Ofcom’s ‘most missed’ media misses the point

Which would you miss most: your iPod, iTunes or music itself? Let’s say you are only allowed to take one with you to a desert island. Stupid question right?

Today, you may have read about a survey by the usually very helpful and insightful Ofcom. It asked a similar sort of question. It found that young people say they are more likely to miss mobile phones or ‘the internet’ above TV. This is the first time TV has not come top of Ofcom’s most missed for younger people (it is still top overall). Inevitably, this has been seized upon by some as a worrying sign for TV. Read more on Ofcom’s ‘most missed’ media misses the point…

A Pepsi challenge: make ‘friends’, lose customers

There have been some shenanigans across the Atlantic that have seen social media’s power to impact on the bottom line being put under a glaring spotlight.

Pepsi had been gearing up for a major social media push for quite some time, calling for ideas as far back as 2008. Its main activity in this area kicked off early last year: the Pepsi Refresh Project funds small public projects based on online votes. The Project was funded primarily – and very publically – with money taken from Pepsi’s TV budget. TV had been sacrificed for social media. Read more on A Pepsi challenge: make ‘friends’, lose customers…

The programmes are now as good as the ads

It’s 1987, a hurricane has torn apart southern England, nobody is putting Baby anywhere near the corner in new release Dirty Dancing, and Alex Ferguson has been at Manchester United for a year.

Elsewhere, and slightly lower key, the annual TGI survey of 24,000 UK adults has started to include dozens of lifestyle statements. One of those statements, which has survived to this day is “On television, sometimes the advertisements are as good as the programmes”.

25 years on and there is much debate about the consistent decline in the percentage of people agreeing with this statement about the relative enjoyment of TV ads and programmes.

Dramatic emphasis is added by the fact that this is one of the few statements to have remained intact since 1987. It feels a little like watching a revolution, albeit in market research slow motion; the subtext is that the great British public has fallen slightly out of love with TV ads.

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Online research: the crack cocaine of media evaluation

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.

Read more on Online research: the crack cocaine of media evaluation…

When is ‘enough’ enough?

The results of two new research studies have made me question one of the final shibboleths of media planning: the idea that there is such a thing as an ‘effective frequency’ which can be easily defined and which offers a single, optimal level at which the advertising ‘works’.

The first piece of research was a neuroscientific study we carried out. It revealed how we process advertising when we watch TV as opposed to when we are engaged in various online activities. It clearly points to the importance of emotion and engagement in driving performance – much more so than attention – and underlines recent insights into the role emotional association and implicit memory play in strengthening a brand’s position within our choice set. As the neuroscientists say, “the neurones that fire together wire together”.

The second study, conducted with the IPA, compared data from the IPA Databank with scores from the Gunn Report and showed conclusively that creativity does pay…just not necessarily in the way we expected. There was a much greater pound-for-pound performance amongst creatively-awarded ads in terms of driving efficiency (i.e. how much relative share of voice drives market share), but the differences in absolute effectiveness were less marked for the simple reason that the creatively-awarded campaigns spent less and therefore achieved a lower share of voice, despite the fact that they were eleven times more efficient at driving market share. One of the explanations for this may be that many of these campaigns were advised that they could ‘get away with’ spending less to achieve their target levels of awareness, recall, stand-out etc. so the ads could achieve them with lower levels of frequency.

So what of ‘effective frequency’?

Qualitatively, we have seen many examples of ad campaigns where respondents appear quite happy to watch and enjoy their favourite ads time and time again; Barclays ‘Waterslide’ and Comparethemarket.com’s Meerkat ads are good recent examples of this. We can all think of ads that we would be happy to keep seeing, 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 is part of the continued wiring together of neurones into positive associations with the brand. 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’.  

I’m not denying that ads can sometimes reach their maximum desirable frequency, after which even I start shouting at the TV.  But very, very few campaigns get to the Crazy Frog level and recency is a major factor here.  No-one wants to see the same ad 20 times in a single day, but, spread across a month,  that frequency becomes totally acceptable.

All of the new insights from behavioural economics and neuroscience (two polar opposite disciplines yielding very similar insights) about the power of fame and emotion to influence the way we use implicit associations to ‘short-cut’ the decision-making process have successfully weaned us away from the ‘message myth’, swaddled in the comfort blanket of influence models such as AIDA and DAGMAR. Perhaps now is the time to rethink the role of frequency within the mix; especially if it also means refocusing on the potential payback achieved by higher levels of advertising creativity.

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180 degree turn at Media 360

A few years ago, a prevailing theme at Media 360 was that TV was dead – or at least in intensive care. It was depressing (because it was nonsense).

A couple of years ago, following the launch of our joint study with the IAB looking at TV + online, the tone had shifted a little and there was a bit more positivity about TV’s future; TV was out of intensive care and walking around the ward. It was heartening.

Then, last week, its rehabilitation took a couple more strides. TV was voted the medium with the brightest future at Media 360, Thinkbox (ahem) won Best B2B Marketing at the Marketing Society Awards, and Group M announced the latest set of positive numbers for TV ad revenue (albeit coming from a low base for comparison). The narrative for TV has moved on dramatically in the last few years and this is great news.

What was even better about Media 360 was the way people talked about the internet. There was wide recognition that it is not a single medium, but a technology for delivering many different things (media included). This is a mark of its maturity. Added to this was a trend of not obsessively looking at the impact of the internet solely in terms of how destructive it might be, but instead looking at it in terms of how it benefits different media – and nothing more so than TV.

The media debate this year was refreshingly future-focused and all the so-called ‘traditional’ media found things to say that indicate a much healthier future than naysayers and digital fundamentalists have suggested in the recent – but, hopefully, quickly forgotten – past.

All in all, Media 360 – with a few exceptions – had a healthy focus on promoting and understanding the future that stood in stark contrast to the recent past. I look forward to more of this next year.

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A load of WOM-bull

As Uncle Bulgaria could have told you, it’s a lifetime’s work clearing up the rubbish that litters the marketing landscape.  One of the current topics flapping annoyingly in the breeze is all the nonsense uttered about ‘word of mouth’, or WOM for short.

Most weeks you’ll find a story about some brand abandoning brand advertising and instead investing in a WOM strategy.  Last year, I attended two conferences where the same speaker – a renowned expert in the social media space – put up a chart headed “Word of mouth is the new television”.  

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with such a statement, but I’ll have a go.

It makes the frankly barking assumption that the ‘old’ television – i.e. real television – is being replaced; it thinks of media experiences as neat little silos that don’t overlap; and it fails to recognise that ‘word of mouth’ of any significance cannot exist in a vacuum and relies on the media it is apparently ‘replacing’ to provide the oxygen.

Part of the problem is that practitioners in this space see WOM as a new media channel, primarily via social media online.  But WOM has existed since the dawn of language. It has always been part of the marketing ‘eco-system’ and it is indeed very important.  At least we can agree on that.

New research from US WOM specialists Keller Fay puts the debate into focus. They have produced a WOM monitoring tool, based on the reported conversations of over 36,000 people. Not only does the research demonstrate the huge influence WOM has on our brand perceptions and experiences, it also highlights where these conversations are taking place and which brands they feature, as well as what causes them.

Only 6% of brand-related conversations take place online.  A further 15% are conducted on the ‘phone, whilst over three quarters are conducted  via our preferred social media platform: face-to-face.

Another sobering thought is that the conversations digerati might be having among themselves are not necessarily a reflection of the wider world. The top categories for brand-related conversations are food and dining, followed by media and entertainment. Technology is sixth on the list. Similarly, the top five talked about brands are Coke, Pepsi, Wal-Mart and two telecoms companies; not a Twitter or Apple amongst them.

But perhaps the most exciting finding for those of us in the marketing industry is that almost half of all consumer brand conversations refer directly to those brands’ marketing or media activity, and that the biggest single factor influencing those conversations is good old brand advertising.

If we bring into the mix TV’s ability to create talkability and ‘buzz’ around brands (as demonstrated by both the IPA ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ study and YouGov’s Brand Index data) then we realise how much we need tools to identify and optimise these amplification effects.

Our recent research with Facebook started to explore the rich rewards available to brands which recognise and nurture the relationship between TV ads and facilitated WOM.

The good news is that the IPA Touchpoints study will be including metrics based around the Keller Fay findings in this year’s data. I’m looking forward to using it, not least to  finally bin the ridiculous notion that TV and word of mouth are unrelated and replacements for each other, rather than the fabulously complementary phenomena that they are.

Read more on A load of WOM-bull…

More cushions on the virtual sofa

I saw an ad for Sony’s new generation of internet TVs this morning. The interesting part about it was the new functionalities it chose to focus on; in this case, the ability to merge Facebook and Twitter into the TV viewing experience.

A lot of discussion has taken place about what internet-enabled TVs will be used for. As one of those lucky people invited to the launch of Microsoft’s Web TV product over a decade ago, I am pretty sure it won’t be what Microsoft had in mind; lots of unrelated information appearing over the TV content being viewed. TV is an immersive (and predominantly shared) experience and anything that distracts from that experience will generally not be welcomed.

Instead, it will be web-delivered apps that enhance the TV experience that are most likely to succeed in this market.  Along with enhanced search for on-demand TV content, I can think of few that improve the TV viewing experience as well as being able to ‘chat’ about it with our friends and family. This is what people have done with TV since the year dot and, as our recent TV Together research demonstrated, if they don’t have anybody in the room to share it with, then the ‘virtual sofa’ created by our increasing array of communication tools – phoning, texting, Messengering, emailing and now the social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter – do the job very nicely.  

So I think that the integration of social media is a sensible use of broadband-connected TV sets.  Two notes of caution though; because TV viewing is a mostly shared experience, on-screen chat about what you’re watching might not go down well with the rest of the family.  And people are already using separate devices – fixed and mobile ‘phones and laptops – that deliver this functionality very well so it might not be a killer app that will sell these TVs on its own.  But we welcome any new development that lets people share their telly love more easily.

The virtual sofa just got comfier.

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What are we reaching for?

I attended the Mediatel ‘Future of Online’ seminar recently, where much was made of the launch of UKOM, the online industry’s attempt to get a measure of exposure and reach with the aim of attracting more brand display revenues. It has been a tortured process.

Now, this may seem strange, given that TV achieves levels of reach that other media channels can only dream about, but I think we need to think beyond exposure and reach in terms of planning integrated media campaigns.

Yes, I know that commercial TV delivers nearly three quarters of the UK population every day and well over 90% every week, across the vast majority of target demographics, but comparisons with other media based on such data disguise the real impact each medium creates. This camouflage comes from the media measurement systems themselves.

All of the main metrics – reach, frequency, impacts, impressions, ratings – are based on the concept of opportunity to see/listen/read, and yet the difference between opportunity and delivery will vary hugely depending on the media measurement vehicle.

TV measures the audience in the room whilst the set is on, minute by minute, so that we can be confident that all of those featured in the measurement will have had some exposure, even if they had their backs to the screen – especially as BARB carries out coincidental checks to make sure who is reported to be in the room at any moment in time is in fact present.

Press readership, meanwhile, is based on anybody who has spent at least two minutes reading or looking at any printed copy in the past 12 months, whether or not they even opened the page on which the ad appears; consequently, actual exposure to the ad itself requires a much greater leap of faith.

My understanding is that online ‘reach’ will fall somewhere between these two extremes. My point is that, when these reach numbers are placed in a media plan, they are generally considered to be equivalent in value and impact.

Results from a really interesting study by the Television Bureau of Canada helps to put some of this disparity, or false equivalence, into perspective. They observed people watching TV, reading newspapers, listening to radio and interacting online in as natural a context as possible. They used a wide range of biometric and cognitive measures, including eye tracking, in order to determine how long each ad was ‘processed’. On average, the TV advertising generated more than three times the engagement of radio ads (and, possibly connected with this finding, almost three times the next day adjusted recall levels). TV ads achieved 40% more next day recall and 80% more engagement than online video (via pre-rolls). TV delivered five times the next day recall and twelve times the visual attention of online display in general. Against press, meanwhile, TV achieved more than five times the total advertising engagement.

The problem with the media measurement vehicles is that they cannot account for these differences in engagement, attention or recall, and so if an overall reach figure is achieved from a mix of media channels, it will treat them all as equal. There is nothing quite like a spreadsheet for providing the appearance of consistency and equivalence, however what happens in the lives of the consumers they reach, and the brands advertising in those media, will provide a very different story.

Read more on What are we reaching for?…

Online and over here

Amid the cutbacks and regulations that have hamstrung some advertising categories, there is one that has recorded rapid and continual growth in the money invested in advertising in general, and TV in particular. It is a category that has access to a wealth of data to evaluate the success of its marketing activities, much of it instantaneous. It has witnessed rapid growth in sales revenues and the number of brands entering the market. I am talking, of course, about online brands.

Yesterday morning, we held an event (and streamed it live online) looking at this phenomenon and exploring why it is happening and how best for online brands to use TV. We’ll be making it available on the Thinkbox website to watch in the coming weeks.

It is amazing to think that only five years ago this market category hardly appeared on the radar. In 2004 a total of 34 brands spent less than £10 million a year on TV. Last year the market was worth over £180 million to TV, with a total of 239 brands accounting for 5.5% of all TV advertising revenues; and that doesn’t include the 20+ programme sponsorships in which they also invested. It is an average annual growth rate of 172%.

Other media have also benefitted from this dynamic market, but it is TV where these online brands have invested the vast bulk of their money. In fact, TV accounted for nearly three quarters of their offline media spend in 2009.

There are many reasons for this. The complementary nature of TV and online means that TV drives online response better than any other media channel.  But it is not only response generation that is responsible for TV being the predominant marketing channel for online brands. It is TV’s ability to build brands, through fame and emotion, which has kept them coming back.

For brands that have little or no physical presence, the ability to create an emotional connection with its consumers becomes even more important. Meanwhile, the power of fame to create word of mouth, awareness and, most important of all, trust cannot be denied, as the 700,000 Facebook fans of Aleksandr the Meerkat would no doubt agree.

Also, the growing phenomenon of ‘two-screen viewing’ – concurrent consumption of TV and online – has helped facilitate response. A brand can go from initial awareness to purchase during the course of a single commercial break, making TV a point of sale medium in these circumstances. New research we’ve just carried out shows that 94% of the UK claims to have gone online as a direct result of something they’ve watched on TV in the last 12 months.

Consumers’ growing confidence online means they instinctively know where to go when a TV commercial engages them and creates demand for a product or service. Our growing arsenal of evaluation tools demonstrates TV’s significant role in this process more and more and online brands have been voting with their budgets.

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