Is Television Surrendering Its Efficiency?

In meeting with a past client last week for whom we have, from time to time, worked on their marketing strategy, he (the client’s long time director of marketing) tells me that they spent almost 100% more in this 2015 selling season and got fewer sales. He wanted to know what my agency’s experience was and how he should be planning for 2016.

The data that we all read weekly in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the various print and online trades is replete with evidence of not only a shift in advertiser spending on Television, but of a shift in time spent watching Television. But, now we are presented with empirical evidence of a vastly larger media buy (over $250,000), and fewer results. What are we to think?

So, I asked some qualifying questions as you would: Was the offer basically the same or just as good? Yes. Were the stations used the same? Yes. Were the programs where the spots ran basically the same? Yes. Was your tracking in place? Yes. It looks like we are actually comparing apples to apples. So what gives?

Here is our analysis:

  1. TV ratings are down. Even in primetime. Somewhere from 4–12% in winter/spring 2015 v 2014. So, there are less viewers. Not a huge drop-off, but a drop-off nonetheless. Is this enough to make this kind of difference?

  2. Income levels of viewers is down. This one can’t be proved yet, or at least we haven’t seen the data, but it would reason that viewers who have departed TV have Internet access in their homes. Lower income television viewers may not have the choice. So, maybe more of the people left watching have less disposable income to buy major purchases like those of this client…home remodeling.

  3. More fragmentation. Television’s biggest benefit has always been that “everyone was watching”. Not only is not everyone watching today, but a bigger and bigger segment of those “watching” is actually time-shifted. Now Neilsen is counting these viewers for up to three days, and there is talk of counting them up to seven days. This “footnote” helps the networks and stations maintain their ratings but it overly inflates the actual number of viewers who may be immediately moved by “direct marketing” to call a number on the screen…if the time-shifted viewer even watched the commercials at all. Who does?

  4. Buy the News. The theory being that it’s not time-shifted. The problem here is that our client did buy a lot of News on two of the top-rated “news stations” in Detroit. We have been a big proponent of this, but now we’re seeing that this alone may not be enough because the number of on-screen snipes and announcer live-reads, even during sports broadcasts, is becoming monotonous and really interfering with the enjoyment of the broadcast. They wouldn’t be doing it if the national advertisers weren’t demanding it, and the national advertisers wouldn’t be demanding it if they didn’t need it to get results.

So, what does this lead us to conclude? It sure looks like the “golden goose” is no longer the “golden goose.” Ponying up to big rates for TV commercials alone is no longer any guarantor of sales success. The one “sure thing” is no longer a “sure thing”. Now, more than ever, a well-defined and well-researched media mix is going to be the best way to snag the sales that your clients need. We haven’t concluded at all that TV is dead. It’s just that it’s no longer a “home run.”

What do you think? We’d love to know.

Bob Ottaway

The author, Bob Ottaway, is President and Founder of Ottaway Digital.  Established in 1999, it has been a pioneer in SEO, digital advertising & social media since 2006.  

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