Wednesday, 24 December 2008


The media landscape is in transition, and old broadcast media is losing its hegemony over budgets. I've come up with a term to describe the difficulties of this period of transition from traditional analogue approaches to new digital approaches - Transition Perdition. It's hell for everyone from the music executive who can't sell enough digital downloads to make up for the decline in CD sales, the newspaper publisher whose digital revenues are not making up for the decline in print circulation, and the advertising industry still addicted to the old power of TV and reluctantly being dragged towards the still evolving new digital power.

I'm frequently asked to make the argument for digital, but many of the decision-makers and agencies are still wedded to the old model, and although us digital zealots might criticize, there is some logic to their position. So here are views from both sides of the argument.

So here is the argument for TV: the power of TV to provide instantaneous mass audience is still probably unrivalled. Few brand websites can claim to be able to muster 1M visitors in the same way a TV ad can. And although the bar for financing a TV campaign is high, the unit cost of converting someone through TV is low. Broadcast media is perceived as the low risk approach.

Digital on the other hand can rarely guarantee you TV sized audiences, is complex and ever changing, and is frequently more expensive on a per head basis (if you exclude search), response rates are usually very unpredictable, and it takes time that many marketers don't have.

So here is the argument for digital: Forgetting about the cost of a campaign for one moment, lets take an almost philosophical position on these as possible options. Given the choice of choosing between a TV ad that reached 1M for 30 seconds or a digital campaign (that includes an online advertising campaign driving to a website) that engages 50K people for 2minutes each -at equal costs - which would you choose?

For those of you familiar with this debate will know this is a nonsensical question, but indulge this argument for one moment and lets look at the simple maths:
  • TV:1M viewers x 0.5minutes=500,000 minutes of attention

  • Website: 50K visitors x 2minutes=100,000 minutes of attention

The simple maths tells us that TV should win, but when you unpack the argument four other elements suggest the digital approach is superior?

  • Active versus passive - The act of leaning forward (active) versus sitting back (passive) and spending your own time with a brand takes the audience many steps on in the decision-making process from the basic awareness a TV ad delivers

  • Organic search benefits - If optimized correctly the site becomes a magnet for organic search and also helps improve your Google quality score reducing the cost of your paid search

  • Total reach - Based on average clickthrough rates of 0.2% the online advertising component of the digital campaign would have reached at least 250,000 people who would have been exposed to your campaign message delivering awareness and messaging

  • Ongoing communication - One of the biggest advantage is that the website audience is not a mass of anonymous people sat in front of their anonymous TV sets, they are addressable and this means you can have ongoing communications with them (using CRM techniques). These communications can help close the loop and drive to purchase and beyond to loyalty.
  • Activating Advocates - The biggest advantage, however, is the ability to harness the power of the advocate. People who take time out to visit your website and enjoy the experience are the type of people who will take time out to talk about your brand and your products. They represent that 20% that the 80/20 rule suggests you should approach. They carry your message and make it contagious, and also spend more, and stay longer.

So for me in this transition period, we'd have to do that simple maths again, and weight the results to recognise the importance of actually having all of the above. But how much more valuable is one of those digital minutes than a TV minute? Twice as valuable, five times, ten times? Each brand will need to decide.

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