Advertisers Spending More On A Medium They Don’t Trust

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“Once upon a time, digital was viewed a complement to TV, but today the amount of time people spend online is beginning to mirror the amount of TV viewing time,” notes a December 31 Mediapost report. “Many CPG [consumer package goods] brands already have deep investments into [sic] TV, and should continue to let it work it’s [sic] magic when it comes to brand awareness and storytelling…Using digital to extend the story to specific targets based on user-level data can result in a high-converting experience.”

What this means in simple English is that because people now spend as much time in front of some sort of computer screen as in front of a television screen, advertisers are shifting media dollars from TV to digital media to reach them.

Specifically, according to a three-year Nielsen/CMO Council study, in 2014, advertisers shifted media dollars to digital brand (as opposed to direct-response) advertising. This shift of dollars represents a major paradigm shift. Except for remnant-time buys and middle-of-the-night infomercials, TV advertising has historically been dominated by brand advertising, which works to persuade consumers to buy the product at some future date. Digital advertising, on the other hand, has been dominated by direct-response messages designed to get consumers to click through and buy now.

In 2014, that started to change, and in a big way:

This year, marketers reported running significantly more (33%) digital brand advertising campaigns than digital direct response ones. Compared to last year, when marketers ran slightly more direct response campaigns than brand advertising campaigns, brand advertising is accelerating across digital. Overall, 70% of marketers increased the amount of budget allocated to digital brand advertising in 2014, a 15% rise from last year.

70% of marketers increased the amount of budget allocated to digital brand advertising in 2014, a 15% increase from 2013.

Marketers ran 33% more digital brand advertising campaigns than digital direct response campaigns in 2014.

…65% of marketers planned to increase their use of digital video for their advertising campaigns…For digital videos in particular, 49% of marketers say that shifting budget from offline advertising sources have [sic] funded the increased digital video activity. This further reinforces how advertising budgets mirror consumer behaviors—as consumers increasingly move across more screens, advertising budgets are also shifting from an isolated, channel view to a more multi-screen approach.

But should they?

Though advertisers are spending more on digital brand advertising, the Nielsen findings show they  harbor serious doubts about what they’re getting for their money.

  • 95 percent doubted digital’s “ability to verify my brand advertising created the desired result.”
  • 82 percent doubted digital’s “ability to verify my brand advertising was actually delivered to my intended audience.” This is a biggie, especially compared to television. When a TV commercial runs, the intended audience may take a bathroom break or go to the fridge or just zone out, but at least your spot’s up on the screen and fully viewable for the full 30 seconds (less fade-up and fade-out). When a digital brand video runs, that’s anything but the case. First off, about a third of digital advertising ends up on fake websites, where a network of cyberbots makes thousands of clickthroughs (which the advertiser pays for). Even when the video goes to a reach audience on a real site, there’s no guarantee it’ll be there long enough to actually be seen; according to industry standards, an ad with half of its pixels visible for one second is “viewable.”
  • Even if you can get reliable metrics, advertisers have an apples-and-oranges problem; 64 percent doubt digital brand advertising’s ability to provide “the same metrics to evaluate brand advertising effectiveness online as are used offline.”

If that’s not bad enough, unlike television networks, digital media owners don’t “guarantee a minimum level of reach against the intended audience.” So it’s no wonder only 11 percent of advertisers “strongly believe” digital media’s target audience reach claims, while 40 percent either disbelieve them or are uncertain.

They often pursue digital-only tactics and agendas, and offer digital-only metrics (which only 10 percent of marketers are interested in).  While 52 percent of advertisers prefer online and offline metrics to be the same, 54 percent of publishers prefer digital-only metrics.

And though the beauty of digital advertising is that it can provide real-time data, advertisers don’t feel they get it fast enough to make tweaks that can optimize performance in time to avoid missed opportunities.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are ways that advertisers (and their agencies) and digital media can solve many of these problems – and those ways involve nothing costlier than better and more timely communication.

  1. Objectives are more achievable when everyone knows what they are. Virtually all marketers (98 percent) say it’s important to have everyone on the same page, but too few put their input where their mouth is. Only 15 percent of agencies and 8 percent of digital media said they got primary marketing objectives from marketers, while 41 percent of agencies and 61 percent of media said they got it half of the time or less. In campaigns they’ve measured, Nielsen says that “when media plan participants and agencies are able to directklt collaborate around [sic] the same information, those media plan paeticipants generate on avwerage 33 percent higher brand lift…”
  2. Get real-time data in real time. Even if it’s not in the form you’re used to, real-time data can help you seize real-time opportunities. Unless you get it too late, at bwhich time it’s useless. Getting the right metrics at the right time can let you make media, frequency or creative changes while the campaign’s still running.
  3. Demand benchmarks – and use them. Raw numbers alone won’t tell you how you’re doing. Benchmarks give you a basis for comparison. Yet, a bare majority of marketers surveyed (55 percent) think it’s important to compare digital campaign performance with historical benchmarks, less than a third of agencies (31 percent) made this comparison all the time. Another 39 percent said they did most of the time, which means that proportionately, more agencies provide benchmark comparisons than marketers use them. So define a set of metrics – audience reach, frequency, brand lift, creative unit performance, partner performance, regional performance, whatever – keep the set consistent, and keep using it to build uop a benchmark you can use to compare to every new campaign. Digital brand avdertising is enough of a crapshoot. How your campaign’s doing against its track record doesn’t have to be.

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