Rethinking media in the vast spaces of digital

The old methods of advertising just don't work in new channels, writes David Benady

Old habits die hard. The long-established approach to marketing - getting ads in front of consumers as they lean back and watch TV, read newspapers or simply walk down the street - has withstood many criticisms and the onslaught of new technology. However, "big advertising" is being transformed as digital opens up vast new spaces where people can interact with each other, and brands, on a one-to-one basis.

This has led to the old ways of measuring brands' spending on communications - cost per thousand, CPMs - giving way to more tangible metrics from the digital world, such as cost per acquisition. The rationale being, why would a thinking marketer pay to reach 1000 consumers when they can connect with that 1 in 1000 who will not only interact with their brand, but buy their product? Add to this the blossoming branded content industry and the proliferation of social media and it is impossible to deny that the media landscape has changed irrevocably. Despite this digital bombardment, however, the marketing strategies of many of the UK's biggest brands have remained remarkably consistent in the face of change.

Marketers are standing on the precipice of a new era, but many are wary of stepping over the edge.

Marketers are standing on the precipice of a new era, but many are wary of stepping over the edge. Amy Holdsworth, marketing director at Tetley Tea, warns that marketers need to strike a balance between unproven new media and older, tried-and-tested, methods. "The challenge we've had is that (creating and implementing a) social-media strategy has been a leap of faith. It's in its infancy and not able to demonstrate its return on investment. The traditional media environment is more palatable," she says.

The content-marketing route pursued by the likes of Red Bull, Nike and Innocent is out of reach for many brands, she adds. "In over-stretched marketing departments, creating that level of content is incredibly resource-hungry."

Brand salience

While Tetley has an active social-media profile, with 420,000 Facebook "likes" and 80,000 Twitter followers, the bulk of the brand's marketing spend goes into TV advertising. "For mass-market brands, it is about gaining reach, top-of-mind awareness and brand salience, keeping your brand on the tips of people's tongues. Achieving that when one only focuses on a deeper dialogue approach is difficult," says Holdsworth. "Thirty-eight per cent of UK households buy Tetley. To keep it in people's minds cost-effectively, TV is the best medium." Ultimately, both the traditional TV route and the interactive digital approach have a role and "need to find their optimum level of co-existence", she believes.

Brands that are most enthusiastically embracing digital tend to be youth-focused and fashion-led. Nike has moved away from investing in advertising and focuses more strongly on creating direct relationships with consumers through digital devices such as Nike+.

The brand's vice-president of digital sport, Stefan Olander, told Marketing: "Advertising is an old model that is being squeezed into the new framework of social media when in fact people don't want to be interrupted. A whole industry is stuck on trying to force old metrics on to new channels. Too many businesses are thinking 'I need to sell inventory' rather than 'How can I add value to a smartphone or a new device?'"

Other mass-market brands still rely on "big advertising", but are testing out new approaches. Last year Lynx ran a "Chaos Island" competition, offering a few days on a Caribbean island to the winners. The game took the form of a treasure hunt, with clues hidden on various social-media platforms. According to Chris Buckley, director of social engagement at agency TMW, which created the competition, "Chaos Island" signalled the extent to which Lynx has changed its approach to reaching young men. "Even two years ago, we used emerging technologies as places to push our Lynx advertising. We have evolved that so now we tap into the existing social networks where young guys hang out," he says. Alongside media that is "owned, earned or paid", he argues that there are other, more important, types, such as shared - the viral effect - and "borrowed" media, where brands enter consumers' existing online social spaces.

David Titman, senior brand manager for Lynx at Unilever, adds: "Lynx understands the diverse ecosystem of connections our audience has across multiple media and platforms. The ability to plan effectively in borrowed and networked spaces, from creative messaging to media placement, is what helps our campaigns remain relevant."

Tied to TV?

Marketers dragging their heels believe that mass- market brands are sticking with TV because it can prove its worth, while social media has yet to demonstrate its effectiveness. TV viewing has held up in the UK, with consumers watching more than four hours a day. But the experience of the US demonstrates how quickly this dominance can be challenged. The New York Times reports research from Goldman Sachs showing that "broadcast ratings in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, the one most coveted by advertisers, fell by 17% in the winter months compared with last winter".

Thought to be one of the steepest viewing drops in US broadcast history, this comes as alternatives to mainstream TV, such as streaming services Netflix and Hulu, transform the media landscape there. This could be yet another US trend that crosses the Atlantic. But the UK's biggest commercial broadcaster, ITV, believes that it is taking the necessary steps to ensure that advertisers can continue engaging with consumers away from the TV screen, so that eyeballs stay focused on its programmes.

ITV sales director Steve Bignell says TV still delivers strong ROI for brands, but the broadcaster also knows viewers want to engage with programmes via social media and second screens. ITV's Britain's Got Talent app delivered 44m interactions in 2012 and it is working exclusively with Shazam.

"It is important to truly integrate opportunities for advertisers to extend their relationships with our content beyond the broadcast window," says Bignell. "All this requires a different relationship between media-owners, agencies and clients. The days of the media agency simply delivering the 'buy' are over. A more engaged relationship, where the agency has to evaluate new value lines, is the world in which we now operate. These relationships take time to build, require effort and are based on trust between all of the parties."

The advertising model of last century is based on media-owners selling their inventory through striking volume deals with brands' media agencies. But brands are demanding more from their marketing budgets, and looking for ways to ensure that their messages really connect with consumers.

"The old, one-way mass-advertising model is dead and has been for some time," says Andy Pearch, a director at media auditors MediaSense. Whereas in the old world, brands needed to plan which media they would use to hammer messages into consumers' heads, today they need to look at the way the message is diffused through the entire range of communications and how people react to it and share it.

This makes the inventory model - where media-owners strike deals with brands for spots and spaces around editorial - look outdated too, adds Pearch. "TV buyers are blending sponsorships, product placements, barter, video-on-demand and digital media into spot deals. Sellers have long realised there is no growth in standard inventory and are focusing on increasing volumes and yields from secondary assets."

Moving metrics

Pearch sees the fragmentation of media as a "really exciting opportunity for the industry", enabling specific targeting of audiences. Just as digital performance is measured across cost per impression, cost per engagement and cost per outcome, metrics in traditional media will also start to align more closely to the consumer behaviours associated with each media channel. "As this happens, we can expect messages to be placed in the inventory most appropriate to its objectives, rather than the one that will meet ratings targets or share deals," explains Pearch.

Product placement is one way in which broadcasters are moving beyond the inventory model. One example is Hasbro's NERF Blaster, a toy gun that fires plastic darts or disks. Rather than direct its campaigns at mothers, who might object to buying guns for their children, MediaCom Beyond Advertising (MBA) created a product placement in Germany to target adult men, who enjoyed using the guns for target practice. MBA helped Hasbro strike a deal to place NERF guns in the German version of The Office.

Now we need to rethink how we advertise in the first place. Content marketing has to be front and centre.

James Morris, head of MBA, says viewers could click to buy the guns from the TV programme's website, and sales doubled. "When digital hit 10 years ago it was easy to see it as just another channel. Now we need to rethink how we advertise in the first place. Content marketing has to be front and centre," he adds.

Nonetheless, the digital industry has hardly helped itself by building a credible alternative to the "big advertising" model, according to Dino Myers-Lamptey, head of strategy at media agency the7stars. "Complicated formats, a soup of abbreviations, a belief that all impressions are equal and evaluating clicks as interest has only worked against the industry," he says.

Myers-Lamptey accuses Google of wrongly preaching the virtues of "a world in which ideas no longer mattered and the future was all about data and clicks". Yet, when it came to launching its own products, such as Chrome, it had to use the old models and media where clicks don't exist.

So yes, the next marketing revolution is coming - although it seems to be somewhat delayed. Yet marketers need to bear in mind the US experience of a sudden, sharp drop in traditional TV consumption.

Remember, TV viewers are a fickle bunch. They can change media channels just as easily as they change TV channels.

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