Marketing Suffers from Inattention at Many Levels

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Cover image for  article: Marketing Suffers from Inattention at Many Levels

The most well-known aspect of the problem referred to in the headline is consumer inattention to advertising. Erwin Ephron in 2004 wrote a blogpost called "Media Malpractice" in which he reported on the topic, "Why our traditional approach to measuring media no longer tells advertisers what they need to know." In it, he described methods for adjusting audience estimates to reflect not just "Opportunities to See" (OTS) but to estimate "Likely Saw" which, he argued, would change the media bought and result in improved effect.

Erwin cited the ARF’s 1961 decision to stick with OTS over Perception based on the inability at the time to conceive of how to operationalize a pure measure of Perception. (Later in that decade the TVB demonstrated it could be done with the first eyes-on-screen study in which secretly recruited family observers in sample homes spied on other family members during TV viewing times.) In 2004 he knew of even more sophisticated methods such as Dynascope and R.D. Percy's video camera sub-study which in effect watched the audiences watching TV, much like today's TVision in principle but far less sophisticated.

Erwin's focus was not on the afterward measurement of what had been achieved, but on the pre-buy selection process of media. He pointed out that all five of the top five agencies had their own proprietary adjustment systems for allocating the client’s budget, using available proxies which had shown predictivity in the analyses of attentiveness, communications and sales measures. He prescribed his own such system utilizing commercial length, average number of commercials per pod, daypart, program type and demo. For example, if the program or rotation avail you were considering buying averaged pod sizes of one to three commercials (including audience promotion spots), the discount to the OTS should only be 10%, whereas avails with seven or more commercials would be discounted 30%.

Combining all his specified adjustments, the average discount to OTS across television was estimated to be 40%; that is, he estimated the average TV Likely Saw to be 60% of its OTS.

Today, TVision reports that the average TV "closest thing to Likely Saw" (literally had their eyes on the ad for at least two seconds) is 30% of its OTS, not 60%. This probably reflects the typically much higher average number of commercials per pod across TV today vs. 2004, plus the competition from mobile devices now likely to be in the laps or hands of most TV viewers.

The situation in digital is much worse. At least in TV there is only one ad at a time and virtually no fraud or lack of onscreen appearance of the ad in traditional TV, whereas in digital the advertiser can never feel sure what is actually going on. The work of Gian Fulgoni at Comscore, MRC, MOAT, IAS, DoubleVerify, IAB and others made a big dent in this problem, establishing MRC and IAB standards that helped to substantially reduce the buying of bot traffic and non-viewable ads.

In terms of providing data in the pre-buy window which can assist the buying of Likely to See audiences, TVision and Adelaide are both making continuous improvements in their methods for giving agencies the most realistic adjustments of the type that Erwin sought. TVision has done more in the TV arena, and Adelaide more in digital so far although its intention is to cover all media. Adelaide is more advanced in the use of third-party validation to correlate its use with improved results from brand awareness to sales and every funnel stop along the journey. (Full disclosure: I am a strategic advisor to Adelaide.)

These are media measures which do not take into account what is arguably the most important factor -- the creative. Each piece of creative will have its own ability to capture the ears, eyes, hearts and minds of certain audiences. "My" company RMT uses a different, complementary approach in the pre-buy window, to rate media alternatives by their degree of psychological resonance with the specific ad creative. RMT is so far the most advanced of these three companies in the use of third-party validation as regards sales ROAS. In addressable media including digital, RMT also provides pre-buy guidance on privacy-protected audience IDs based on their resonance with the ad creative.

Advertisers who currently use viewability/fraud filters in making digital buys and straight OTS in linear TV would, according to the third-party validations provided by Adelaide and RMT, more than double the net effectiveness per dollar of their advertising investments simply by replacing viewability with the combination of Adelaide and RMT -- the costs of viewability being roughly in the range of the combination of Adelaide and RMT costs. Advertisers who are serious about wanting to grow their brands, maximize bang per buck and improve consumer experience of advertising would seem likely to at least test this theorem in a definitive random control trial which can be done in all forms of addressable TV and digital, while in linear TV this can best be tested by means of matched market trials.

Since there is no "viewability" cost in linear for most practitioners today (those buying TVision data directly or through their agency are the exception, although Likely Saw is at a higher level than viewable, and TVision’s Actually Saw even if only for a couple of seconds is at an even higher level of value), the question is, can the brand gain more than the cost of Adelaide + RMT by using both in linear TV? The answer according to the third-party validations is definitely; typically, the Return on Research Investment (RORI) is in double digits or more.

Marc Guldimann, founder and CEO of Adelaide, in a recent WARC article warns against becoming fixated on optimizing attention itself, rather than using it as a means to an end. He cites the societal damage done by Facebook optimizing on attention which tended to increase the spread of negativity and divisiveness -- implicitly caused (my observation) by our morbid fascination with the dark side as well as by manipulative forces using the media for political and paramilitary purposes.

He also points to the logic of the situation. The more you aim at the people who are paying the most attention to your ad, the more you are reaching people who already buy your brand, and not feeding brand growth.

Attention is a necessary but not sufficient condition for marketing success. As David Ogilvy said, "I do not write ads to get attention. You can get attention by showing a gorilla in a jockstrap." Attention does not go far enough for marketing success and therefore must not become the objective function of media optimization. It's enough to simply use Adelaide's AU (Attention Unit) as a replacement for viewability in digital, and as an adjustment of the kind that Erwin proposed in linear TV. (Adelaide uses certain TVision metrics as part of its algorithm in linear TV, with additional algorithm components similar to some that Erwin recommended.)

The awful reality is that, as Ed Papazian points out, not enough marketers take media seriously enough as part of what they must control for their own success, believing that their creative strategy and low CPMs for maximum OTS are the formula for success. This misperception and reductionist oversimplification goes back to the Mad Men era and for most (but not all) advertisers has never changed that much.

Agencies have a vested interest in creating their own pre-buy systems for buying based on adjusted OTS. Marketers don't see media as being important enough to fight with the agency to do side-by-side tests with external solution suppliers. This is perhaps reinforced by typical MMM which tends to show that media is less than 15% of the total incremental sales (price and promotion being the other 85%), whereas single source typically more than doubles the size of the media contribution. The best single source methods used by Mars Catalyst, Project Apollo, TRA, Comscore, Nielsen NCS and others show that media account for 35% of incremental sales, and creative 65% (excluding price/promotion).

In fact, these consilient findings about the importance of media and creative led to the creation of RMT, which aims to amplify the specific creative with the use of media. To make the most of the element that represents 65% of the advertising sales effect by the selection of ad-resonant contexts.

Small businesses for which America has been well-known are once again on the rise and tend to be less hidebound than many (but by no means all) large, siloed corporations. They can't afford the waste, so smalls use the most sensible methods to make advertising work. The studies that Bill Harvey Consulting (BHC) did with Fox, McKinsey and Standard Media Index 2017-2020 showed that the biggest spending U.S. advertiser brands in CPG, Auto and QSR shrank in market share over that period, with only 18% of them growing market share during that time.

Could this, too, be the effect of inattention, ignoring the wisest minds in the marketing business for too many decades?

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