Once upon a time...

11 Jan 2012  |  Chris Worrell 
Chris Worrell

Chris Worrell: Can advertisers use digital to tell engaging brand stories?

For the last decade, give or take, the internet has had something of an impact on the advertising landscape - it has grown from a 3% share of advertising spend to become the biggest advertising channel in the UK - commanding over one in four advertising pounds spent.

Let's have a look at how that one in four (or over £2 billion every six months if you prefer) breaks down in a bit more detail. Over half of that money is search, i.e. Google. The remaining 40% is split relatively evenly, with classified taking 17% and display (banners, video, social et al) 23%.

This is interesting, because it actually puts display advertising online at around £520 million in the first half of 2011. To give this some context, that's less money than brands spend on regional newspaper advertising or even classified in press. Wow!

So why is it that this behemoth that has transformed virtually every part of society commands less display advertising money from brands than national newspapers, than direct mail, regional newspapers or classified press ads?

Digital has been the monetisation King of Advertising, the Crown Prince of ROI, the Lord of Accountability. Case closed. Hence search is 58% of all digital advertising spend. This is why direct response makes up more than half of digital display advertising spend.

Digital has been able to prompt action, but can it tell stories? Good, old fashioned stories that brands want to tell and consumers can't help but be drawn into?

One of my particular highlights of 2011 was an engaging panel session hosted by Andrew Cracknell at Internet Week Europe on storytelling (and I recommend reading his book too) where a member of the audience denounced all of the panellists examples of digital story telling as "rubbish compared to advertising of the sixties - just competitions to bribe consumers, not engaging stories that inspire and involve".

So is social, aka Facebook, the answer to digital fulfilling a story telling role? Brands are flocking to it in their droves apparently. 'Social Media' spend was up 60% year on year according to the IAB. But I'm not convinced. And I'm not the only one. Sir Martin Sorrell warns that 'invading these social media with commercial messages might not be the right thing'.

And is there big brand spending? Consider Ford, whose centrepiece of their 2012 Focus launch was a Facebook page. While Ford shelled out an estimated $95 million to advertise the new Focus across a broad range of media, it spent just pennies on the dollar for Facebook ads according to the WSJ. As for results, the Pepsi vs Coca Cola battle and end result (Diet Coke edged ahead of Pepsi to claim the number two sales slot in the US, behind Coca Cola) is well documented. In my experience, Facebook largely consists of small business ads - in my case cycling charities, easy credit solutions, greying hair cures and angry birds updates (so at least it is well targeted!).

So is digital display resigned to the role of click now - buy instantly, download here - or can it really be a storytelling medium? Due to a number of developments, I feel it definitely can be:

  • Brands have lots of content, often expensively produced, often under used or under viewed
  • TV is an expensive place to show this content
  • TV by and large restricts a brand's content to thirty seconds in length
  • More and more consumers are watching more and more content online
  • Online is the most efficient, targeted content distribution network that exists
  • Storytelling can be measured, using relevant and actionable performance indicators
  • Brands can engage consumers using bespoke, synergised content - square peg into square hole
  • This amplifies existing TV and digital budgets cost effectively

Underpinning all this is the need for a less binary thought process, more joined up thinking across all media as well as within the digital discipline. Brands and media must evolve with consumers. Specific Media provides a good case study - our heritage is in distributing display advertising efficiently across a highly targeted premium network. We have evolved to using this approach to distribute engaging video advertising, to creating web ready, HD quality, bespoke content in our own studio and to owning our own media in Myspace. Only this week we announced at CES exciting plans to bring the TV to life.

Joining these individually powerful elements together enables brands to use digital to tell stories with an outcome greater than the sum of the parts. This is critical, harnessing the various 'non matching luggage' touch points of digital advertising that the consumer encounters to deliver compelling stories - across screens, across devices, across formats.

Insight underpins this approach to storytelling too. Not only does the insight derived from hundreds of campaigns and millions of users online behaviour shape and inform creative ideas, audience interests and content distribution but, being digital, campaign effectiveness can be quickly and easily measured, or indeed pre-tested. As part of our Specific Media VITAMIN project we tested a number of original programme concepts, with and without pre roll advertising, among a range of content types and audiences. Consistently it was the strongest performing advertising format from a brand metrics perspective (recall et al) but also the most welcomed from a format evaluation point of view.

In a recent look ahead to 2012, Jane Ratcliffe, chairman of MediaCom said: "There may also be exciting times ahead in the content arena, both in terms of production companies and content rights, which will open up huge opportunities for the brave." With the case for branded content so compelling I feel it offers huge opportunities for the logical and rational as well as the brave.

Your Comments

Wednesday, 11 January 2012, 18:33 GMT

It's perfectly reasonable for Chris Worrell of Specific Media to promote his own commercial interests by bigging up online display (excluding social it seems!). We all do it after all. But a few observations: first of all, using time spent with a medium as justification for levels of investment in it is irrelevant and - sorry to say it - a bit pathetic. Advertisers invest because a medium is effective. Print accounts for only 6% of time but takes nearly four times that share in ad revenue because it still works for many advertisers.

And be careful what you wish for. Using the IPA TouchPoints media time data, online advertising already commands a bigger share of ad revenue than its share of media time (19% of media time vs 25%+ of ad revenue). Most time spent online is not surfing websites or even doing social media stuff but doing email, where I think Chris would agree that the display advertising opportunities are non-existent. And rather than having a dig at TV (which I can assure you all is extremely cheap, at 1980s' prices, and available in any time-length you choose) he should be joining forces with TV to get bigger budgets overall into TV and video advertising. Just a thought.

Tess Alp's Quality time blog.

Tess Alps
CEO
Thinkbox
Thursday, 12 January 2012, 16:23 GMT

I agree with Tess... not all media is equal and can be evaluated by a time spent denominator. The flawed logic assumes that all media deliver the same experience to the consumer and the same opportunities for engagement.

Mike Bloxham explains it well and in more detail in this perspective piece. However, I believe Chris isn't arguing for this in a totally binary way - he is pushing for a more creative thought process to how engagement can work online - as is his commercial prerogative.

Stuart Corke
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