After a hair-raising rollercoaster of two years, the local advertising business may finally be hitting even ground. Small and medium businesses have adjusted to a changing marketplace, and many are returning to local TV and digital advertising to generate new business and reconnect with longtime customers.
That's according to Dave Widmer, Vice President at a4 Advertising. He notes that as local businesses rebuild, it is more important than ever to communicate with consumers. "We encourage local businesses to get out there and talk about their features and benefits," he said. "Make sure you're reiterating your value proposition."
a4 (Advertising), short for Altice Advanced Advertising & Analytics, offers ad sales solutions for advertisers of all sizes. It offers cable TV ad opportunities in markets served by Altice systems, including Optimum, which serves sizable portions of the sprawling New York DMA. a4 Advertising also offers digital inventory on thousands of websites, apps and over-the-top (OTT) providers, and can even reach multiple screens with digital ad retargeting.
Serving local businesses is very much a part of a4 Advertising's mandate. When the pandemic hit its own business hard, a4 struggled alongside the small and medium clients that advertise on its platforms. Many businesses were forced to shutter their doors for weeks, if not months. Labor shortages and supply chain issues continue to reverberate through businesses of all sizes. Even now, two years later, some are rebuilding, while others are busier than ever.
"We all experienced the same adversity," said Widmer, who is based on Long Island and oversees a 28-person sales team. "Local partnerships helped everyone. We have deep-rooted relationships with advertisers. We know them. We're in their stores. We patronize their businesses."
After a difficult 2020, Widmer noted that the company's business rebounded stronger than ever in 2021. And this year is off to a robust start.
Some Long Island businesses and categories have fared better than others, and that's reflected in a4 Advertising's sales. Automotive, traditionally a top local ad category, is down as dealers struggle with inventory shortages (and manufacturers deal with chip shortages). But Widmer said four other verticals are thriving: home improvement, healthcare, legal, and financial services.
Even before the pandemic, his team was working to diversify its client roster, and the pandemic pushed these four categories to the forefront. "It's intuitive that when people are home more, they're thinking about their house more," he explained. "When there's a pandemic, they're thinking about their health. When there's financial turbulence, they're thinking about their finances, and, during any unsettled time, legal becomes a big issue."
While Widmer specializes in the New York area, he hears similarly encouraging reports on local businesses from other markets. "The trends we're seeing in home improvement and healthcare are happening everywhere," he said.
Despite those robust categories, many businesses still feel pinched by the financial strains related to COVID-19. Persuading them to open their wallets for advertising can be challenging. That's where a4's broad menu of services comes into play, Widmer noted.
When business owners hear TV advertising, they often object, thinking advertising costs will be sky-high. That's not necessarily true, Widmer said. Advertising on cable TV presents opportunities to buy across networks at varied price points. Businesses can access the biggest networks, from Fox News to ESPN, at reasonable rates. They can even buy spots in marquee events like the March Madness men's basketball tournament and the recent Final Four, which was telecast on TBS. a4 can package networks with high-time-spent-viewing optimization, so businesses extend their reach and frequency with relevant audiences.
a4 Advertising can also target linear TV, digital video and OTT buys as well as mobile with its Ad Messenger platform. Targeting used to be digital media's selling differential, compared to linear TV. Not anymore. Using set-top data from Altice cable boxes, a4 can access proprietary anonymized data on individual households' viewing habits. Combined with other consumer data, such as credit card history, a4 Advertising can build granular, detailed media plans to target advanced audience segments.
With data targeted buys, "the client knows that their dollars, that every one of their dollars, is going to go to a prospective consumer that meets the criteria of who they're trying to reach," Widmer said. For instance, the company recently created a media plan for a Long Island pharmacy interested in reaching pet owners. In doing so, it combined cable networks that index high for households that own pets, including Animal Planet, National Geographic and The Weather Channel. This was highly effective for the client. In another example, Widmer explained that Long Island advertisers can narrow the market down into seven zones and target households by zip code.
But a4 Advertising doesn't stop with linear cable TV. Since Altice is also a high-speed internet provider, a4 can access IP-level data on browsing activity and digital streaming usage. It can use that information to inform media buys and deliver ads on internet-connected devices. Retargeting capabilities allow a4 Advertising to deliver messages to multiple devices.
"That's our calling card," Widmer concluded. "Data is everything."
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