RESPONSE, BRAND-BUILDING & THE AD BREAK OF THE FUTURE

October 16th, 2012

 

If we ever stop to think about it, one of the most remarkable aspects of the digital revolution is how much people are prepared to sit through advertising, even though most of them now have the technology to edit all broadcast ads out of their lives. When TiVo first became a reality, it was naturally assumed that people would use it primarily as an ad avoidance device, almost obliterating the 30 second spot overnight.

Of course, that never happened, and even today DTRs actually contribute to more viewing to TV commercials at normal speed. Despite DTRs being in more than half of UK households now, commercial impacts have grown by almost 20% across the last five years.

This is the one element of the TV ‘story’ against which I get most bounce-back, even though there is now a torrent of consistent data to prove it is the case. Fundamentally, people are watching more TV ads than ever before despite the array of alternatives they have for avoiding them.

The strength of the broadcast schedule (people still usually look for what’s on now before they consult with their planners or players) and a sense of inertia help. Also, as we heard from the Thinkbox research last week, 2-screening is helping to improve engagement in the advertising, although it is still a minority activity. The big question is; will things stay this way?

I happen to believe that broadcasters – and agencies – will have to work harder in future to keep this audience. Their implicit agreement to remain present and tuned in to the commercial breaks has to be nurtured, because the range of options to find something else to do for that precious few minutes is increasing all the time.

That is why initiatives like Channel 4’s themed breaks and ‘event’ breaks like the Honda sky-dive are to be encouraged. These tend to create a sense of occasion, increase engagement and keep viewers tuned in. We need more of this sort of innovation than ever before, otherwise audiences will begin to drift off.

This could actually snowball quite quickly, because there is another consequence of 2-screening that has already had a huge impact on TV advertising. Online offers a brilliant response channel for TV advertising and the rise in tablets and smartphones are only going to make it more powerful and effective. The danger, from my perspective, is that response starts to take over, the ads become unwatchable (or the calls to action become more irritating) and the audience starts to flick over to that 3 minute YouTube compilation on their connected sets, before you can say “go to www….”.

It’s already started to happen in off-peak. I’ve seen breaks recently that are 100% response- every ad with an entreaty to call this number, visit this website, enter this competition with a simple text NOW! That will teach me to watch Jeremy Kyle.

Since TV became a point-of-sale medium, and its role in influencing online response was finally acknowledged, there has been a transformation in its fortunes. It achieved a record share of the advertising cake over the past two years. Much of the new money has come from the online industry itself, which is now edging towards 10% of total TV spend. It is estimated that two thirds of all TV ads have some form of call to action.

The big question is whether this is going to be instead of brand-building or in conjunction with it. It should be the latter – strong, creative branding has both a short-term impact on response but a much longer-term effect on profitability and price sensitivity. However, in times of recession, there is always a temptation to go for the former.

If it is the latter, and brands do invest in building the brands as well as creating response, TV companies are going to have to find ways of harvesting that response, and at the same time keeping those viewers engaged with the rest of the ad break. They will need to find ever more innovative ways to keep a restless audience entertained. That, I think, is achievable, if the ads themselves do their job.

If, however, TV becomes one big call to action, with all of the creative deficiencies that usually implies, then there may not be an audience around to respond.

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