Since I recently made some disparaging remarks against TV advertising in order to defend digital advertising, I want to make sure my position on TV advertising is clear: TV is awesome!
There’s no medium that can reach more Americans than television. That makes TV a powerful tool, but only when the situation is right.
What assumptions must be true for a TV ad to be the right answer to your problem?
1. People don’t know about your product or market.
If your target isn’t even aware that a product like yours exists, you’re going to have to poke them in the ribs a few times to make them pay attention. Apple’s iPad needs to be advertised on TV because it’s not the sort of thing that you wake up in the morning wishing you had (until you see it). See Mark Lester’s presentation Is Awareness Advertising Dead? for more.
2. You need to make quarterly numbers (short time horizon).
Because the reach is so broad, you can induce a bump in the sales of your product by throwing TV at the problem. You can run a TV spot for a week, or during The Superbowl. Again, TV is the fastest way to get in front of the most people in the shortest amount of time.
3. You have lots of unallocated budget.
For all you get in speed and reach, you lose in efficiency. TV is incredibly expensive – from production to testing to air time – and it blankets entire swaths of the population without any regard to whether they’re part of your potential customer group. But there are many brands with excess money, sitting on their cash, thinking of ways to increase market share at any cost. TV is a good way to do that.
4. You sell a mass market product.
Since the lack of targeting makes it impossible to advertise specifically to your potential customer group, your product needs to have a sufficiently broad appeal that you don’t mind talking to everybody at once.
So why disparage TV in the first place?
You can’t compare TV to the digital medium. TV is about shouting as loud as you can in as big a room as possible because you know that someone, somewhere, is going to pay attention. You want to make X impressions on people, where X is a very large number, because you know that $Y will eventually be made from those people’s purchases.
But the thing about TV is that it’s impossible to come up with a way to measure how X becomes $Y. They’re different variables, and there’s no formula for conversion. You just try to make X as large as possible, because you know it has a positive effect on $Y.
And the one thing TV is best at – reach – is increasingly suffering from media fragmentation. There are too many choices of what to watch. You may think you’ve heard too much about the American Idols of the world, but at its peak, Idol‘s ratings paled in comparison to the ratings of shows in the 1990′s. If your goal is to permeate the public consciousness (“awareness”), it’s becoming harder to do it all in one go.
Three things about digital advertising are different.
1. You can target people.
If you’re advertising laptops, you can run a paid search ad to reach the 450,000 who search for “best laptop” every month. And then there’s the “long tail” of people who give even more specific behavioral intent, like “best laptop under $1,200 and 5 lbs”.
You won’t reach millions of Americans, just the ones your product is a good fit for. That means less wasted marketing spend.
2. You can measure it.
Sticking with our laptop example, you don’t have to run a focus group to find out the best ad to run. You can write 20 different kinds of copy and headlines, put them all in market, and run multivariate tests to see which impressions convert into clicks, then into website engagement, then into purchase.
When you’ve created this marketing funnel, you can justify how much to spend to turn X into $Y, because you don’t have any mysterious TV magic happening in the middle.
3. It doesn’t have to be “advertising”.
This is the big one. TV advertising is an interruption of something else a consumer was doing. And I use “doing” loosely, because watching TV is a passive behavior.
Digital advertising occurs, when it’s done right, while a consumer is actively searching, seeking, and participating in the media. Moreover, great digital ads aren’t ads at all.
When Amazon.com tells you “84% of people who viewed this product eventually bought this other product,” you think of that as a nice feature, but it’s an advertisement.
When Monopoly City Streets releases a free online version built on top of Google Maps so you can play Monopoly against the whole world, you think of that as an online game, but it’s an advertisement. 15 billion unique page impressions per month (source: AdAge) isn’t a reach to scoff at.
With digital advertising, you don’t have the reach of TV in distribution. But the point – and the reason you can’t bring your TV-mindset to digital – is that reach isn’t the only path.
In digital advertising, the point is to actually effect consumer behavior in a measurable way, preferably by giving them something they want instead of distracting them from something else they were doing. Unless you’ve saturated the whole marketplace where your actual target is engaging in online activities, broader reach to drive awareness may not be worth pursuing.
The point of having a digital strategy – and a “cross-channel” marketing strategy – is that you need to know the right time to use each tool at your disposable.
As my friend the Ad Chick recently said, “spread the right message at the right time through the right medium.”