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February 1, 2018

A Realistic Look at How Advertisers Evaluate Media

A Media Matters special preview of Intermedia Dimensions 2018


The fact is that all forms of advertising have impact, whether it be a 30-second TV commercial in a primetime broadcast network drama series or an ad printed on the inside cover of a matchbook. Yet when big time agency creatives, working on a packaged goods account, are asked if ads in magazines or radio might be considered in addition to the client’s mandated medium of television, they often reply that such ads would be “ineffective” for the campaign. This is an arbitrary and often false assessment. What the creatives are really saying is that the client insists on using TV as its basic communications platform; or that neither the client nor the creatives have any experience with print or radio, or evidence that either can work as effectively as TV. Perhaps privately, the creatives know that having a successful TV campaign will advance their careers, which is unlikely to be the case with a successful print or radio campaign, even if their effects could be measured. So, TV it is; everything else is out, or treated in a secondary or supporting role, mimicking the TV campaign and handled by subordinates in the agency’s creative department.

Such attitudes are not surprising when one considers that most advertisers operate in well-established product categories where all the competing brands utilize a favorite medium—usually TV—not only because they believe in it, but also because they have seen positive sales results in prior ad campaigns.  In addition, an important part of their promotional plans is marketing their campaigns to their distribution partners—e.g. store chains, bottlers, car dealers, franchisees—as using “the best” medium (TV). If one brand wanted to drop most of its national TV buys in favor of a major magazine or radio effort, this “radical” departure would have to be justified, first to extremely dubious management, which, without evidence of the wisdom of such a plan, would probably kill it on the spot. But even if that hurdle were miraculously passed, “the trade,” which is composed of a very hidebound and skeptical group of people, would have to be sold on the idea. This would be an extremely difficult task, especially when rival brands are touting their high visibility network TV buys for the upcoming season.

The reason most large TV advertisers accept television as their most effective promotional vehicle and their management groups do not allow individual brands in their stable to stray from TV dates back to the 1960s, when most advertisers pre-tested the ad recall and motivating power of their television campaigns before using the commercials on TV. Those that failed these tests were dropped and new executions were developed until a satisfactory result was obtained. Following the use of a commercial—or pool of commercials—during a campaign, ad awareness, message registration and other metrics are evaluated, along with the most critical outcome: sales response. Accordingly, over the course of many years, most advertisers acquired a huge backlog of case histories to guide them in developing new TV campaigns. Even though some of the impact testing methodologies have been in use for 30-40 years, their findings, when correlated with sales data, provide a reasonably accurate predictor of future success or failure with a surprising degree of precision. As a result, the advertiser is confident that it knows how to use TV effectively, and has numerous datasets to support this assumption. In the case of print and radio, few advertisers pretest their ads, and there is no backlog of ad impact research correlated with sales results. So even if they wanted to place their major promotional bets on print or radio ads instead of TV, they would be operating in the dark, since they have no proof of what works in these media.

When digital media arrived on the scene, many branding advertisers, especially those who were wedded to TV, either ignored it, conducted small scale tests, or only used it as a complement to or replacement for their direct mail and related sales and promotional activities. Such advertisers preferred the sight/sound/motion presentations that only TV offered, so the vast bulk of their primary branding remained on television. Gradually, this began to change as concerns arose about TV’s ability to deliver short term reach, due to the much ballyhooed flight of viewers to digital, as well as heightened commercial zapping rates, rating fragmentation, etc. Perhaps stimulated by the extended financial recession that began in 2008, advertisers began to spend more of their branding dollars on digital platforms, particularly those offering video content that could support TV-style ads that could be lifted as-is from television and placed in pre- or mid-roll positions in digital video presentations.

Now, major digital entities such as YouTube and Amazon are ramping up their plans to create original programming that can accommodate TV branding campaigns, while offering superior audience targeting and, for what it is worth, interactive capabilities. Although this has stimulated interest, digital media has been found to have many problems (which have been noted elsewhere in this edition), and the flight of TV viewers has proven to be vastly overstated.

Outsiders frequently think that the best way to evaluate media is to use “data” to define a campaign’s target and go with the platform that features the highest concentration of targeted consumers in its audience. It’s not as simple as that. Most branding advertisers already know pretty well which demos, product user groups and consumer mindsets they are targeting with their product or brand positioning strategies and commercial executions. However, in the case of digital video metrics, they don’t know how to define “opportunity to see,” let alone what the result of an “exposure” might mean in relation to its linear TV counterpart. This issue is just starting to be addressed, almost two decades after digital media became an option for advertisers. Obviously, it’s much needed and much overdue.

Intermedia Dimensions 2018 will be released this February. It is currently available for pre-order—save $200 off the cover price when you order by February 15th. Visit our website for complete details, including a complete editorial outline, updates to this year’s edition, and an exciting new research service upgrade.



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