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May 1, 2021

Media Planning: It’s Time for a Review

Once again, we have been reading about “antiquated” media planning, switching to more relevant currencies, the battle between legacy and digital media, and so on. Based on what we’ve seen, it looks like a perfect time to review and remind people what certain terms and concepts really mean.

First, there seems to be a complete mental block about GRPs and "impressions," which actually are the same thing; one is expressed as a percentage of a universe base, while the other is in whole number projections. While direct marketers may evaluate their buys based on "impressions" (the number of people who supposedly "saw" their commercials times the frequency of this happening), branding advertisers do not sell direct, nor are they operating on a pay-per-click basis. Instead, they are trying to reach consumers with commercials that will hopefully motivate some users of rival brands to defect to them and, more importantly, to reinforce the positive convictions that their current users have of their brands. Accordingly, they express their reach and frequency goals as a 65% reach and an average frequency of 3.5 for a given month. Which means 228 GRPs. It's simple, folks and it's not going to change.

As for targeting, just because national upfront time buyers get audience tonnage guarantees from the sellers using mostly meaningless "demos" such as women aged 25-54 or adults aged 18-49, this must not be confused with how branding advertisers actually target consumers. The typical national TV branding advertiser is doing a lot more that saying, "Hi folks, I'm a swell brand." In many cases, individual brands are trying to position themselves as offering certain benefits that rival brands may not provide, like better packaging, a lower price, product quality, convenience, safety, reliability, health benefits, etc. and these claims speak to the mindsets of certain segments of the broad product user base, not everyone. While there are some correlations with sex, age and income, the overly broad age/sex "demos" used by the buyers and sellers of TV time in their machinations simply do not tell the full story that mindsets do. Until digital media people get a handle on such distinctions they are just blowing in the wind thinking that using "impressions" instead of GRPs in TV/video time buying is a major improvement in advertising. It isn't.

Incidentally, expressing digital impressions as GRPs is simple—basically Media 101—just divide the impressions by whatever population they are based on and you have GRPs. Any media department trainee can do it.

But all is not lost in this debate. With Nielsen finally ramping up to measure streaming, OTT, CTV, etc., we expect to see the conversion going the other way, to average commercial minute GRPs for the "non-linear" ad time sellers. This will be a good thing as, finally, both sides will have a common metric.

Ad Length Impact Study: It’s All About the Platform

A recent report from Magna/IPG Media Lab, “Does Every Second Count? Planning Ad Lengths Across Platforms,” revisited the topic of how ad length impacts ad effectiveness, with a particular focus on how this varies by platform. Over 7,000 panelists were recruited to explore how they reacted to 6- and 15-second ads on Snapchat, a video aggregator, and a full episode player on both mobile and desktop/laptops.

While a prior study (2015) conducted by Magna/IPG Media Lab found that :15s and :30s outperformed shorter ads (:05s) overall, this report found that 6-second ads have begun to close the gap when it comes to key ad impact factors, with 6-second ads performing within one percentage point of :15s in search intent lift and brand preference lift and exceeding :15s in purchase intent lift.

The key takeaway, however, is how platforms affect ad impact: shorter ads perform better on platforms featuring shorter videos, while :15s performed better when appearing on the full episode player.


This is not just a function of matching up lengths, but also knowing the tendency of users to skip ads. As the report discussed, users are less likely to skip :15s on Snapchat, hence the higher awareness lift, while on a video aggregator, where skipping of :15s is common, :06s outperformed them by a decent margin.

While none of these findings are earth-shattering, we welcome such research, as it is part of a growing body of knowledge about the unique performance of advertising on digital platforms. TV has had 70 years to build itself into a medium that advertisers feel that they understand and know how to use effectively. Digital must endeavor to do the same.


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