It has long been possible to buy digital campaigns from companies, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Spotify without ever talking with a sales representative. In fact, for most advertisers, self-service ad buying is their only purchase option. That accessibility, more even than the efficacy of such media, has contributed to the growth of digital. Now that ease of transaction is coming to traditional media. This summer, Comcast Spotlight was the first major television ad sales organization to nationally roll out a self-service platform for small businesses.
For Maria Weaver, chief marketing officer, for Comcast Advertising, the launch of TV Ad Planner is about empowering small business owners to access the power and influence of television. "Our goal was to create a platform that is simple, easy-to-use and lets advertisers purchase TV the same way they buy digital media," Weaver says. "We talk about audiences and impressions, not networks and ratings."
TV Ad Planner
TV Ad Planner is available today in 57 of 66 of the markets within Comcast's 35 million subscriber footprint. The last markets to launch are ones like New York, where coverage is shared with other operators, and even those markets will be launching soon. Advertisers can use the platform to place local ads on dozens of networks, including AMC, CNN, Discovery, ESPN, Food Network, and Fox News — but Weaver emphasizes that customers don't need to know the nuances of viewership or scheduling to create effective campaigns. The platform uses the same set-top-box-data tools that larger advertisers use to create effective schedules, allowing self-service clients to quickly develop their own campaigns.
These local advertisers don't even need an existing commercial. "If they have creative, they can upload their own," she says. "But if they don't, we can create a spot for them within 72 hours."
Advertisers can track campaign performance via the platform, as well. Although advertisers in many categories are using the platform, the healthcare, education, and automotive categories are performing particularly well, according to Weaver.
Of course, to promote the platform to business decision-makers, the Comcast Spotlight team is placing TV ads on its own inventory, as well as running hyper-focused digital marketing to targeting segments where there is the most opportunity. Weaver acknowledges, "It's a pretty standard marketing and PR approach."
Preparing for Rollout
The research behind the rollout was extensive. "We invested six months, conducting experiential research in the field with real business owners who are new to TV, staying hyper-focused on what our target advertisers need from a tool like this," Weaver says. "We wanted to dispel the myths that television is expensive, difficult to use, complicated to buy, or only available to large-scale advertisers with big budgets. And we needed to make it simple, easy, and convenient to use."
According to Gordon Borrell, chief executive officer of Borrell Associates, which conducts regular surveys of small and medium-size advertisers nationwide, advertising decision-makers are increasingly comfortable placing advertising directly. "While 57 percent of the businesses we surveyed last quarter deal with a sales rep for almost every campaign they place," Borrell says, "43 percent are buying at least some advertising without interaction with a media rep."
Because TV Ad Planner is available 24/7, it fits the schedules of busy business owners who need to juggle various types of responsibilities throughout the day and might find it hard to make time to talk with a sales rep during business hours.
Who Else Is Launching Self-Service?
Comcast is not alone in exploring self-service. Charter's Spectrum Reach currently offers The Spectrum Reach Ad Portal in eight markets, including Raleigh, N.C., St. Louis, and Dallas. The platform is aimed at small, non-traditional advertisers. And Altice's a4 has developed a multi-screen tool called Athena that allows national, local, and political clients to buy television, OTT, and digital audiences. Beyond TV and digital, Hearst is building a self-service platform to launch in Q4 that will let small advertisers place digital ads on magazine sites.
Reassurances for Buyers and Sellers
That sort of support is built into the Comcast Spotlight offering. "For TV Ad Planner, we have a dedicated customer service team," Weaver says. "Some business owners were apprehensive about using their credit card or had reservations about the service, and the fact that they [can] reach a live person right away is reassuring."
The other group that needed some reassuring was the existing Comcast Spotlight sales team. Media sellers across the industry have been concerned about tools that take them out of the equation. Part of abating that concern at Comcast Spotlight was TV Ad Planner's focus on the small businesses, which means that salespeople can focus on larger advertisers. The other part of getting the sales team to embrace the self-service platform was the number of "warm leads" the team began seeing from clients who were submitting information on the platform, but not completing the transaction.
Education will also be a focus on the platform, echoing a Borrell Associates finding that small advertisers are increasingly hungry for unbiased information about how to market their businesses.
Weaver concludes, "We built this to grow our new account base and a large part of doing that is giving small businesses information that helps them to really understand how beneficial television can be for their business, and the tools to make it easy to execute."
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