“Focus on branding helps display…close the gap”

Just a quick post to call attention to today’s article in eMarketer.

Display will grow significantly faster than Search over the next several years, with Display well on pace to be the largest online ad segment by the end of the decade.  Maybe there’s a reason Google’s so focused on display these days.

Of particular interest is the source of the strong growth:  brand budgets moving online.  Certainly not a surprise to us and (as they say in poker) there’s plenty more behind.

This is going to be a big pot.  I love it when a plan comes together.

DVRs will cut TV advertising in half over the next 5 years

More evidence of the large and growing holes in the TV advertising dike passed with little fanfare a ways back.  I continue to be surprised at the relative lack of coverage (that is, other than mine) of what appears to be a huge story in media: the rapid and inexorable infiltration of the world’s living rooms by DVRs and the implications for TV – today’s workhorse branding medium.

This latest data (not as fresh as I’d like, as I’ve been a little busy) is from a Comcast-sponsored poll, so should potentially be taken with a grain of salt.  However, even with salt, it presents a pretty stark picture.  Some highlights:

•    Time-shifted TV has more than doubled in the past year alone
•    >40% of Americans now make plans to record their favorite shows for later viewing
•    74% of viewers have watched prime-time TV using video on demand, DVRs or the Internet

Estimates vary, but some sources report up to 2/3 of viewers skip commercials in recorded programming.  Combining that figure with the usage stats above means that more than 20% of TV commercials will be skipped this season.  Not only that, but researchers believe that commercial skipping increases as users become more familiar with the technology; that 2/3 will likely increase.

These data have fairly dramatic implications for the mid- to long-term value of the TV ad model.

Perhaps this story hasn’t gotten much attention because the Nielsen “C3 ratings” – launched in 2007 and designed to take into account both time-shifting and commercial skipping – didn’t look much different initially.  What seemed a little strange (at least to me) is that they still don’t look much different – most shows actually fare better under C3 than the “live” ratings.

This was counter-intuitive until I actually did the math.  Because C3 includes both time-shifting (incremental to live ratings) and skipping (decremental), C3 will always be equal to or greater than live ratings because skipping cannot be greater than time shifting by definition.  However, this can (and does) occur even as the size of the audience viewing TV advertising shrinks dramatically.

Consider the (highly simplified1) example below:

In rough terms, a show watched by an audience of 20M people goes from a C3 rating of 6.7 pre-DVR, to a C3 rating of 3.3 in 10 years under perfectly realistic assumptions flowing from DVR penetration projections and usage research cited and linked above.  Total viewership of the programming, including time shifting (Live +7), can stay the same or even increase, but ratings for the commercials themselves (C3) plummet under any reasonable scenario.

So DVRs will cut the effective reach of commercial TV advertising in half, absent some dramatic changes in consumer behavior, TV advertising models or DVR devices themselves.   This represents nearly $40 billion in advertising spend simply being “skipped”, i.e. wasted, or a doubling of cost per GRP which amounts to the same thing.

That seems like a newsworthy headline.  I wonder why I haven’t seen it before today.

Incidentally, that $40B in TV money coming into play makes me especially excited that Brand.net offers the best and most scalable web-wide media forecasting, buying and delivery management platform available today, with cutting-edge tools for agencies to drive measurable, profitable offline sales with online advertising.

1 In the interest of simplicity, this commentary and analysis ignores some edge cases related to different measurement methodologies between live ratings, which measure viewership of content and C3 which measures viewership of commercial pods only. These simplifications do not materially affect the conclusion.

The Trillion-Dollar O2O Opportunity

Some interesting dialog on ad exchanger today about bringing brand dollars online.  Obviously a topic near and dear to our hearts here at Brand.net, even though I think this particular framing of the issue is less and less relevant as the distinction between online and offline blurs.

Zach’s a smart guy and I agree with some of his points.  Manually cobbling together a buy won’t allow the scale advertisers need.  Check.  We as media providers need to enable the creatives to deliver the message in a compelling way.  Check.  Where I lose the thread is his jump to how DSPs, RTB and exchanges magically solve everything for brands.

It is possible to use a DSP (as he describes) to bid only on specific top sites that have offered, transparently for RTB through an exchange, the same inventory their direct sales forces sell.  But there’s simply no scale available that way today.  And unless publishers are prepared to gut out and cannibalize their primary direct sales channel, there won’t be tomorrow either. 

So that’s a big hurdle.  But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that changes.  How much will this premium inventory via RTB cost relative to a direct buy?  Can you plan at scale and count on that cost, or even on basic delivery?  I.e., ultimately, if you use a DSP/exchange in this manner are you really better off?  Or to recognize significant efficiency in terms of cost and effort do you need to buy into the long tail and/or buy blindly by audience or contextual category rather than by site?

Also, the tech world seems to have convinced itself – with a few intelligent exceptions – that large global advertisers would unanimously and emphatically agree that transparency to a media provider’s margin structure is much more important than level of or predictability of costs.  Is a $5 CPM that includes a known margin better than a $3.50 CPM for the same thing that includes an unknown margin?  Is a CPM that could vary between $2 and $4 for delivery that could vary between 20% and 100% of target better than a fixed CPM of $3 on a guaranteed buy?  Large advertisers may well be unanimous on these questions, but not in the direction the tech community majority seems to think. 

Let’s not forget that low cost is not necessarily the same as high-value – there is an “R” in ROI.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with Zach’s post, well articulated by Jeff Rosen in the comments.   Most large brand advertisers – CPG companies are great examples – generate 95% of their sales offline.  For them to spend at scale, they need to know their investments in media are profitably driving incremental offline sales. 

Offline sales impact data comes in with several months lag (at best) and isn’t tied to individual cookies, which are the lingua franca of RTB.  Probably just as well, because when this data does come back it’s not particularly kind to some of the targeting techniques most often used for RTB.  “It doesn’t work that well”  is obviously a big (huge) disconnect, and of course that is before we even get  to the troubling privacy and data ownership issues created by the questionable provenance of much of today’s online targeting data.

Not surprisingly, growing recognition of the importance of this tie between online media and offline activity has spawned a shiny new TLA:  “O2O” (for “Online To Offline”).  O2O is still just a foal of an acronym, but this foal has legs – like the legs on which most people still walk into brick and mortar stores to do 95% of their retail spending. 

O2O is truly a trillion dollar opportunity.

Companies like Groupon have done a great job demonstrating the potential of O2O for promotional spending.  The typical Groupon offer is time-sensitive and designed to drive foot traffic and sales more or less immediately – a savvy twist on the successful online DR advertising model.  Based on the results this model has shown to date, we’re going to see a lot more in the future.

But I also think we need to think more broadly about the potential of O2O than simply the ability to motivate customers at the bottom of the funnel.  Online media is also a powerful, efficient and increasingly proven way to create the awareness, consideration and intent that translate into higher offline sales.  Offline sales increases created in this way have longer cycles than promotional lifts simply because they originate at the top of the funnel, but we, Nielsen, comScore and others prove every day that they are also measurable with accuracy and statistical rigor.

I am always up for a healthy debate, but we’re not going to unlock the huge potential of O2O by debating each other.  We need to spend less time navel gazing and more time with real customers delivering enterprise-class technology that accommodates their business processes and ultimate (not just proximate) marketing objectives.

Stay tuned for more on this shortly.

Great work from MarketShare Partners

A quick post this AM to point readers to a great piece of work from MarketShare Partners and the IAB that was released last week.

The case studies presented are interesting and present exactly the type of rigorous analysis that should go into optimizing the marketing mix.  We in online advertising spend most of our time thinking about the downstream decisions – i.e., how to get more of the budget that’s available to our channel.  It’s great to see some smart thinking from a smart company focused on the upstream decisions as well.

Some highlights:

  • A relatively small reallocation of media spend can have a significant impact on marketers’ revenue. For example, one media optimization scenario examined in this study demonstrated a 6% increase in revenue—even after a 13% decrease in total marketing spend—when dollars were shifted to interactive.
  • In all three of the scenarios presented, huge increases in online display spend were recommended (average of 107%).  These recommended increases were due to a combination of relative effectiveness, relative saturation effects and cross-media synergies.
  • The average recommended increase in online display spend was nearly twice the average recommended increase in Search spend (61%)
  • In 2 of the 3 scenarios presented, MSPs analysis explicitly recommended significant shifts in spend away from bottom of the funnel strategies (promotions/incentives) to upper funnel strategies (media)

I would recommend everyone take a few minutes to read this white paper, and stay on the lookout for more great stuff from MSP.

Simplifying the Narrative

Josh Chasin of comScore can definitely count me among his fans.  He wrote a great article late last year on the limitations of CTR as a metric.  A couple weeks back he wrote another great one that I have been looking for a moment to comment on.  Between the upcoming product launch and the 1 year old I finally found a little time, somewhat belatedly.

As I read it, the main theme of Josh’s most recent article was that as an industry we have inhibited the migration of brand-focused budgets online with complex and conflicting narratives, which cause advertisers essentially to throw up their hands and look for reasons not to spend.  I couldn’t agree more.  In fact, I don’t think Josh would object to framing this as a different angle on the same idea I discussed in a post last year (Josh – feel free to comment if I am taking your name in vain).  Regardless of the angle we each take on the story, we’re clearly in violent agreement that the narrative needs to be simpler.

Josh is also quite correct that the 30-spot is an extremely compelling creative format, next to which a hastily-assembled static banner can look, well, flat.  However, as I have previously noted, within 5 years about 80% of households will have the capability to fast forward through that compelling creative.  Online creative formats get more compelling every year – it’s not hard to imagine a well-made pre-roll, rich media or even animated flash creative execution comparing favorably to a TV ad that is watched at 10X normal speed with no sound.

Even before DVRs reach their inevitable tipping point, the research shows that online advertising drives sales at least as well as TV.

One area where I might diverge with Josh just a bit is on the “scale” element of the narrative.  As he correctly points out, a single highly-rated TV show generates gobs of inventory.  Let’s use his Two and a Half Men example.  The 6 rating means 18M unique viewers, which when multiplied by the 15 spots per episode yields the 270M impressions per episode he mentions.  Breaking that number down in the context of a particular campaign, however, makes it more manageable.  Even if a marketer was comfortable with a frequency of 3 during the half-hour sitcom, that would translate to about 50M impressions.  If it was truly necessary to deliver those impressions in a half-hour period, that’s a pretty big buy for online – possible, but big.  If, however, we allow those impressions to be delivered over a week (i.e. between the beginning of this episode of Two and a Half Men and the beginning of the next one), it starts to look a lot more manageable.  So I would argue that the scale is there, it’s just not as “instantaneous” because web content consumption is less “event-based” that TV consumption.

This all assumes, however, that we’re talking about the type of objective targeting that is possible to do buying a prime-time TV spot – i.e., context, demo, geo.  The myriad other online targeting techniques that continue to proliferate, creating “monstrous” complexity as they do, just can’t deliver anything like that type of scale; we’re not delivering 50M impressions in a week to 18M “competitive peanut butter bakers” any time soon.

For me, it all points back to Josh’s bottom line.  Online has the audience, the content, the creative and yes, the metrics.  A decade of burgeoning complexity has moved lots of DR money online, but brands are still waiting for the simple, efficient, repeatable scale of TV.

If we give them a simpler narrative, reflecting a simpler process, the money will move.

Again, I would suggest our goal needs to be, “Your audience moved. Your marketing needs to follow them. Let us show you how the internet can deliver the same quality, scalability and value as TV.”

What do you think?

Creative matters.

Very interesting article in Ad Age on Monday.

Not standard fare for this page – I usually focus on media as opposed to broader marketing or creative topics, but I found this article thought-provoking.  The author argues that establishing the right name for a new product category can be just as important in the long term as establishing a brand presence within it and uses several effective examples to illustrate the point.

While his goal is to highlight the importance of thinking carefully and independently about the product name and the category name, I don’t think he would argue that both are essentially branding exercises.  I.e. the same level of thought that goes into branding a product should also go into branding a new category, should you be lucky enough to have that opportunity.

Definitely a theme that we’d be wise to keep in mind in a space as dynamic as online advertising where it seems there’s a new acronym every quarter, whose definitions can often lack clarity even within the industry itself.

I was immediately reminded of the goosebump-inducing carousel scene from the finale of Mad Men Season 1 (worth watching again even if you have seen it several times, by the way).

With all the attention on media and media technology these days, let’s not forget the creative.

What Online Advertising Should Learn From TV’s Upfront Market

Just a short post today to steer folks to this year’s Ad Age Network & Exchange Issue.  In it I have a byline that outlines, in a more popularly accessible way, the main ideas of my previous technical piece on on the importance of the futures market for Brand marketers.

We think that the Futures market is a critical and under-served space in online advertising.  So we’re proud to offer the industry’s first and only web-wide Media Futures Platform, which has powered guaranteed delivery of high-quality campaigns with phenomenal offline sales results since 2008.

As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments!

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