persuade interest to take action? And it's amazing to see that, back then, we had no way of truly connecting the dots as to if you're sitting in front of that screen, do you actually go and buy the product? It was a huge question mark. And there was all kinds of assessments and correlations and fancy mathematics and science that went into play. Where today it's secondhand. It's what we do, because of the digitization that's happened in the television world.

So, it's incredible to look back and see the unanswered questions that were left for a marketer and here we are today. So, I'd have to say, that's how I really got into it, it was the power of persuasion via advertising that really compelled me to spend a career in this space.

AD: I love the story of the your early days and your family's early days and the role that television plays, I mean, it's such a key component of American culture. But part of that is also the creative and the advertisements, and that's been a huge part of our culture as well. So, you touched on persuasion and breakthrough and all of these key terms that we all know and love from our previous roles. But how has the role of creative changed and evolved in the last 10 years? You mentioned a little bit about the evolution of data and the role that data can play. But what do you think in terms of how things have changed from those days when you were looking at breakthrough at Nielsen and how you think creative has evolved?

FZ: It really comes down to the medium which that creative is being delivered. And I'd say that's been the biggest change or transition that's happening in creative. There are new outlets, new vehicles to drive an ad, in real time in particular. So, you think about your cell phone and geolocation, and some of you probably are wondering like, "How the heck do they know that I'm here?" There's a lot of technology that goes behind that.

So, I would say, in terms of creative, its greatest evolution has been in how that creative is delivered to a consumer and in how highly targeted and specific it is to you. I spent a lot of time, my early part of my career, working with advertisers directly to ensure that spot has everything it needs in order to convey the message, make you laugh, make you cry, get you to think of nostalgic ways to really bring you into the brand essence.

But when it came to execution, the media plans didn't take that same level of rigor in terms of identifying those pockets of the population that that creative was supposed to resonate against. So, the media plan takes the creative and it just says, "Well, you know what, national television's the most efficient. We're going to get the bang for a buck, cast a wide net and hope for the best." That spray and pray mentality.

And then, here comes digital advertising kind of down a separate path that gave them the power of doing, of executing and targeting specific audiences. That were more in alignment with the consumer segmentation and all that work, the heavy lifting that went into devising that creative. So, you've got the digital, that now has that ability to have variations to it depending on the target and deliver that to a specific device ID, which is the world we sit today.

BH: Yeah. And Fariba, I was at the IAB ALM event and David Cohen was interviewing David Kenny of Nielsen, Bill Livek of Comscore, Ross McCray of VideoAmp. So, you had a little bit of the old, a little bit of the new, and there was a lot of talk about how the industry talks and talks every year about changing the approach to buying media to bridge this gap that you just discussed between audience targeting and mass reach advertising, your classic age, gender approach. Yet, every year we end up following sort of the same approach in the new buying season. I mean, are we at a stage where we think that the upfronts and the new fronts should be planned together and that this all should be one part of one holistic plan across all television ecosystems versus the kind of bifurcation between digital and linear?

FZ: Yeah. I mean, I think we're all ready for that to happen. The problem is, how can you make that happen? So, I think we're a little ways out just because of the fact that you've got television and the traditional broadcast model, how the negotiation process, the exchange, and then the actual delivery take place is still very different than what's happening in the digital medium, which is being run by machines.

And ultimately what we should start to say is that convergence between the two, where you do have just one marketplace, where there's only one upfront across the various providers. And I think the key driver to change is going to have to come from the advertiser. It's the advertiser that's going to have to drive that where it's like, "Hey, look, I don't want two separate events. My plan is my plan, where I've got an allocation to traditional media, I've got an allocation to all of the digital channels, and I want you to showcase for me how I should be distributing my dollars in the upcoming season, TV season. Show me what's all the great stuff that you're bringing that's ad supported, that I can get behind and start putting dollars against."

And I believe in just interactions, and what I see in working with advertisers directly, they're starting to build that framework in house to be prepared for that. Some of the major advertisers now have CDPs in house, which are central repositories for data sets, various data sets that are going to start fueling their media plan and then bringing the talent in house that's going to be making the media plans and actually executing against them.

BH: I mean, do you think there's pushback? Yes, I agree that brands need to fundamentally demand the change, but there's a good point that I've read recently that a lot of it comes down to people protecting their own camps. So, if you're on the linear side, you fear buying and measuring on an audience-based level across the board, a more digital approach, because you fear a lot of the dollars, there's billions of dollars at stake, will flow out of your channels into what are traditionally considered as digital channels. Do you think that's a big blocker?

FZ: Absolutely. I mean, to your point, it's billions of dollars. I mean, you're talking about an entire segment of our GDP that especially, during times of recession, seems to be recession proof. We still want entertainment when times are bad. Look at what we just went through with COVID. So, yeah, there's an absolute protection of those dollars, but it's reinforced because, again, there's an audience, a large audience, that can still be reached through those traditional means. So, the protection is validated.

AD: When you're talking about audiences though, traditionally, linear TV has focused on this age, gender approach. Do you believe there's a necessary change around a more completely audience-driven future for video advertising? Because obviously that's a lot easier in the channels that are considered more digital and digitally native, but how do you see that spilling over into linear?

FZ: It already has. It really comes down to what I started 12 years ago at TiVo, now Xperi, but came by way of TRA and TiVo. So, just a few acquisitions. And why I'm here today was because of data and the availability of data. And I heard a quote recently that I'm sort of stealing, but, "Data is the new oil, where data flows, power flows." And that has been the change in our industry, particularly in the linear space, where now this passively captured big data sets, we don't say big data as much, because now everything's big data.

But big data has enabled the ability to define an audience that's much more granular than just a standard age and demographic audience. So, the ability to define an audience that is a certain demographic, but also exhibits certain behaviors such as a buyer in the category. So, if you are in the consumer package goods category, they're actively, let's say, a loyal buyer of a certain brand. These are data sets that are accessible by marketers to be able to marry that with demographics and build more sophisticated linear plans.

Local was one of the earliest forms of targeting and then fast forward into the technology age, where addressable advertising became available, where the cable provider in your area, who has those two minutes of advertising time in the local portion of the pod, could start targeting to specific groups of homes or now even an individual home based on that combination of demo and behavioral elements.

So, it's certainly there and it's infused within the linear planning and execution process. I think the convergence now with what's available through streaming and app-based viewing with the ad-supported video on demand or the AVOD services is now the next step and that's our shiny object today.

BH: But what about the sell side? The publishers out there want to get as much value from their first-party data as humanly possible. And can they expand upon that, augment it, slice and dice it in more ways so that they can offer more value to their advertisers? So, can you talk a little bit about how, on the sell side of the business, they can leverage data to not only better target, but better measure the impact of their own channels, their own medium?

FZ: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, they have come along way. The advertisers were driving a lot of the demand and were investing in these technologies to get access, because ultimately they want to address the KPIs that they have, which is do they then go and buy my product or visit the website, et cetera? But on the publisher side, it's been very much about audience guarantees, having the right set of eyeballs that will attract the advertisers to come.

Now, that we're in this period of time, where even some of those, the currency is being challenged, it's up to the publishers now, especially as they're getting more and more of this first-party data through their app-based products, their subscription-based services, are privy to information that nobody else has. So, the advertiser doesn't have access to that or have that insight, we're reliant on the publisher to share that, to present the value that that programming that they're bringing to market and they want me to invest in as an advertiser, it's up to them now to start to really leverage and harness the power of that data, to define the audiences that advertisers are seeking.

Now, the issue becomes consensus. As if I'm the NBCU versus the CBS, Paramount, Viacom, I'm going to have a different base of metrics in my portfolio than the publisher adjacent to me. How do I then rise above or demonstrate I'm better than the other. And I think that's where we are today, where we need some type of consensus or continuity across the publishers. And that's part of the effort that OpenAP has set out to address by at least having a common way of defining audiences across the publishers that leverage their individual first-party data assets, and some shared assets to help define, so that they can all rise together to take advantage of this with change and precision that digital marketing brings to the table.

So, I think there's still more work to do. And I think some groups like NBCU and what Kelly Abcarian is doing in order to evaluate different types of measurement tools and different sources and not be biased to just those that are much more well-established and opening it up to some of the smaller entrepreneurial services out there is one way to demonstrate how the publishers can really get behind the movement.

AD: So, I guess, hearing you talk about the industry and how publishers can take advantage and, in particular, being able to provide those commitments, a lot of us have been talking about Nielsen losing their MRC Accreditation late last year. What does that say about the current and future states of TV advertising and measurement? Do we think that, is there a single TV currency in the future? Or is that idea dead?

FZ: So, I think the first thing we have to do is separate measurement and currency, because I've sat through so many conversation and seeing the bitching and moaning of all sides of the table over this at nauseam. And I think where we're at is we have to separate the two. I think when we talk about, just put currency aside for a second, even though I know that that's where the basis of your question is, but I'll get there.

But measurement, there's no one size fits all. Thinking about the objectives of measurement, it could be something as simple as impression delivery to whether or not it's a cross-channel attribution exercise. Every advertiser or products being advertised is not the same, they all have different obstacles or hurdles that a consumer can go through. I mean, take what is a prescription drug and what you have to go through to receive the ad message all the way through to fill a prescription. There's a lot involved in between. And a measurement exercise is pretty exhaustive in that case.

Versus a direct to consumer product like the purple mattress, that you can hear the message and go right online and buy the product and you don't have to go through a regulatory process in order to get there. So, the measurement space, it seems to me, is bizarre that we're trying to get this one unified form of measurement when there's so many different needs to meet. So, there's lots of room for different types of measurement companies.

But when it comes to currency, then it's really what we're talking about in and isolated to is a means from which we are bidding on inventory and are going to get some type of guarantee that I'm going to get what I pay for. So, I do think that there is a potential for more than one currency. And the reason why I say that is because this entire operation is going to flow more programmatically. It is going to flow through a machine bidding and auctioning system, that is going to be various inputs of data that are going to determine the price based on the demand on a broad scale, which is what's happening right now in the digital space. As video starts to infuse and become more a part of that ecosystem, it's not going to be based on a currency, it's going to be based on supply and demand. And that is going to vary day to day, not season to season.

BH: Yeah. And supply and demand of consumer audience data is what we're talking about. Right?

FZ: That's right.

BH: So, does consumer audience data, let's say, backed by, we'll call, de-identified identity, but does that consumer data that's going to be, is that sort of what you're really bidding on? Hey, we want to reach audiences at scale in a hyper-granular targeted way so that we can segment up our campaigns, segment up our creatives and our programs, so that it's more effectively reaching the people we really intend to meet. And you're sort of avoiding that Wanamaker problem of half of your advertising just being wasted. I mean, is that the way that you see it going? And if that is the way we see it going, what's the need for just basic reach and frequency metrics?

FZ: Yeah.

AD: Oh Yes.

FZ: I know.

BH: I know. We had to go that way.

AD: I to the way she was saying on measurement, and you think you just went there Brett, which is, you're saying brands are trying to achieve so many different things and we, as an industry, especially in the TV space, just hyper-focus on reach and frequency. So, I think I would love to hear your perspective around some of those other measurement capabilities, to Brett's point, of tying audiences to an actual outcome, how important is that in the future?

FZ: It is the North Star of what we're dealing with and, wow, you guys just brought me back to these old school term, like Wanamaker, oh my God, I haven't heard that in ages.

AD: People still talk about it. It's still true.

FZ: Yeah. It's great. I remember that used to be like the first slide of every presentation, it was like the first one, because we were challenging the media model and reaching frequency and GRPs and all that stuff. But yeah, I mean, I know we were joking about this earlier, but we're putting a whole chainsaw through all of this, in that, yeah, it's going to go there.

The reason why it's going to go there is because of the abilities that are being perfected each day. So, machine learning builds from every execution, every exercise. And the ability to, especially as products are accessible outside of brick and mortar, where that was the challenge was how do you track people and where they go and what they buy on the shelf and then became all just different disparate data sets.

But now, as the retail model is moving more and more to an electronic transaction, that's really what now is moving away from reach and frequency to outcomes-based measurement. And it's done at a category level. And that outcome doesn't necessarily always have to be a purchase. It could be just site visitation or signing up to learn more information. With pharmaceuticals, we didn't determine the effectiveness of the campaign always based on if you got a prescription, but it was whether or not if you visited your doctor, it's the first step in the process.

BH: Yeah. And when it's done digitally, it's easier to connect the dots between all of that activity that happens before you actually make a purchase or a conversion event and the actual conversion itself. And you're not going to have that ad following you around all of your devices, bugging you for months, because the people behind that ad don't know that you actually did something.

FZ: Exactly, exactly. And that's really where we're going to start is to defining that funnel, but it's going to be done on an advertiser, a vertical level. So, let's say, if we roll it up automotive versus QSR and consumer package goods. So, it really is going to move in that direction. Right now, programmatic is pretty limited and it's starting to change, where video and connected TV inventory with this, in massive penetration change that's happening in US households where it's a smart TV revolution. Most of us have them, especially in this industry, they're in our homes, they're a connected device, they're powered by digital. They're big screen, not a small screen.

Now, it's a matter of harnessing the advertising capabilities that can come through that TV screen, but yet be connected on your mobile device. I mean, there's technology now where you walk in the room, we're actually, TiVo and Xperi, developing some of this and your opt-in to the service is going to enable the apps that are in your profile to show up on the screen.

And maybe the next evolution is it's also going to show you, " Here are some products. This is what you bought last week. Here are some recommendations on what else you might want to buy." So, I think it's a different level of interaction that's going to happen on that big screen that are going to open up opportunities for advertisers. And all of that's going to be backed by a digital exchange that is not happening this year, forecasting that, I think this year, we're going to start to see connected TV inventory for AVOD-supported or ad-supported video on demand services really be the talking point for the industry.

A couple years ago, it was attribution. It was all about tying it together. And now it's about CTV, CTV, CTV. But it's legitimate, because of the fact that we also found in some of the research that we did is that consumers actually don't hate advertising, and it is strange to say, "Well, Fariba, how can you say that coming from TiVo? You guys were the catalyst to enabling people to skip."

AD: How to avoid it.

FZ: Yeah.

AD: How to avoid TV ads with TiVo. Yeah.

FZ: I know. I know. It's amazing, but we actually embrace it that you want to watch TV... Programming when you want to watch it. And that's what the purpose of the DVR was, so that you can schedule it for when you want to. And it kind of became this thing where, "Oh, I can skip ads now." But anyway, fast forward, it's really about this evolution now of having the opportunity to tune into programming when you want to, and ad supported is free programming and consumers are willing to trade off. If I can get free, I'll suffer through the ads. However, it's got to be content that's engaging.

BH: Well, now, I'm going to dive into the No Hype concept, because I'm going to disagree with a couple of things. And this is just from more personally, anecdotally, but people don't hate advertising. And I know there's been some research that suggest otherwise, but have you ever watched the Olympics? It's wildly interruptive. And then, when you go from one channel to the next, on your set box television, or otherwise, you tend to see all of the commercials lined up together. So, you can't escape the commercial reality of television, which I find disruptive and interruptive, and actually turns me off of television.

So, I'm not the only one, 43% of the TV audience in the US today is ad free and subscription-based, which tells me that 40% of the US population is saying, "We don't want ads and we're willing to pay to suppress ads." Is that a trend that's going to increase over time?

FZ: Yeah. It's actually stalled a bit. It's flattened out. It's certainly accelerated through our research. We've found that on average, we have... Well, actually, before I tell you the average, how many subscription services do you guys have?

BH: Probably-

FZ: Would you say an average?

BH: ... five to six, at least, maybe seven.

FZ: How about you, Allyson?

AD: I am probably the same, although we are big consumers of Disney+. So, I mean, I like our usage is highest in a single platform, but I have little kids. So, that's why.

FZ: Well, I mean, believe it or not, the average is nine. It's closer to nine.

BH: Wow.

FZ: Which is higher than both of you, yeah, when you put it all together. And a big part or a component of that still is paid TV. So, there is... I'm a Netflix subscriber and all of those, I have probably about 11 or 12 subscriptions myself, but I'm a little biased being in industry. But I think that the SVOD is incredible content that's being brought with these subscription-based services. However, there is a high churn rate with SVOD.

And think of it, it makes sense. If you get a free subscription trial or you're not committed to a 12-month license like you used to be with cable providers, where you're stuck for two or three years in a contract, they've made it easy to turn in and out and through. We may see some of that cycle change just because consumers are going to start cutting, narrowing down to the services they... Like, you're not going to get rid of Disney+, right?

AD: Nope.

FZ: Allyson.

AD: I'm trying to convince my kids of that. But I think you're right, Fariba, I think there's a lot of people that cycle through, "I'll have Netflix this month, I'll have Disney next month and then I'll do the Prime." They'll cycle through them. But I think there are those core pieces of content, core shows, like Today Show, there are some people who just, they watch that daily. So, there are definitely, I would say, content programs that are going to anchor people within particular subscriptions. And I think it's up to the networks to figure out what are those anchoring programs that will keep people coming back.

FZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.

AD: So, final question. What have you been watching? Is there anything that you would say that our listeners have to check out?

FZ: Oh God, there's so much, I'd say the most recent that I finished is Reacher on Amazon Prime. Awesome.

AD: I haven't watched it. I have to sign up for that this weekend.

FZ: It's a lot of fun. And then more serious, I watch Yellowjackets on Showtime is great. And then, on paid TV, traditional, I'm a housewife's junkie, it's my fix for reality, Salt Lake, just finished. I can't get enough. It makes me feel better about myself sometimes when I watch that.

AD: Totally understand. I don't know that it's Brett's favorite show and I have to admit, I'm not a viewer myself, but I understand where you're coming from.

BH: Well, living in New Jersey, I've met a plenty of real housewives.

FZ: But those are just a few, I have a huge roster, but I'd definitely love to share it next time.

AD: Well, thank you, Fariba, we really appreciate you joining us.

FZ: Thank you. It was a pleasure. Lots of fun.

BH: Absolutely.

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