Archive for the ‘TV Advertising’ Category

THE RIPPLE AND THE DRILL

October 16th, 2012

I’ve learned that if you stick around long enough, fashions will always come back. My 13 year old son is taking a keen interest in my late 1990s wardrobe and record collection, which is a worrying sign in itself. Meanwhile, maybe it’s just coincidence, but I’m starting to see echoes of two phrases that infested the dozens of ‘new media’ business plans I had to wade through in my channel development role during that first dotcom boom; “if we build it, they will come” and “killer apps”.

The former was a line taken from Kevin Costner’s overblown 1990s philosophiser ‘Field of Dreams’ and if the quote appeared in any of the aforesaid business plans, they would go straight into the bin. I was much more interested in those adhering to another 1990s movie catchphrase, “show me the money!” I wonder whether some of the more recent digital disappointments, such as the Facebook share price, contain an element of that late 1990s wish fulfilment.

‘Killer apps’ is a much more interesting proposition. Back then it referred to the stand-out benefits that would drive consumer take-up. I always felt it was a bit conceptual, until real apps came along, and in a sense embodied it. The app is a killer app, or if it isn’t the app doesn’t get downloaded

Although apps are coming(quite slowly) to the main TV screen, I’ve long argued that their main influence will be on the companion screens that are now becoming a significant viewing accessory/distractor (pretty much in equal measure according the latest Thinkbox research (link – get TB approval). They provide an efficient way to access ancillary content and TV viewers are responding accordingly (1.5 million downloads of the BBC Olympics app alone).

Which is where I introduce Deloitte’s TV:Why? Report, (link – get Deloitte approval) which was unveiled at the Edinburgh TV Festival last week. It is, as always, full of well-argued, evidence-based insights into TV’s emerging role in the digital landscape. It analyses issues such as TV’s role in household entertainment, the future for connected TVs and the reasons behind  the resilience of TV advertising. The hot topic of the moment, though, and one the Deloitte report covers well, is the evolution of multi-screening. This is the landscape where the ‘killer apps’ affect (and are affected by) what is viewed via the main TV screen.

The fascinating headline from the report is that multi-screening is more about talking than interacting. Deloitte’s research suggests that most viewers will use companion screens to talk about the TV they are watching, rising to 4 out of every 5 teens and 3 out of every 4 under-24s. It is an extension of what TV viewers have always done; talk about the programmes and ads they are watching.

Meanwhile, there is far less enthusiasm for interacting with programmes. Only 4% of people strongly disagree with the statement “I can’t be bothered to interact with programmes” and only one in eight disagrees at all (compared to two out of three who agree). This has massive implications for how connected TVs are marketed and helps to explain why take-up and connectivity has been so slow.

The primacy of talk over interaction reflects the shared, communal nature of TV viewing, whereas interaction is often a personalised activity. It suggests the main impact of TV advertising is likely to be the ripple of discussion rather than the drilling down into deeper interactive experiences.

This ripple vs. drill analogy interests me, because

 

 

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.

TV LOSES SEX APPEAL

October 16th, 2012

Before their careers took off, both Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn were told they were simply not sexy enough to make it in Hollywood. Being sexy is obviously in the eye of the beholder, which is just as well for TV.

I have just returned home from a media conference where I heard yet again from a senior media strategist with a global advertiser how TV is simply ‘not sexy enough’ as a media channel and is being kicked out of the marital bedroom in favour of those hot young things at Google, Facebook and Apple. In fact, to make it even worse, it is totally TV’s fault for not only letting itself go but also, at the same time, failing to put the effort into the relationship.  “You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t visit me every day with a stunning new creative solution…” . OK, I paraphrased things slightly, but not by much.

This last point grated somewhat; I’ve seen too many recent examples of broadcasters offering increasingly creative solutions to advertisers across Europe and North America to accept that is the case, but it did point to a major disconnect between the ambitions of the advertiser and the attitude and/or resources of the media owner. And it is not an isolated incident – I have seen similar presentations from a range of global advertisers who, between them, account for a huge proportion of media expenditure.

The presentation was subject to a great deal of polite but insistent questioning from the audience, following which I grasped three fundamental  challenges that a frumpy old medium like TV will need to address if it is pass the Marilyn and Audrey test, rather than be perceived to be the Anne Widdecombe/John Sergeant (take your pick) of communications planning.

The first of these is an ability to offer 360 degree solutions, encompassing all aspects of the media owner’s business. Having worked with a couple of the online giants recently, I think there is merit in this. Their sales teams (many of them from a TV background, ironically enough) can offer direct input from a range of disciplines within the group; sales, marketing, creative, editorial, strategic and technological. Compare this, say, to the tortuous processes advertisers need to go through just to get an advertiser-funded programme on air, with the programme production teams often offering a less than joined up approach to the whole process. There has to be a lesson there for the broadcasters. The TV sales people who have ‘gone digital’ certainly appear to relish the opportunities to not only think, but sell outside the box.

The second challenge is even more daunting. When pressed, the advertiser in question agreed that they have directly approached a wide range of media players to discuss potential partnerships, including production companies, Hollywood studios and platform operators. Although there were some TV broadcasters on the list, these were all global brands; highly localised or regionalised players were not being invited to the party. This would naturally exclude brands such as ABC, NBC, ITV, Channel 4, TF1, RTL and ProSiebenSat1 from the invitation list – all major players within their markets and all of whom would be expected to lead the way in offering creative solutions to the advertisers within those markets.

I have no doubt the broadcasters have the resources to rise to this challenge, but it might mean a more open-minded and collaborative approach between the organisations representing TV – whether that be Thinkbox, EGTA or the TV Bureau of Canada. If the individual TV companies cannot get an invite to the party, maybe they should work together to enable the case for TV to be made to the global communications planners and strategists that now sit in head offices across the USA and Europe. If nothing else, it would get them on the guest list and the sheer novelty of seeing the whole TV industry work together in such a way would send out a very powerful signal.

Of course, it would probably never happen!

The third challenge is an even more fundamental one. Throughout the presentation (and the many other similar presentations I have seen given by global comms strategists of major advertisers), I felt the enthusiasm was invested in what the technology could do rather than the creative excellence behind what was being communicated. This meant that some of the examples given involved clever use of technology and a successful performance amongst those reached BUT many of the creative ideas appeared tired and forced, and the reach levels of the campaigns were less than impressive.

We are now two decades into the digital revolution, and yet this ‘TV is not sexy enough’ mindset appears to me to be both retrograde and lazy. It works on an assumption of TV’s role in the digital media landscape which is at least ten years out of date. It assumes the media channel can be separated and placed in a silo. It also demonstrates a discouraging ignorance of what exactly is going on in TV right now, and some of the highly creative solutions it can provide (generally, WITH other media channels rather than as an alternative to them!).

So, my question to the big, global advertisers is this. Has TV really lost its sex appeal, or are you just looking for a younger model? Because we all know how those relationships usually end, don’t we?

CONNECTED, CONVERGED…AND NO LONGER CONFUSED!

October 16th, 2012

Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the EGTA (European Group of Television Advertising) AGM in Paris. For those who don’t know EGTA, they represent commercial broadcasters across Europe (and, increasingly, Asia and Africa).  The UK’s broadcasters are woefully under-represented within EGTA membership, but the remaining 34 countries and 82 broadcasters in the house were treated to two days of thought-provoking and generally uplifting perspectives on TV’s connected future.

As convergence is happening before our very eyes – with screens syncing together in seamless harmony – so we are beginning to see just how TV’s connected future is shaping up. On the final day of EGTA’s AGM, three evangelists for the connected living room showed their wares. Bruno Peirera of The TV App Agency and Tej Rekhi from DG Mediamind provided compelling examples of how content jumps from screen to screen, making the communal personal and the personal communal. Meanwhile, Miles Lewis of Shazam, showed how broadcasters are already using their audio matching technology to promote programmes and advertisers to deepen engagement. And the simplicity of the convergence to the viewer – buy app and point smartphone at TV – is what will make experiences such as these work.

There has been a step change in the creative & digital industries over the last couple of years, with an emphasis moving from trying to replace television towards trying to work with it, by deepening engagement, furthering interactivity and enabling sharing. The key to this has been the second (and now third, fourth, fifth…) screens that have sprung up in living rooms across the land. They allow all of these enhancements to take place without disturbing the communal and immersive experience of ‘watching TV’. That is why the main role of connected TV’s – once they finally get connected – is not to channel the internet into the TV set, but rather to send TV to the internet. Once it’s there, people can do their own thing with it, on their own screen.  I’ve heard it described as red button on steroids, but this is another level to the clunky, limited red button experience.

Of course, with technologies like Shazam, the TV doesn’t even need to be connected.

Not only does this have implications for the effectiveness of individual spots, it can also change the whole nature of the break, as Miles demonstrated through Shazam’s work on this year’s Superbowl. You can see some examples here (http://shazamadvertising.com/view/mail?iID=WHVEPW5QDBWHG2W7NJVH).

It offers some powerful opportunities to broadcasters and advertisers alike, if they embrace the technology, each commercial break could be a mini-Superbowl experience. But I can’t help thinking that the advertising breaks will need to do all they can to keep their audience from Shazaming off somewhere else…at a single wave of their smartphone!

 

Effectiveness Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

March 2nd, 2012

It’s only since I began regularly blogging on media matters that I have also started to ask odd questions whenever I’m confronted with a straightforward headline. I should have been satisfied with the report from the USA’s Association of National Advertisers (ANA), announcing research amongst major advertisers showing a renewed faith in television. To quote Bill Duggan of the ANA; “This survey confirms that the death of television has been greatly exaggerated. Our findings shine a spotlight on the bullish attitude that advertisers have towards the medium, including passion for new TV and video platforms.”
It confirms something I’ve always felt about USA media, ever since I went on a media ‘fact-finding’ trip to New York in 1989 and returned disappointed – in many ways, they have always been a year or so behind us. Such a headline from UK advertisers’ body ISBA would hardly raise a yawn these days, it has become so taken for granted.
But something in the article intrigued me. The report stated that, compared to 2010, the number of advertisers judging TV ads to be more effective tripled. That seems like a massive jump to me in such a short space of time and I double checked to make sure there hadn’t been some game-changing event that had taken place in the USA without my knowledge. Not really.
So, how to explain such a leap in confidence in a medium which has probably been battered and bruised even more in the States than it has here in Limey-land? I’ve come up with three possible answers;

1.   Television really IS getting more effective over there. There is a good case that it is, but the technologies that are cited by the ANA, such as new video platforms and addressable advertising, are nowhere near mainstream enough yet to have made a noticeable difference.

 

2.   American advertisers are finally getting the tools to measure and correctly attribute TV’s contribution to effectiveness. If true, this would persuade me to re-calculate our lead over the USA to two years or more. It’s often surprised me, though, how less well-established 360 degree effectiveness evaluation is Stateside.

 

3.   It’s more of an emotional thing – they just feel more confident about praising TV. I think we sometimes forget just how ingrained the ‘TV is dead’ narrative became following the emergence of Web 2.0 until just a couple of years ago. I believe the UK industry only really began to reject it as too simplistic around 2009, which would mean (if my time-lag theory is correct) the tables would begin to turn in the US in 2010 – the low base year from which TV’s perceived effectiveness has tripled.

 

Of course, as always, it is probably a combination of all three, but if I had to select one of those alternatives as my main influence, it would have to be third. On the one hand, so much of what we do is based on emotion and ‘herd’ behaviour, why not advertisers’ sense of excitement (or ennui) in TV’s place in the media landscape? But it must also be based on an increased understanding of how effectiveness works and how to attribute TV’s contribution, especially given the sterling work recently from the IPA, ARF, PWC, Deloittes and Thinkbox. So, maybe it is the second answer as well. That seems more like it – left brain and right brain working together.
Either way, come on USA – catch up! (And how often do we get to say that?)

Attention – this is not engagement!

February 2nd, 2012

‘Engagement’ is still one of the most overused words in media. It is a slippery snake of a concept, still without a consensus definition and ‘measured’ in a menagerie of random (and often conflicting) ways. Each medium has a different interpretation of it and those interpretations don’t travel well. We have no accepted view of how it contributes to the bottom line. We know very little about it. But we know one thing; it is not attention. We don’t ‘think about’ engagement. So why does it keep getting pushed that way?

Siegmund Freud studied neuroscience, but became frustrated by the limited explanation the physical brain could provide for the complexities of the human experience. When he proposed, more than a century ago, that “‘most of our mental life operates unconsciously and that consciousness is merely a property of one part of the mind” he was vilified by the scientific community. Yet those two hypotheses, that most of our mental functioning happens at an unconscious level and our conscious brain is relatively unimportant in the wider scheme of things, are readily (and provably) accepted by that same community today.

What hasn’t changed is the constant pressure by some within the marketing industry to keep the focus on the conscious brain. It is easy to measure, even easier to predict and understand. It’s the part of the brain we can most easily influence. Unfortunately, in most consumer decisions, including the most important they will ever make, it has very little influence itself.

So what has this got to do with engagement?

Well, over the past decade, ever since the term ‘engagement’ became one of the media industry’s mots du jour, everybody’s been pushing it towards our conscious brain. Part of the problem is the lack of a cohesive definition of what the hell it means. The Advertising Research Foundation committed huge resource to coming up with the definition we all use nowadays: Engagement is turning on a prospect to a brand idea, enhanced by the surrounding context”

The ARF definition is descriptive but hardly insightful. It tells us that engagement has three component parts – the consumer (the prospect), the content (brand idea) and the context. But it doesn’t tell us how it works.  In fact, the best definition of engagement I have ever heard has come from the neuroscientists. They define engagement as “a sense of immersion in an experience, generated by feelings of personal relevance”.

In most neuromarketing studies, including the one I commissioned at Thinkbox last year, engagement is strongly correlated with our long-term memory encoding (LTME), which is where most of our purchasing ‘heuristics’ (emotional short-cuts) are formed.  It is interesting that attention levels have no relationship with LTME at all. More relevant to this debate is this; attention and engagement have no direct relationship with each other! It is the cognitive/explicit and the emotional/implicit brains working independently of each other. As usual, we’ve put all of our focus on the part of the brain with which we are most comfortable. So, we have engagement metrics such as click-through rates, dwell time, recall, purchase intent, buzz metrics, website visits and brand preference used with abandon, all focussed on the cognitive side of our brains.

This was brought home to me when I attended the annual Media Research Group Conference a couple of weeks ago. There was a thought-provoking paper from Becky McQuade of Sky and Anne Mollen from the Cranfield School of Management attempting to define online engagement. Anne defined engagement as “a cognitive and affective commitment to an active relationship” which requires three elements

  • Utility/relevance
  • Pleasure/enjoyment
  • Dynamic and sustained cognitive process

 

My first instinct was to bristle; again, so much emphasis on the cognitive. But then, I thought, this is about online engagement, and when people are in that attentive state of mind, maybe the definition works. But, if it does, it is as a consequence of engagement, rather than as a measure of it.

Online activity is all about attention. It is task-oriented, focussed and goal-seeking. That is one of the main reasons why most forms of online display struggle to generate impact; they are too easy to ‘edit out’ (which is advertising embedded in video entertainment appears to work best of all). It is the predominant mindset, so that even the same content viewed online will be processed with far more attention and far less engagement that if it was viewed on TV.

However, attention and engagement may not be (cor)related, but they are no strangers. I have seen tons of evidence to suggest that, once the engagement has been achieved, it can more easily lead to attention and, ultimately, action. Consumers purchasing cars, furniture, computers, TV sets, games consoles and digital cameras (to name but a few) will all talk about how the TV ad created a sense of engagement and relevance with the brand, that was then nudged forward and harvested via online attention-based actions.

There used to be a significant time gap between creating the engagement and harvesting the attention, but as all media platforms become more interactive (directly or via second screens) that gap is shortening. We saw some great examples at Thinkbox of people going from initial awareness of a product to purchase during the course of a single commercial break. That means they go from engagement to attention to action in a matter of seconds.

The thing is, we still need to understand this process better, and how we can best plan for it. It alters the whole concept of ‘campaign periods’, ‘effective frequency’, ‘point of sale’ and ‘brand-building vs. response’ to name but a few. It means we have to fully understand what we really mean by the term ‘engagement’, rather than just throwing it around as one of those ‘boardroom bingo’ phrases. Most importantly of all, it means getting the measurement right, rather than use proxy metrics that are really measuring something else entirely. We may prefer to measure attention, but unless we understand what has generated it, it will continue to slip from our grasp.

 

From Atoms to Bits…and Back Again?

February 2nd, 2012

I’ve been re-reading Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘Being Digital’ for a book I’m writing and in many ways it is amazingly prescient about the future digital landscape but, almost twenty years on, it is also clear that the thinking behind it is often way too binary.

One of the most memorable of Negroponte’s predictions was the impending transition from an atom-based economy to one of bits; from material to digital content. To quote; “the change from atoms to bits is irrevocable and unstoppable”. So, no lack of certainty there, then!

Since digital technology really began to fundamentally influence the way we live, I’ve been constantly wondering about that statement. Of course, for much media content, bits are a far more efficient way of delivering, storing, sharing and experiencing. The bit-based digital economy has profoundly affected every media channel and many other areas of our lives, such as communication, information, consumption, education…even democracy.

Binary thinking assumes it is either one thing or another, there can only be one winner. I don’t believe that the shift from atoms to bits is quite so simplistic or predictable!

I have always felt that, the more ubiquitous digital becomes, the more we will value the things it was supposed to replace. For example, as soon as recorded music became commoditised through digital technology, we saw a massive increase in the value of live concerts, merchandising and other elements of the music experience.  (It’s worth remembering, by the way, that recorded music was initially used as a promotional tool to sell sheet music; it’s never been the be all and end all of the music industry).

Live concerts in particular have seen a huge increase in attendances and revenues since the music itself became so easy to access for free. Rather than consumers thinking to themselves ‘oh, that’s a bit of money saved for a rainy day’, they appear to use it to spend money on entertainment in different ways. Although music was one of the first industries to face the massive disruption of digital technology, it has not been a one-way transfer of power. Nor has it been the death of the music industry as is commonly assumed. So, last year saw a 5% fall in total music revenues (lack of major tours were a key part of that) but total music spend is still up on what it was before the financial crisis kicked in. If we add in music publishing – for example, music rights for advertising – then the picture is even rosier.

One area of the music market that I am particularly delighted about (because of my age and my part-time DJ activities) has been the growth in sales of vinyl records. This must have been exactly what Negroponte had in mind when he saw the shift from atoms to bits, and yet sales of vinyl grew by 39% last year and are well up on even their pre-CD years. As a music fan, I totally understand how, as music becomes more commoditised, we want to ‘own’ music in a material form and hear music in the warmer, richer, analogue format that vinyl provides.

 Television is another area which was assumed to be part of this inexorable shift. Of course, TV in the UK is now almost totally digital (and who believed that would be the case when the government announced the 2012 analogue switch-off date?) and yet people spend more money on it than ever before. They spend huge sums on the hardware (made out of atoms, as far as I can tell!) and on accessing the content. Yes, a great deal of that is via online – although not as much as most of the digerati were predicting even a couple of years ago – but the real success story is in our desire to ‘own’ the DVD!

Who would have thought that revenues for  DVD boxed sets of television programmes –  content that is freely available and easily accessible – would be looking so strong twenty years after digital became a reality? I know physical DVD sales are declining (although the British Video Association claims they were up 6% this pre-Christmas, compared to 2010) as people stream or download digital content (often illegally), but sales of TV boxed sets are actually rising! People are still prepared to pay significant sums of money to ‘own’ content that they could access for free via the TV schedules and catch-up services. And yet sales of DVD boxed sets of TV series are taking an increasing share of market, according to data from the International Video Foundation; indeed Screen Digest calculated that TV boxed sets almost tripled their share of the physical DVD market between 2005 and 2008, from 5% to 13% and the recent release of the Downton Abbey boxed set broke all records on Amazon.

I’m not saying that there won’t be a further shift towards digital content, nor that the shift won’t cause downward pressure on revenues, but physical product is still a very important part of the entertainment scene and that alone is a cause for comment so far into the digital age. The fact is, some people prefer physical product for emotional and rational reasons. It brings out the collector in us all, it makes great gifts, it often provides a better user experience and the entertainment producers are finding many innovative ways to increase its attractiveness, through packaging and enhanced or additional  content.

Like so many predictions of death and destruction, the suggestion that physical entertainment products have a limited life span is beginning to look both naive and premature. 

Is TV Viewing Beginning to Plateau?

January 13th, 2012

MEDIATEL
BLOG

IS
TV VIEWING BEGINING TO PLATEAU?

One of the most notable media phenomena of the twenty
first century so far has been the inexorable rise of television viewing.
Despite all of the disruptions that TV was expected to suffer – as a result of DTRs,
search, online viewing, social media, wireless broadband, smartphones,
connected TVs and the rest – the net result has been a consistent rise in
viewing to TV (and, especially, TV commercials), both via the TV screen and via
other devices.

Average hours of viewing to TV, as measured by BARB
(therefore excluding viewing on other devices) have increased every year so far
this century. The average individual now watches more than four hours of TV
every day and total TV viewing has increased by ten per cent on levels a decade
ago. Commercial viewing has risen even further and the amount of viewing to TV
commercials, at normal speed, has
risen by almost a quarter in the last five years alone.

Just how long can this continue? The latest data suggests
TV viewing may be close to reaching a plateau and the new forms of viewing –
such as via internet or mobile phones – are also experiencing a slowdown in
their rate of adoption.

In the first nine months of this year, total TV viewing
levels are up less than one per cent on last year, suggesting 2011 could show
the flattest year on year viewing performance since the 1990s. Commercial
viewing is up five per cent, although this has largely been driven by digital
switchover, which is almost complete. Although even the current figures are
well ahead of any of the predictions from ten years ago, all the signs are that
TV viewing has reached saturation point, or is not far from it.

Even the new forms of viewing, which have risen exponentially in line with total viewing, are
beginning to see some slowdown. The latest BARB Bulletin shows claimed viewing
via internet and via mobile phones. The numbers of people engaging with both is
increasing, but the underlying numbers look less impressive than we might have
expected.

Let’s take viewing to TV via the internet. In total, 36.2% of the UK population have watched some TV this way during November 2011,
up from 34.4% at the same time last year – an increase of five per cent. Mobile
phone access to TV content has been tried by 7% of individuals in November this
year, up by two fifths on the 5% last year.

So, theoretically, these new forms of viewing should keep
TV viewing levels on the rise, even as BARB-reported viewing begins to level
off or even decline. However, if we look beyond the headline numbers, internet
and mobile TV viewing levels are less impressive than they first appear. That
is because the numbers of regular users are not neccessarily rising in
proportion.

Normally, when a new technology is adopted, the increase
in total penetration is soon overtaken by the increases in the numbers of loyal
or regular users, as the activity takes hold. In the case of TV viewing by
internet, the increase in weekly and monthly users is rising no faster than
total penetration. T   mhe number of
weekly users has only risen by three per cent across the year. For TV viewing
by mobile phone, the number of regular users is outstripping total users – just
– but given smartphone penetration is well over fifty per cent by now, total
user penetration of just 7% (and less than 3% using weekly) is not terribly
impressive.

Given that digital switchover is almost complete, pay TV
is almost at saturation point and most of the new technologies that have
affected TV viewing are already well-established by now, perhaps it shouldn’t
be a surprise that TV viewing is also reaching saturation levels. There are
only so many hours in the day for us to engage in any media activity, and TV’s
ability to eat up an average four hours per day of our time has been
astonishing.  Still, all good things come
to an end and in the current age of austerity, maybe a plateau is not such a
bad thing anyway!

Hitting the right frequency

November 18th, 2011

 

I always enjoy reading Greg Grimmer’s blogs and last week’s was no exception. His memories of trading (intellectual) blows with Phil Georgiadis at Media 360 a few years ago – about the future of online advertising – felt both nostalgic and curiously contemporary at the same time. There was one paragraph, though, that got me thinking about the whole topic of reach and frequency and its relevance in today’s communications landscape.

Greg’s article talked about the relationship between online and offline planning processes, arguing that; “…whilst decades of offline research has produced the general wisdom that traditional effective frequency is always “between 2 and 3″ maybe…we haven’t known the effective frequency of online display until more recently and – guess what – it might be higher for a banner than for a 60 second TV spot or a colour DPS”.

My first thought was that it is quite remarkable that, in the second decade of the twenty first century, we have kind of assumed at an industry level that effective frequency levels should be the same for different media channels. I think this has been an ongoing weakness of the media trading process and one that has never truly been tackled. Why wouldn’t the frequency for online display be different than for a TV spot or newspaper ad? Surely they achieve different things in very different environments; to assume reaching somebody through one channel is, in reach and frequency terms at least, the equivalent of reaching them through another is counter-intuitive to me, even if both channels were being used for exactly the same purpose. Of course, in today’s integration-focused media landscape, that is generally no longer the case. Even if they were more or less equivalent, I’m intrigued by the whole concept of ‘effective frequency’ and whether it still applies, given the recent insights into how advertising really does work.

When I started in media (in the days when Spandau Ballet topped the charts and desktop PCs were still a rarity), the common wisdom was that effective frequency was four plus. A few years later, Erwin Ephron came up with his 1+ theory of frequency, which stated that the consumer only needed to see a spot once, but it needed to be close to purchase. More recently we have settled for somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, usually between two and three exposures.

But where does ‘effective frequency’ come from? Effective at achieving what? This is the point where I put on my Cynic hat and say ‘aren’t we missing something here?’

Most of the studies to which Greg refers are focussed on awareness measures; can you recall the ad? What did it communicate to you? Can you remember the brand being advertised? Generally, such studies will find a correlation between the number of times somebody is estimated to have seen the ad (an imperfect measure in any study I have seen of this nature) and how well they remember it. However, it won’t be a simple relationship; some people who see an ad once can remember it in fine detail, whereas others could see it ten times and it would still pass them by. So, ‘effective frequency’ is only the range of exposures that produce a rough estimate of the optimum amount of recall per exposure. Higher frequency would still produce higher recall generally, just not necessarily at the same rate.

So, already the certainty of ‘effective frequency’ proves to actually be quite vague and based on a fairly weak relationship between claimed viewing or exposure and recall levels. Not only that, it is also based on a false premise.

Recall, recognition, awareness or attribution levels do not sell product; indeed, in the IPA ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ study (and its follow ups), they are proven to have a very weak relationship with bottom line performance (unlike more emotional metrics, such as simply liking the ad in question). In fact, the very types of campaign that ‘effective frequency’ refers to (i.e. those that have a clear message that needs to be communicated and recalled) are becoming increasingly uncommon as more campaigns aim for the emotional and fame-inducing outcomes that we know drive sales, share and profitability far more effectively.

Qualitatively, I have seen many examples of ad campaigns where respondents appear quite happy to watch and enjoy their favourite ads time and time again; the John Lewis Christmas ads, Yeo Valley’s rapping farmers and the Comparethemarket.com’s Meerkat series are good recent examples of this. We can all think of ads that we would be happy to keep seeing, even classics like Honda ‘Cog’, Sony ‘Balls’ and Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’. It is clear that there is no single magic number beyond which the message has landed and the job is done. Every additional exposure to an ad strengthens the positive associations with the brand as those neurons continue to fire together, in order to to wire together. These can last a lifetime and relate far more closely to business performance and incremental profit than the message cut-through approach that underpins much of the thinking behind the concept of ‘effective frequency’.

At the same time, at least as far as TV is concerned, there is a move towards more response-led advertising, as response via online becomes much easier and more effective. In this situation, effective frequency is whatever it takes to generate the sale. This may take us to the opposite extreme to brand building ads, as in many cases, if the product is right, the response can be immediate. As Greg knows, from his own work into response advertising, the effective frequency in this case will depend on the product, the audience, the response channel, time of day, day of week and even position in break; the idea that there will be a single frequency level that will accommodate the range of response variables is wishful thinking at best.

So, we have a move to two extremes – brand building and response – which both require a totally different approach to frequency planning. At the same time, we have a decreasing number of brands occupying the middle ground where the concept of effective frequency just might hold some sort of relevance. Meanwhile, we are on the brink of technological developments such as addressability, which I believe will be best used as a frequency optimiser than as an audience segmentation exercise.

Either way, maybe it is now time to question what we mean by effective frequency and how we can make it relevant to today’s market.

 

Online research: the crack cocaine of media evaluation

September 12th, 2011

 A Thinkbox blog by David Brennan for Brand Republic

September 29 2010

 

The low cost, fast turnaround and ease of doing online research has turned it into the crack cocaine of media evaluation; we know it’s bad for us but it is also addictive and gives us an instant high.

So a big thumbs up and round of applause should go to the IAB in the USA. They have just released an independent review of the methods used to measure online advertising’s effectiveness via the internet.

This was a very brave move indeed by the IAB, given that these ‘surveys’ consistently claim that online advertising spend is significantly more effective than spend on established media. The IAB across the Atlantic took aim at many of its members’ own feet.

I doubt there was the sound of champagne corks hitting the ceiling when the results came in. Conducted by one of the leading research specialists in the USA, the review concluded that much of online effectiveness research is seriously undermined by extremely low response rates, problems of survey design and a lack of evidence that it is weighting the data to account for inherent biases in the system.

Most of these surveys work on an ‘intercept’ approach, which means that respondents are invited to take part in a survey via web pages which are serving the online ads of the brands being evaluated. It is a bit like asking people sitting in Burger King and eating Whoppers if they prefer Burger King and Whoppers to McDonalds and Big Macs.

Talking of whoppers, I am regularly shocked by how many people in our industry take these studies’ findings seriously. I was at the MRG Conference in London when one such online study was presented. It demonstrated that expenditure on a series of banner ads had been around twice as effective as spend on TV. In a moment of frustration, I asked the media agency presenting the research the following question:

“If, twenty years ago, I had presented research selling the effectiveness of newspaper advertising by saying we had recruited a sample of readers of a newspaper, they had responded to an invitation to take part in a survey that was on the same page as the ad being evaluated, and they had completed the survey in their newspaper before sending it off by post, and the research then concluded that newspaper advertising was by far the most effective for that brand, would I have been taken seriously?”

I never got a satisfactory answer.

Research into advertising effectiveness needs to be scrupulously fair. It needs to be unbiased and comprehensive. We cannot restrict our questions to online panels, as they only represent the 70-odd per cent of the population that are regularly online and also skew towards heavier online users. We cannot recruit them via the pages on which the advertising to be evaluated sits, as that introduces yet another level of bias. And we shouldn’t even be asking them to complete the survey online, as the context of the questions will add another bias towards online.

In short, and in line with the results of the IAB’s investigation, there are far too many biases to make the research even remotely viable. It is flawed before it starts – and that is before we factor in additional failings such as the short-term nature of the research (some media channels, most notably television, carry on delivering value many months after the campaign ends), or the fact that a single exposure to the online creative is given as much of a weighting as multiple exposures to other media channels.

This is an issue that Ipsos has already raised in the UK.  Studies that have previously always demanded intellectual rigour and methodological discipline have been dumbed-down, seduced by the instant ‘hit’ of data showing the results that were wanted in the first place. In the area of advertising effectiveness, which should surely be the most rigorous and scientific of all advertising research activities, we have developed an approach that offers plenty of data but very little insight, and that is fundamentally wrong.

But it is crack cocaine, so it is hard to wean people off it. So, well done the State-side IAB for tackling this issue – as it puts much of the data of its supporters under the spotlight – and for offering rehab.  Media research relies on mutual trust between the commissioner of that research and its audience, and it is only by taking a leadership role, as the IAB has done in the States, that we can ensure the many positive advantages of online research are not misused and that we have a set of insights we can trust and use.