Effect Trumps Audiences

I’m yet to come across an advertiser interested above all else in buying rating points or impressions. Advertisers advertise in order to make more money, it’s as simple and as obvious as that.

Of course audience data is an important step along that long road. Quite apart from providing a degree of accountability, not to mention newspaper headlines, the numbers produced help in decisions on where best to spend the money. But in our world this is a means to an end, not the end itself.

Over the years we’ve all learned that more audience, more times tends to equal a greater return but it’s still a proxy for what really counts. And what really counts is understanding what works and then doing more of it.

A million years ago in the UK the then-still-young commercial TV industry invested in a huge panel study called The Television Consumer Audit (TCA). Panel members kept a diary record of what they had bought. They threw any packaging in a special bin; every week the interviewer would reconcile what was in the bin with what was stated in the diary.

Combining this data with commercial audience data provided some basic correlations between money spent by advertisers and money spent by consumers.

The thought behind the TCA was that the TV medium had to justify itself to its advertisers by proving effect.

Advertisers needed to be convinced that the medium worked, so the broadcasters set out to provide the evidence.

Compare and contrast with today’s digital world.

Today it is assumed that advertising on digital platforms works. Why? Because loads of people spend a great deal of time on these vehicles.

But then I spend a lot of time each day eating, and yet to my knowledge no-one has yet suggested advertising on cutlery (no doubt Mary Meeker, the queen of the argument that time-spent-doing-something-equals-money-to-be-spent-advertising-on-it will pick up on this sooner or later).

An analysis of Lumen eye tracking data by The AdContrarian shows that around 9 out of every 100 impressions bought online are actually viewed by a human being for more than one second.

Factoring in the effect of bots is likely to reduce the Lumen findings by about a third, so we’re down to 6%.

Nothing to do with effect, or even engagement, 6% could be said to have viewed for more than one second.

So if Lumen plus the bot factor are correct (and other similar studies suggest they’re probably not far wrong) 94% of the money spent is to all intents and purposes wasted.

Against this we have work by Peter Field on behalf of the IPA (the UK’s version of the 4A’s) that points up the dangers of short-termism (the fuel that drives most digital advertising), and stresses the link between advertising creativity and long-term business success.

Field also points out that TV is still the ‘primary driver of creative success’. Money, he says should follow proven success.

Then there’s Newsworks’ various studies that demonstrate that adding newspapers to a campaign using other media forms boosts ROI by 3 times on average.

So digital has a role to play, but maybe not above all things and not alone.

It all begs the question: ‘If agencies are so good at planning, have research teams so well versed in understanding this sort of work, are so skilled at data analytics and are so focussed on delivering results for their clients then how come they’re not using the evidence to argue for more spending in more effective media forms?’

Answers on a very small postcard to the ANA and ISBA please.


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