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TV is dead, long live TV

17.02.2017 - by Sean Philip


In the last quarter of 2016, Les Binet and Peter Field published initial findings into an analysis of what makes advertising campaigns effective. The pair mined through the IAB’s database of case studies and were able to draw significant insights into today’s media landscape.

It’s a fascinating study and I’d really recommend you find the time to watch the presentation, which is still available here.

Binet and Field unearth a sea of revelations, including that short term ROI often does not equate to long term profit growth (quite the opposite), and that short-termism is undermining many brands’ and agencies’ ability to grow. One of the other major revelations is that the most successful marketing mediums of the last 10 years are not those that are designed to drive repeat custom, like many digital executions often do, but those that increase penetration – such as that ancient behemoth, TV.

TV set

This challenges the idea that the digital revolution has made marketing more personal, and that carefully targeted marketing is necessarily the most effective. This quote that Binet and Field reference, from an unnamed marketing manager, sums up the prevailing position on marketing in the digital age:

“Brands need to move away from mass marketing to having more direct, personal relationships with their buyers.”

The assumption is that, with the introduction of more sophisticated technology, we can (and should) now use digital channels to achieve an almost 1:1 dialogue with our consumers. Many agencies and marketers support this view; and Google’s recent product history seems to shun a ‘one size fits all’ approach in favour of a more personalised, contextual marketing experience for the end consumer – from cookie based retargeting through to email customer match. By this thinking, old-school mediums that don’t allow that level of granularity – like TV – are dead.

The implication is that we are now living in a post-mass marketing world. But according to Binet and Field, this is simply not the case.

Reports of the death of TV have been greatly exaggerated. Year on year trends paint a picture of television in good health. Consumers are still spending nearly 30% of their waking life – that’s 33 hours a week – watching TV. Compared to 1.8% of their time (a mere 2 hours a week) watching video on a PC or smartphone. It’s clear TV is in no danger of serious decline:

Graph 2Graph data source:

Over the last 30 years, TV (and video in general) has become more effective at delivering significant business results. Far from being made irrelevant by emerging digital channels, TV has seen its effectiveness increase by 50% in the last eight years.

TV is still by far the best single medium for generating top line growth.

So why is this happening? In part, it’s because TV now isn’t the same as TV then. The innovations that digital media have brought have transformed how audiences consume TV and video content. People don’t just sit in front of a box in the living room anymore. Digitalisation means we now consume TV on our terms – through platforms like YouTube, iPlayer, 4OD and Netflix; on our tablets at home, and on our mobile phones on the daily commute.

These days, as Binet and Field found, augmenting a traditional TV marketing campaign with online video increases its effectiveness by up to 25%. Digital isn’t a channel on its own, competing with traditional formats; it’s a multiplier – enhancing everything else around it.

Unfortunately, too few brands and agencies see it this way.

tv quote

The message that ‘digital works’ is hitting home, but it’s being interpreted as a replacement for traditional ways of reaching people.

Valuable metrics like share of voice, penetration and brand consideration are being eschewed in favour of the instantly gratifying but often meaningless discussion of impressions, visits and last-click ROIs.

This is what Binet and Field mean when they talk about the evils of short-termism. A relentless focus on an immediate ROI means a proliferation of tightly targeted, digital-only campaigns that seek solely to extract more value from existing customers at the expense of reaching new ones.

Ultimately, viewing traditional TV and digital as separate entities creates a false dichotomy. Brands like John Lewis in the UK understand this well. Their Christmas ad campaigns have become a national institution, combining an extensive traditional mass market TV campaign with extended behind-the-scenes content teased across YouTube and VOD. For Christmas 2016 they also integrated Snapchat and a VR execution, to extend the conversation and reach online. It’s a strategy that works well for the brand, with Christmas 2016 sales up 36% YoY.

Brands should look to support TV campaigns with a well targeted, engaging and accessible online video plan, and work to reflect the TV messaging across their website, search and social channels.

Creating a marketing ecosystem that is greater than the sum of its parts – that’s the true value add that digital brings.

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