Is Free Media Good for Your Brand?

September 20, 2010

In a recent global consumer survey, 8 of 10 consumers told Nielsen that they would stop using a website if it begins charging for content (disclosure: I work at Nielsen). Most consumers believe they can get the content they want for free—so why pay? Is free content good for Marketers—or not?  

Is Free Media Good for Your Brand?

 

Will All Digital Content be Free?  

The death knell for paid media content is everywhere– web-based content and services are moving toward “free.” Chris Anderson wrote about it eloquently in his book “Free,” arguing that consumers have become conditioned to free stuff, and that the future of the web is free, free and more free. 

Of course, consumers expect “free” content based on linear TV, which was free of everything except commercials long before the web arrived. 

Yet, cable TV has made in-roads into the traditional “free” TV space, consumers pay for content on iTunes, and the last time I checked, people were still going to see movies. So, while free is in our future, and there’s certainly a lot of it on-line (including this blog), whether all digital content will be free is  uncertain. 

Free vs. Paid Content: Uncertainty for TV & Digital

 

 What Consumers Really Want   

Let’s go back to the Nielsen study above. What consumers were really saying is that they don’t want to pay for a site because they can get the same content for free elsewhere. Consumers have and will continue to pay for content under one of two conditions:  

  • If they have to. That is, they can only get the content from a web site or distribution channel that charges for it—and not for free somewhere else.
  • If the quality is worth it and there’s no good substitute. If I can only watch the NY Giants for a fee, and I’m a big fan, there’s no other option.

And let’s not forget the other 20%. That is, 20% of the surveyed people were willing to pay to access a web site. So, even in today’s digital world where much quality content isn’t walled off in a paid “garden,” 1 in 5 people are still willing to pay for it.  

  

Too Much Content — An Economic Issue 

The challenge is this: the web has democratized content creation, and this in turn has created massively more content, which has driven down ad prices. And, with lower ad prices, advertising alone won’t support some web sites. These sites don’t have a viable business model without charging for content. 

Content quality and distribution will differentiate free versus paid models. Higher quality content, or content with limited distribution, will generate revenue thru consumer fees. Lower quality content and/or content that is distributed broad-scale will be free. 

3 Trends Marketers Should Watch For 

1.  The digital media eco-system will continue to fragment. This means that web sites will increasingly fragment into free, paid and hybrid models. This is already happening. Some sites, like Yahoo News, are completely free. Others, such as Angie’s List, make you pay. And still others, like Consumer Reports, will charge for some, but not all, content.  

Paid Content: Angie's List

 

This fragmentation will make media planning more complex and challenging. Ad inventories—particularly on the paid side—will change and this will impact media costs. Building broad reach quickly via digital will continue to be a challenge, but targeting opportunities will increase. 

2.  Advertising performance will differ by model. As the quality gap widens, advertisers will need to understand how quality of content, and consumers willingness to pay for it, impacts ad effectiveness. Does higher quality paid for content increase consumer engagement and ad performance? Does the increased ad clutter associated with free models reduce ad performance? These are important questions that Marketers will need to answer. 

3.  Advertising forms will continue to evolve. At one extreme, paid for content may have no traditional advertising at all, but may increasingly rely on product placements and hybrid ads that appear to be part of the show. The line between advertising and content will continue to blur. On the other extreme will be free content that continues to have a relatively high traditional advertising load. Viewers will be less attentive due to commercial pod interruptions, ads will compete with other ads, and ad breakthrough will be more challenged.  

Traditional TV Advertising: Continuing to Evolve

 

Paid or Free – Too Soon To Call  

Whether digital content moves inexorably toward free or paid, or some combination of the two (most likely in my opinion), Marketers will need to be increasingly adept at advertising models that work best in each environment. 

Every B-School grad learns the 80/20 rule. The question is how it applies to the paid/free media model world. Will the 20% of consumers who are willing to pay for content deliver 80% of the impact to advertisers? Or vice versa? The only thing that’s certain is this:  you can check back here soon to learn more – for free. 

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Linear TV vs. On-Line Video Advertising — Which is More Effective?

April 5, 2010

Did You Know That:

  • On-line video ad spending grew +41% in 2009 — even during a down advertising year?
  • 72% of all internet users in the U.S. viewed on-line video last year?
  • More U.S. consumers watch video on the web than watch recorded TV on DVR’s?

All of this adds up to something very interesting: On-Line Video advertising is growing like a weed. Which raises another question: how does On-Line Video advertising work versus Linear TV advertising? 

On-Line Video Ads -- How Do They Compare to Linear TV Ads ?

My colleague David Kaplan of Nielsen IAG (disclosure: I work for Nielsen) partnered with Beth Uyenco, Global Research Director from Microsoft, to compare the effectiveness of Linear TV advertising and On-Line Video advertising in a recent presentation to the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). 

Research Approach — What Was Measured

Kaplan and Uyenco used Nielsen IAG’s U.S. on-line panel to measure TV and web video advertising data from November 2007 to May 2009, across 238 brands, 412 products, and 951 advertising executions.  For each ad, they measured the same effectiveness metrics: general recall, brand recall, message recall and likeability. Key measurement metrics were identical across the two mediums. 

On-Line Video Advertising -- Why Is It More Effective ?

Key Learnings — Linear TV vs. On-Line Video

1.  On-Line Video Outperformed Linear TV — Remember that this was an “apples-to-apples” comparison which compared the exact same creative execution across the two mediums. On-Line Video scored higher than Linear TV ads, on average, for: 

  • General Recall:        65% vs. 46%
  • Brand Recall:           50% vs. 28%
  • Message Recall:      39% vs. 21%
  • Likeability:               26% vs. 14%

2.  The On-Line Video Advantage was Largest Among 13-24 year olds — Among younger consumers, On-Line Video outperformed Linear TV advertising by greater than 2 to 1. On-Line Video’s advantage cut across all age groups, but was smallest among  50+ year olds. 

3.  Re-purposed TV Ads Outperformed Web Original and Flash Animation Ads — This was one of the most interesting learnings of the study. Even when controlling for prior TV ad exposure, a re-purposed TV ad shown on web video performed better than ads created specifically for the web. What does this say about Marketers understanding of digital creative ? 

4.  Linear TV + Web Video Ads are More Effective Than Linear TV Alone — Consumers exposed to ads in both mediums had higher general recall, brand recall, message recall and likeability than consumers exposed to TV alone. Once again, the data clearly shows the advantage of a cross-platform, integrated marketing approach. 

Why Is On-Line Video More Effective ?

There are a number of reasons which could explain On-Line Video ad superiority: 

  • Higher Program Engagement — As I’ve discussed in a previous blog post, Why Your Brand Should Understand TV Program Engagement, research shows that the more engaged consumers are in a program, the more likely they are to remember the ads in the program. Nielsen IAG research shows that on-line video program engagement is +13% higher than the broadcast TV primetime norm. So, this higher engagement naturally drives higher ad recall.
  • Inability to Skip Advertising — If you’ve watched any On-Line Video, you know that you can’t easily skip the ads. I think the impact of DVR ad skipping on ads is over-rated, but the lack of DVR like ad skipping has to benefit On-Line Video ads.
  • Reduced Ad Clutter — On-Line Video has about 1/2 the ads per hour than regular network TV. Various research studies over the years have shown that there is a small, but significant, impact of clutter on advertising effectiveness.
  • Presence of Companion Ads — On-Line Video ads are more likely to have companion ads in the same program. The presence of companion ads increases ad effectiveness versus a single exposure alone. However, even when they controlled for a single ad exposure, On-Line Video still significantly outperformed Linear TV.

Now, before you think about running out and building your next campaign around On-Line Video, consider this: the average consumer spends only2% of the time viewing web video as they do TV. The practical implication of this is that most brands can’t deliver a high reach media plan with web video alone. 

But the facts remain: On-Line Video ads are more effective than Linear TV ads, especially among 13-24 year olds. As well, On-Line Video ads work synergistically with TV, and perhaps best of all, TV ads can be re-purposed on-line and actually score better than creative that’s been created specifically for the on-line medium. 

Can It Last ?

Some of the factors contributing to On-Line Video’s advantage, such as higher program engagement scores, are unlikely to change anytime soon. But others, like reduced ad clutter, will probably erode over time. Content providers are not making much money with their content on-line, and some are experimenting with more ads per hour. So, any advantage due to less clutter is likely to be short-lived. 

Nonetheless, with it’s higher performance versus Linear TV and spectacular growth rates, I think it’s only a matter of time On-Line Video ads become a signficant part of every smart CMO’s marketing mix. 

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