It’s not technology that’s killing advertising

An article in MediaDailyNews highlights that the more popular the TV show the more likely TiVo users are to timeshift the show and to fast-forward through the ads.

To me this reinforces a couple of grim realities for our approach to advertising and media planning.

The first is that people don’t generally like being interrupted. But they particularly don’t like being interrupted while doing something they enjoy. The second is that an opportunity to see is not the same as active involvement.

The simple, and quite reasonable, conclusion to draw from this MediaDailyNews article is that it’s another example of how changing technology is the cause of many of our industry’s struggles. Technology has evolved that allows people to watch TV differently. They can record shows to watch when it suits them, in a way that suits them – as an event, relaxed and uninterrupted. And this same technology allows them to choose to avoid ads entirely. They can put their focus where they wanted it all along – on the TV show.

But our mistake is in looking at the technology as the issue. In fact we’re guilty of doing this with technology in general – technology fuels media fragmentation, technology facilitates the social networks that lure people away from ‘traditional’ media, technology (in the form of the internet) has changed the way people relate to brands, and the expectations they have of brands, to the point where advertising struggles to achieve what it used to.

But the mistake is to blame the technology, to take the easy out that ‘technology is killing advertising’. To blame TiVo, Facebook and YouTube. Because they’re not to blame. What’s killing advertising is years of crap advertising.

We used to be able to put whatever we wanted in front of people. (Or, to be fair, whatever clients wanted to put in front of people). But those people didn’t have a mechanism for avoiding the advertising that wasn’t interesting/useful. At best it just washed over them, at worst it disrespected their intelligence and verged on offensive. But our big mistake was in how we chose to measure the effectiveness of what we did.

We basically measured reach, or opportunities to see, and we tried to establish a cause and effect relationship between advertising and brand health measures. But by and large we measured exposure to advertising, not engagement with advertising. Marketers were able to simply expose what they thought should be interesting to people, instead of engaging people with what was actually interesting to them. And because we chose not to measure this, we could choose to ignore it. So we, or our clients, could put aside the fact that most of what we produced was actually alienating our audience and sowing the seeds for the problem we now encounter.

Which meant that at the point at which people were presented with a means of avoiding advertising they took to it with relish. Not because of the technology, but because their expectation of the utility of advertising was so low. It wasn’t generally interesting so it was generally avoided. And at the same time, a lot of the advertising that was useful previously (of the special-offer/buy-it-here/limited-time variety) migrated online where it became much more user-friendly, comparable and useful.

What really depresses me about this is that we don’t seem to have learnt a lesson. We have in ‘digital’ an amazing new medium and an opportunity to do things better. Wonderful opportunities to create engagement, meaningful and long-term, with people, but it seems like we’re re-creating exactly the same pattern. We’ve reverted to CPM as our primary measure of effectiveness. We measure impressions, the number of times an ad is presented, not the number of times it creates meaningful brand engagement. (I realise there are also plenty of other measures but it’s the one that I most often hear discussed with clients.)

The problem is it’s such an easy, and therefore tempting, out for Marketers. Set a goal that’s based on a deliverable that’s distinct from quality, make it easily quantifiable and report success.  And perpetuate the theory that you can’t really measure the success of ‘marketing’ because it’s too multi-dimensional.

And when the dreaded, easily-disparaged Financial Controller asks for some proof of ROI present a summary that establishes that lots of people had the opportunity to see the ads you produced, that some of them clicked on those ads, and that a brand health measure moved at some point immediately following a burst of advertising activity.

But it’s measurement and ROI that are right to the heart of the challenge we face as an industry. There are three things we can all agree on:

  1. We all believe that the general quality of advertising could be so much better
  2. We all believe that if it were better it would be that much more effective
  3. We all believe that agencies should be more reasonably paid for what they do

And all of these issues are tied up together.  The basic problem is that we don’t have a means of determining value – of proving that good work is more effective and delivers huge value that we should be rewarded for.

But we’re not really working on how we measure it. We know it’s difficult and that there’s not an easy answer.  But in the meantime we’re measuring the wrong things and watching as things get worse.  As long as we let ‘exposure’ remain the primary measure of effectiveness we will see our industry get further commoditised while the quality of work continues to fall.

The most pressing issue for the industry isn’t TVNZ and its commission reduction. Nor is it what we’ll do now that D&AD and One Show have banned scam.  And it’s not whether new technologies are killing advertising. The most pressing issue is the need for a robust measurement system that proves that good advertising is exponentially more valuable than bad advertising and that places ‘engagement’ at the centre of the effectiveness discussion.

If I were CAANZ I’d go to every similar advertising federation the world over. I’d ask them to levy every agency they represent. I’d raise enough money to engage McKinsey and have it build that measurement model.  And once McKinsey has proven that engagement is the only measure that reliably predicts brand success and that great advertising is the only tool that can reliably deliver that engagement, we might have a chance of seeing good work embraced and agencies well-rewarded. Because that’s a language that clients can understand from a source they trust.

If we do we might find that we get to produce more of the kind of work we know works best. We might find that every marketing organisation becomes more successful because of it. We might find that we get paid more for conceiving and producing that work because its value is clear for all to see. 

And we might ultimately find that we create an industry that never again needs to grapple with how to stop people avoiding what we produce. Because they won’t want to.

It’s not technology that’s killing advertising

One thought on “It’s not technology that’s killing advertising

  1. nick says:

    Yep. I agree (I seem to be agreeing with you a lot these days) TV advertising is facing some tough times coming up. Personally I think that they’re going to have to embrace TiVo.

    It’s my belief that advertising will be absorbed into programming. For instance you see a pair of jeans in a TV show and you think “I’d like those jeans” you pause the programming and you online order the jeans.

    There was a trial in San Franciso the US where viewers were able to order a pizza from Dominos on-line during a TV marathon. They had over 500,000 orders. Granted it was a Star Trek marathon so they knew their audience.

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