Posts Tagged ‘online’


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.


October 16th, 2012

I read the recent coverage of Google founder Sergey Brin’s plea for internet freedom with great interest – there must be seismic shifts happening to persuade the enigmatic Googlista to take such a public stand.  It covers everything from anti-piracy measures to creating an open (yet simultaneously private) channel through which democracy may flourish. Oh, and don’t forget the need for everything to be searchable. Overall, it confirmed a long-held view of mine, that there are digital and analogue businesses, and Google’s is fundamentally digital.

I explore this whole analogue-digital divide in my new book (shameless plug[1]), from the perspective of television’s resilience to a deluge of ‘disruptive’ digital technologies that have become mainstream within the past 5 years, focussing on the analogue strengths of TV such as storytelling, engagement, sharing and trust, but I think the paradigm applies to media in general. There are digital companies – Google, Microsoft, Facebook – and there are analogue ones, which rely on digital technology but are analogue in nature, within which I’d include Apple, BSkyB and Amazon.

I’m interested in this analogue-digital paradigm, not from a technological perspective but from a communications one. The celebrated communications theorist, Paul Watzlawick, as far back as the 1960s identified digital communication as the words themselves, syntax and semantics. Analogue communication was based on what he termed meta-communication, the complex and multi-layered meanings we take from the briefest nod of the head or change in vocal pitch. (Incidentally, this is why audio-visual is such a powerful communications tool).

Analogue – based on the principle of the whole being much greater than the sum of the parts – provides the richness, depth, emotion, complexity and narrative of communications. It creates a much more holistic perspective, and I believe it extends to the mindset of media and technology companies. The divide between the two mindsets was perfectly illustrated in Eric Schmidt’s recent admission during his McTaggart lecture that Google could never be a content creator because it is too focussed on engineering. It is digital to its very core.

It’s interesting how all of this applies to the equivalent technologies. Digital is binary, efficient, data-driven, and technology-led, whereas analogue is holistic, creative, insight-driven and consumer-led. It’s true that digital provides a fantastic distribution and promotional vehicle for analogue-driven experiences, but the analogue mindset creates the value in the content. Storytelling, for example, a fundamental building block in human learning and behaviour, is analogue by its very nature. In my book, I talk about digital leading to replacement theory mindset, where new and more efficient technologies simply replace what has gone before. Analogue thinking, in my view, is based more on eco-system theory; with new technologies enhancing the existing landscape and the whole becoming greater than the sum of the parts (e.g. more viewing, greater engagement or deeper interactivity). That is why I dislike the term ‘disruption’ so much – after all, consumers are fundamentally opposed to disruption on principle.

But digital is more efficient, seen as a superior technology and therefore analogue is perceived as fundamentally inferior. I want to stand up for analogue because I think it’s had a bad rep. Until digital companies recognise its importance, they will struggle to realise the web’s true value (a couple of examples could be the failures of semantic search and Google TV). I’ll illustrate this with two rhetorical questions;

  1. How many insight people are employed by the digital brand leaders compared to the big media companies? Or other major ‘analogue’ companies, for that matter? Because, take my word for it, data in itself does not create insight and can often lead down some very rocky paths.
  2. How has the value of what the digital-based companies provide improved in the past 5 years? Is search significantly better? Social networking more fun? Hotmail less frustrating? The customer experience more engaging?

Now consider the analogue-mindset companies. Has the value of the Apple experience improved? Does Amazon manage your customer servicing better? Is the Sky pay TV offering improved on that of 5 years ago?

It could be argued that, to the average consumer, the former are faceless providers of utility services while the latter provide a human element across the brand experience, from design to marketing to customer servicing. That’s why I’d always back analogue businesses to win out in the long term; because the world may be turning digital but people are fundamentally analogue in nature.

Think about this from the perspective of your ‘digital footprint’! How much of the whole person, the real you, does your digital trail really represent? It provides lots of data, which can be mined in increasingly efficient ways, but I don’t think it even scratches the surface of what makes people so complex, so unpredictable, so…analogue.

But I digress. The Google entreaty for digital freedom contained three component parts. It lamented the increasing state censorship and surveillance, rights management from content owners restricting open access and the explosion of apps limiting what is available via open search (apparently Google’s web crawlers cannot pick up in-app activity).

Taking them one by one, I have always been cynical about the digerati’s ambitions for a completely free, democratic and open (yet somehow private) worldwide web. I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but I have always doubted that governments like China’s would simply hold their hands up and accept the new democratic transparency.  Google’s tortuous relationship with the Chinese government has demonstrated the scale of the problem. I also think there are splits within the digital industry itself in terms of where the line between openness and privacy should be drawn (as demonstrated by Facebook’s recent statement that online users should adhere to a single, accessible, identifiable online identity). Another example; Google’s pronouncements this week that parents should take more responsibility for filtering online porn show an alarmingly out-of-touch relationship with its user base (but, then again, 57% of online video viewing is to pornography, so there is a lot to lose).

The opposition to rights management has been expressed for many years, but I still remain to be convinced by the arguments. I remember a late night debate with a very good friend of mine, where he argued that unemployed people should have the right to shoplift without any criminal sanction, on the basis they needed the support and retailers were profitable enough as it is. I didn’t agree with that, and I don’t agree that content owners should simply give up on the commercial rights to their content, just because the internet makes it readily available.

And then we come to the explosion in apps and the difficulties that poses for open search. Again, I am not convinced by Google’s argument that apps are a fundamentally bad thing; not to their users, they’re not! Although it may reduce the efficiency of open search, why would those who have already downloaded an app care? They have got what they want out of the deal, and the explosion in app-based access to the internet indicates it fulfils some basic human needs, meaning this is likely to become a bigger problem to Google in future. In fact, the success of apps suggests to me that Google’s “what do you want?” approach to online access is becoming increasingly anachronistic in a choice-saturated world. As Barry Schwarz – author of ‘The Paradox of Choice’ – stated, “choice is cherished, but choosing is a chore”.

I think we need to keep this analogue-digital paradigm in mind when we explore  issues such as Google’s ode to digital freedom, and we should understand how analogue characteristics create layers of depth, engagement and involvement which cannot be replicated via a purely digital mindset. Whether it is within the context of technology, communication or the business mindset, analogue is important and until companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook understand that fact, we will hear many more such complaints from Mr. Brin and his peers!

‘CONNECTED TV – How TV’s Analogue Strengths Have Created a Digital Supermedium’ – email me at david@medianative for more information

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.