Jerry W. Thomas
advertising media landscape is aglitter with new possibilities. Websites are
universal. Social media is everywhere. Mobile is pervasive. Massive shifts of
media dollars away from traditional media (television, radio, print) to the new
digital media are evident everywhere. Advertising budgets are often reduced as
brands transition to greater use of digital media. Along with the great
migration to digital media is a frantic increase in the pace of creative
development and rapid growth in the number of ads or commercials "aired.’’
advertising tracking surveys were abandoned as a result of the Great Recession
and its aftermath — on the eve of the greatest change in media since the
widespread adoption of television in the 1950s and 1960s. This means that the
macro effects of many brands’ shift to digital media have gone largely
unmeasured and uncharted.
few brands that are still doing survey-based advertising tracking are
increasingly suspicious that something is not right, that something is missing
(like the missing energy in the universe, the so-called dark energy, or the
missing matter in the universe, dark matter). Many brands are seeing brand and
advertising awareness numbers remain stagnant or even decline — in spite of a
rising tide of "likes’’ on Facebook and growing numbers of followers on
Twitter. Could it be that digital media is less effective than traditional
hypotheses to consider:
• Few of
the digital ads are based on upfront research or are pretested before airing.
No one knows if the ads will attract attention. No one knows what these ads are
communicating. No one knows if these digital ads are effective.
online space is cluttered; clutter tends to reduce the effectiveness of ads.
ads are frequently short-lived. New ads can be created quickly and
inexpensively, so a digital campaign might include many different ads. Too many
different ads can reduce advertising effectiveness.
reach of most digital media tends to be narrow, and a small percentage of heavy
online users tend to dominate the traffic.
sites, if not most, are plagued with imaginary or inflated traffic statistics.
The reach and frequency promised are seldom realized in actual practice, and
reliable measuring systems are not yet in place.
role of digital media in the marketing plan must be carefully researched and
planned to be effective. Rarely are these steps taken.
digital ads can be deleted or interrupted by actions of the viewer.
how is a brand to really know if its digital advertising is working? The
ultimate measuring stick is survey-based ad tracking. Perhaps at no time in the
past 75 years has survey-based advertising tracking been more important than it
is right now, given all the turmoil in media technology and media choices.
best practice is to track advertising by surveying the target audience. That
includes tracking brand awareness, advertising awareness, advertising message
recall, ad recognition, brand image, and related usage and trial data, along
with demographics. Ad tracking is the acid test, the ultimate macro measure of
overall advertising success or failure. Most importantly, the ad tracking must
be consistently pursued year after year so that there is an unbroken chain of
organizations have achieved this level of consistency in tracking their
advertising. Good advertising tracking is an essential advertising management
tool. Today’s associations need to ask themselves if they are spending enough
to maintain awareness, if their primary messages are getting through, if their
competitors are outflanking them, whether their sponsors’ advertising is having
positive effects, and whether the media mix is optimal.
advertising tracking data, brands are adrift on dark and stormy seas. What are
some other best practices to help companies navigate the rocks and shoals of
digital advertising and digital media?
Researching. Perhaps the most important best practice
is solid, upfront research among the target audience so that development of
advertising is guided by target audience needs, perceptions, and motivations.
Strategic positioning, marketing strategy, and messaging should be based on
research facts and evidence, not whim and intuition. Good qualitative research
(focus groups, depth interviews, ethnography) is almost always a component of
this upfront research, followed by testing of strategic positioning and
advertising concepts. The goal is a blueprint to guide development of the
Testing. Another best practice is to test or
pretest the ads before they go public. No one is smart enough to guess how
customers are going to respond to a given commercial or ad. Clear communication
is a very difficult thing to accomplish; we even fail at communicating with our
loved ones at times. Ads often convey hidden messages that even their creators
do not notice. The only way to ensure that the advertising creative is
effective is to test it among target-audience consumers. Every commercial or ad
should be tested so a body of knowledge about the advertising is growing from
commercial to commercial.
media money on poorly conceived and poorly executed advertisements is perhaps
the greatest single waste of marketing dollars.
Targeting. The final best practice is media-mix
modeling. What type of media is most effective for your brand, or what mix of
media is most effective? What spending levels generate the greatest return on
investment? Good advertising tracking data is a part of the media-mix modeling
dataset. Multivariate statistical techniques are used to implicitly measure the
effects of different media, different spend levels, and different media mixes
or combinations. The ultimate goal is to tease out cause and effect so that the
return on advertising investment can by optimized by type of media and other
modeling is not easy, and it is not inexpensive, but it can help improve the
returns on advertising investments by revealing the effects of online, mobile,
and social media versus traditional media.
fundamentals of marketing and advertising success have not changed because of
the digital revolution. If anything, the fundamentals are more important than
ever. We must always remember that advertising has short- and long-term
effects. Only with good, consistent research can these effects be measured and
Dark energy may be
sufficient explanation for what’s missing in physics, but dark energy has no
place in the world of marketing and advertising.
Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is
president and chief executive of Decision Analyst, a global research and
analytical consulting firm headquartered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.