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?

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