Platform neutral: Why the data doesn’t always tell the full story

02 Jul 2018  |  Ian Reynolds 
Platform neutral: Why the data doesn’t always tell the full story

All data points to the rise of mobile and digital, but we must question what the numbers really mean when viewed in the light of real-world media consumption habits, writes Ian Reynolds

Another week goes by and another set of data charts the irrepressible rise of digital media.

GroupM’s latest figures point to the fact that UK advertising is expected to exceed £20bn in 2019, with digital investment fuelling market growth of 6.1% this year.

This is backed up by separate analysis from Zenith, which goes on to highlight the importance of mobile, which it says will account for 30.5% of global ad spend in 2020 – or a colossal $187bn – and is expected to overtake TV in 2021 at its current rate of growth.

The facts and figures are unambiguous; and there is no doubting the ubiquitous nature of smartphones or the fact that almost every element of life is subject to digitisation - to a greater or lesser degree. But there is arguably cause to question what the numbers really mean when viewed in light of the media consumption habits of today’s consumers in the real world.

Platform crossover

Because it is here where, inevitably, things get more complicated. Outside the parameters of the neatly-defined data tables so much more is going on. There is interaction, crossover and meshing between platforms, channels and devices – and it all serves to complicate what might sound simple at a surface level.

To take a fairly everyday example, if I’m streaming on-demand content from a catch-up service having just boarded a train where there are clearly visible Out-of-Home ads, am I still just watching TV? Am I a mobile statistic? Has the Traincard registered an ‘impression’?

The fact is that, based on certain definitions, digital and mobile cannot be considered as distinct media platforms that exist in glorious isolation. Mobile, for example, is often at the centre of multi-layered campaigns that engage consumers across platforms and at multiple touchpoints.

So rather than considering just the strengths of a single channel, marketers have an opportunity to optimise the delivery of their message across channels at a time and place where consumers are most receptive.

Complex commuter journeys

The importance of considering a contextual rather than channel-specific approach is reinforced by some of our own research. We questioned commuters about the media they consumed on a particular journey to paint a ‘live’ picture of how habits are changing.

Our hypothesis was that the advertising environment on the UK’s rail network retains the brand-building qualities of ‘classic’ Out-of-Home (OOH) but that mobile-equipped commuters are increasingly taking more complex media journeys that cross over between analogue and digital at various points. This then brings a new, valuable element of immediate activation to the classic Traincard channel.

The findings show just how embedded mobile use is among the commuter audience, with 88% using their smartphone during an average journey. Many are heavily dependent on their devices - almost three-quarters (72%) use their phone for between 50% and 100% of their journey, and 33% check their device as much as every couple of minutes.

With the expansion of high-speed on-board Wi-Fi services and a promise from the Government’s Digital Minister Matt Hancock for 5G connectivity speeds of around 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) for rail commuters by 2025, there is a clear path to more data-heavy, rich media streaming among passengers.

Blurring the boundaries

It is also set to accelerate the business of ‘commuter commerce’. Over a quarter (26%) of London’s train commuters are browsing, shopping and spending via their mobile devices during the journey to and from work every day, with purchases spanning a diverse range of items from clothing and groceries to holidays as well as sports equipment and luxury goods.

And it is here where the boundaries of digital and analogue are being tested as mobile, search and out-of-home (OOH) combine to complement each other. Advertising within the train environment acts as a trigger for brands, driving immediate on-device consideration and also even purchase, with a third (33%) of rail travellers agreeing they have bought something as a direct result of seeing advertising on the train - an increase of 38% since 2015.

In addition, of the 94% of respondents who noticed the advertising on-train, 39% subsequently talked to someone about products or services they saw advertised and 56% went on to do further research.

So while the headlines scream of digital growth, the story is one of more subtlety and complexity. For brands, therefore, it’s less about making choices based on channels and more a case of capitalising on context.


Ian Reynolds is managing director of KBH On-Train Media

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