Covering Up The Fall Of TV Advertising

Mark RitsonAugust 26, 20094863 min

Covering Up The Fall Of TV Advertising

Last week, Deloitte released a report concluding that ‘TV advertising still has the greatest impact on consumers‘. This unexpected finding was derived from survey research conducted in July by YouGov on 2100 British consumers – research which, in the opinion of your humble BSI blogger, is absolute and total crap.

Let’s start with the method. YouGov asked consumers to think about different forms of advertising they had seen or heard, and indicate which ‘impacted’ them the most. In my opinion, asking consumers to self-report complicated issues such as the persuasive impact of communications is ridiculously invalid.

It’s not that consumers lie when asked a question like this – rather, they simply do not know the answer. Self-reporting data has been proven to be invalid for questions as basic as estimating a consumer’s household income. It is therefore unlikely that any of the consumers in the YouGov sample had the faintest clue which advertising medium truly had the most ‘impact’ on them. They provided an answer, but the answer was bogus.

However, let’s assume for a second that consumers can accurately report this information. It’s still a flawed piece of research because the costs of the media being compared vary. The last time I looked at a rate card, the price of a 30-second spot was wildly different from that of an outdoor ad. Even if they were the same, the effective frequencies required to reach the ‘impact’ being reported by consumers would probably differ as well. In the study, TV advertising was reported to have four times the impact of outdoor advertising. What if an out-door ad costs 20% that of a TV ad, and needs only two, rather than three, exposures to deliver its impact? It would work out to be a superior medium even with a lower reported ‘impact’ score.

Even if we pretend that all media have the same unit cost and require the same number of repetitions to have impact, the research is still flawed, it seems to me. For the past 15 years, no one has cared about comparing one media with another in this binary way; it’s called Integrated Marketing Communications because it’s intended to be integrated. Comparing apples with oranges is an irrelevant endeavor in the age of the fruit salad.

Only a year ago, that was Deloitte’s recommendation to the ad industry. A report suggested it should look at online media ‘not as a solitary platform, with a mission to compete with traditional media, but as an element of the media mix within a campaign’.

Why would Deloitte make a 180-degree turn and publish a report only a year later, claiming that TV advertising ‘packs the biggest punch’? A more cynical blogger might suggest that, because the report was commissioned for the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Deloitte is happy to conclude this.

Shame on Deloitte’s media practice for publishing this report. Shame on YouGov for being clearly out of its depth in the world of advertising research. In my opinion, it ought to stick to political polling, where things are simpler and within its skill-set. Moreover, shame on the TV executives that commissioned this piece of fluff.

There are two reasons why TV advertising is in trouble. The first is that it is a 20th-century medium, rapidly becoming outflanked by more advanced options. The second is that the TV industry is run by the kind of dinosaurs who think these kind of reports are good for business. Put those two bullet points in your next report; they come free of charge.

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Mark Ritson


  • Tom Brzezina

    August 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I agree with your comment about self-reporting data. But if people could access their unconscious and provide “real” answers, I’m betting TV’s impact would turn out to be stronger than this study implies; not weaker. Let’s not forget that TV is highly visual, story-oriented, and emotional—the human-engagement trifecta. I wouldn’t be too quick to pronounce it dead, or even dying.

  • Bhavana Jaiswal

    September 2, 2009 at 4:04 am

    I agree with Tom. Let’s not forget that TV has much further reach than any other medium (even print) can even dream about. But that’s another story altogether.

    Asking people a close-ended question about ‘impact of a medium’ goes against the very basic principles of market research. Deloitte quite naively assumes that everyone who was surveyed understands completely what Deloitte meant by ‘impact’, and even more naively assumes it’s just a snap of a finger to understand one’s own subconcious mind.

    If people could answer this question accurately, one would not see a need for market rearcheres, would they?

  • Tess Alps

    September 3, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    This tirade against the recent Deloitte consumer research which concluded that TV advertising was by far the most impactful, especially amongst young people, was immoderate and confused.

    You let your objections to the research methodology lead you into making several unfounded criticisms of TV advertising itself.

    It’s important to say that the research had nothing to do with Thinkbox or anyone in commercial TV sales. It was commissioned by the Media Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival, an event organised mainly by eminent TV producers, not dinosaurs. Just because research findings are favourable to whoever commissions it, doesn’t mean that it can’t be believed. Healthy scepticism is a requirement for all journalists and academics but your post betrayed cynicism and bias against TV. Do you think that the TV industry shouldn’t undertake research to defend itself against the sort of entrenched negativity that we see here?

    We at Thinkbox prefer not to rely on claimed behaviour research, in fact, and instead use rigorous and impartial econometrics to prove that, pound for pound, TV advertising delivers more incremental profit than any other form of advertising, 4.5 times the investment according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Other respected impartial sources such as the IPA’s Marketing in the Era of Accountability also concluded that campaigns which included TV were the most effective of all; I should add that they found that the most effective media combination of all was TV + online.

    The IPA study also found that TV is becoming more effective over time and the Deloitte study gives a glimpse of why that may be so. People can now react to a TV ad much more immediately than in the past, thanks to that other 20th century medium, the internet. Rather than have to wait a week to go shopping people can now search and purchase online soon after seeing the TV ad. This means that TV advertising’s effect is less dissipated and consumers are more conscious of what drove them to a website.

    TV advertising’s effect on younger viewers also makes perfect sense and ensures TV advertising’s positive future. The IPA Touchpoints2 study showed that TV represents 47% of 15-24s’ media consumption, less than the 54% for the total population but way ahead of any other medium. Young people like brands and ads more than older people, whatever the medium. And they are more likely to multi-task, making TV advertising’s direct influence on internet purchase even more immediate and fruitful.

    This year’s major business success stories add additional weight to TV’s effectiveness story: Hovis, Reckitt Benckiser, Wickes and among many others. None of them only used TV, but all either returned to TV or had a higher weights or proportion of TV spend than their competitors.

    Econometrics plus ethnography (when we can afford it) are a cast-iron defence against the shabby research (often a self-selecting online questionnaire) that is often carried out to try and denigrate TV advertising. We look forward to you exposing that whenever it appears in future. But well-conducted research that polls the public, undertaken by a respected independent company such as Deloitte, is something we should welcome, adding valuable insight to the plethora of evidence that TV advertising is the best marketing investment a brand can make.

    Tess Alps
    Chief Executive

  • Brian Postlethwaite

    October 7, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Another small addition that will significantly reduce the impact of TV advertising is the coming proliferation of TIVO style servives with Digital TV (certainly in Australia). These can permit you to skip over the advertisements alltogether. Not exactly the intended action, and I’ve noticed that some chanels are now splitting the screen and running ads along the bottom during the show.

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