Question: Is TV advertising less effective today than 15 years ago?
If you think you know the answer, read on. Digital and social media are having a transformational effect on Marketing content, organizations and processes. This being said, what’s often ignored is what we know about TV advertising effectiveness in the here and now.
MYTH: TV Advertising Takes a Long Time to Work
TRUTH #1: Advertising Works Fast, When it Works
Part of the mythology of TV advertising is the “3+” frequency myth. That is, it takes a minimum of 3 repetitions of an ad for it to move a consumer down the purchase funnel. For CPG, this is simply not true.
Numerous single source tests have demonstrated that when TV ads work, they work quickly to build sales (Rubinson, Journal of Advertising Research). In fact, the TV ad effectiveness curve is generally convex—e.g. early airings have the most impact, and additional airings decrease in effectiveness (Taylor, Kennedy & Sharp: Journal of Advertising Research). When ads work, they tend to work quickly.
MYTH: When TV Ads Work, They Have Large Impact
TRUTH #2: Ads Generate Small Impact Over Time
The question “What sales impact is my ad having?” has been studied rigorously since the advent of single source data (e.g. BehaviorScan or other panels which track the single variable impact of advertising on purchase behavior). On average, for the CPG categories studied, every $1 invested returns about $.10 (Taylor, Kennedy & Sharp Journal of Advertising Research). The sales return on an invested TV ad dollar has varied between .06 and .14 over the past 20 years (Hu, Lodish, Krieger & Hayati Journal of Advertising Research). And the sales lift is larger in year 2 than year 1.
MYTH: DVR’s are Killing Ads
TRUTH #3: Ad Impact is Similar With or Without DVR’s
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the evidence suggests that DVR homes have about the same recall of TV ads as non-DVR homes (du Plessis, Journal of Advertising Research).
There’s likely a range of reasons for this phenomenon, including people with DVR’s watching higher engagement shows, DVR’s increasing total TV viewing time, etc. Interestingly, research shows that consumers have the same recall and understanding of your ad when fast forwarded as when viewed in a normal manner, if they have already seen it normally once (du Plessis, Journal of Advertising Research).
MYTH: Digital Ads are More Likable Than TV Ads
TRUTH #4: TV Advertising is More Likable
People assume that because the web is a “lean-forward” medium, ads in this environment are naturally more engaging and well liked. Research shows that this is not the case. On average, TV ads are liked better than digital ads (Moult & Smith, Journal of Advertising Research). Here I should also say that likability doesn’t necessarily translate to effectiveness.
MYTH: TV Ads are Declining in Effectiveness
TRUTH #5: TV Ads are as Effective Today as 15 Years Ago
This is perhaps the biggest myth of all—that TV ads are losing effectiveness over time. Falling TV ratings and the rise of social media and mobile are hurting TV ad effectiveness, right? Wrong. The research on this topic, across time and geographies, strongly suggests this is not true. As noted earlier, advertising demand elasticities have fluctuated over the past 15 years, but are not declining (Rubinson, Journal of Advertising Research). So, TV advertising is as effective (or ineffective) as ever.
Future of TV Advertising
So, if TV advertising is still effective, what’s the future of TV advertising? I’d suggest it will be in three areas:
1. Cross Media – The rise of digital and social media has created numerous new means and forms to advertise and engage consumers. Research clearly shows that the impact of a TV ad is even higher when a consumer has been exposed to your brands ad on the web, and vice versa. Thus, CMO’s should focus on building cross media campaigns that continue to leverage TV as appropriate, but in new combinations with new social media and digital initiatives (for more on social media marketing, see “How the Future Social Web will Transform Marketing”).
2. New TV Ad Forms – As TV evolves from network to networked TV, new advertising form factors are cropping up. iTV is already in place and many brands are experimenting with this new approach. Additionally, Shelly Palmer and others have proposed new ad forms such as speed bumps, telescoping ads, etc. which are being enabled by “networked” TV. Marketers need to keep an eye on these new ad forms and be ready to experiment, learn and adjust.
3. Earned Media – There is vast opportunity for brands to understand how to use paid media to drive earned media. However, this is a nascent and poorly understood area that deserves much greater experimentation. Nonetheless, understanding how paid media drives earned, earned drives paid, and how they influence one another is fertile ground for future advertising model innovation.
So, back to our original question: “Is TV advertising less effective than 15 years ago?” The answer is a clear “no,” just as you should answer the question “Shouldn’t we completely forget about TV advertising and just concentrate solely on new media?”