Wake-up and smell the bacon
By believing the hype around a uniquely digital future, advertisers are missing out on the potential for impressive effectiveness uplifts, writes Peter Field
I spend a lot of my time analysing effectiveness databases and reading effectiveness case studies. One common finding continually emerges from this: that the most effective campaigns make use of both traditional and new digital media. There are many good reasons for this that centre on the complementarity of the channels - each tends to cover areas of weakness of the other.
So it has always seemed to me an absurd suggestion that advertisers should ditch traditional media in order to put even more money into digital. Indeed we may well have reached the point where advertisers would do well to start pulling some money out of digital to invest more in traditional media.
What is certainly true from the findings of a new report I recently conducted for Newsworks is that we should be sceptical of the relentless suggestions that traditional, "legacy" media are a thing of the past. Based on the IPA databank and covering cases from the most recent published awards (2012-2014), the study revealed some really impressive effectiveness uplifts in cases that used UK national newsbrands, both print and online.
The study set out to find the answers to three questions:
1. How does the use of newsbrands generally influence effectiveness?
2. Does the use of both print and digital newsbrands increases effectiveness?
3. How do newsbrands work alongside other channels?
So what are the key findings?
The main conclusion of the research is that the use of newsbrands - in whatever form - result in a significant uplift in effectiveness.
We also found there to be a multiplier effect between channels, so the use of online and print newsbrands together is more effective than either in isolation. Similarly, newsbrands work very powerfully alongside established, traditional media such as TV, but particularly and perhaps unsurprisingly, alongside social media.
This adds to what we're increasingly finding; that social media doesn't work so well on its own, but performs better when used in combination with powerful, effective media. This research shows that newsbrands provide a particularly strong boost to social media.
Beyond these core findings, there are three really important outcomes from this study:
Don't buy the hype, traditional media are very much alive
Advertisers and agencies are constantly being bombarded by assertions of what works and predictions about the future of advertising. Part and parcel of this is a tendency to downgrade "traditional", legacy media as a relic of the past. Yet this study reminds us of the folly of that point of view. Legacy media, in this case print newsbrands, play a powerful role when it comes to advertising effectiveness.
That's not to disregard digital, but to remind us that it's not the be all and end all. When it comes to implementing effective campaigns, some combination of established traditional channels with digital media is likely to be the best way forward for the foreseeable future.
Not all digital media are born equal
We live in times when digital media are commodity-traded like pork bellies, with the inbuilt assumption that an impression is an impression, and that the context in which that impression was received is irrelevant to its value. This ignorant assumption is despite decades of evidence to the contrary, all of which appears to have gone over the heads of the IT people who design the programmatic trading platforms.
Not surprisingly, some digital media have a more powerful impact on effectiveness than others and we should start to bear that in mind when we think about what we are buying. This study reminds us that the value of content and environment is still very important in advertising.
We need to take the long view
In our industry, there is a great temptation to focus too much on short-term effects. What we find in this study, yet again, is a re-iteration of the importance of media that can deliver over the longer-term. Time and again, the analysis shows that newsbrands' ability to contribute to long-term effectiveness is a key driver of success for brands.
This echoes important broader lessons about effectiveness in general. Newsbrands' pattern of effectiveness coincides with the kind of things we should be looking for if we're trying to deliver year on year success for brands, as opposed to those quick-win, hit-and-run kind of campaigns that are in vogue, but don't always deliver.
So don't forget to take the hype with a pinch of salt. Digital channels have made an important and transformational impact on effectiveness, but the future is not theirs alone. There are many ways in which legacy media are essential to the mix and that is not about to change. We are being over-hyped and oversold on a uniquely digital future. We need to get real and take a more evidence-based view of what really drives effectiveness.
Peter Field is an effectiveness consultant, co-author of The Long and the Short of It and an honorary Fellow of the UK Institute of Practitioners in Advertising