Spring marks the start of the TV “upfronts,” the time when television and cable networks roll out their new year of programming so advertisers can create a plan of attack. Over the past few years, the season has also marked the start of another “front” — the “digital content newfronts.” But do we really need a distinction between the fronts? Is there a reason for conflicting and competing agendas?
I think it’s time that advertisers merge the two fronts and begin to practice full-frontal advertising.
The newfronts have come into their own of late, gaining more battle chops and forcing the upfront players to at least acknowledge another contender for a share of the ad pie. While the industry was once skeptical of the newfront concept, the dramatic growth in online viewing has given it more gravitas.
I would argue, however, that the uptick in digital viewing is actually a major reason that we can no longer consider the newfronts versus the upfronts when we consider content. Now it’s all just video. Some programming shows up on the televisions in our living rooms, and some on our laptops, desktops or smartphones. To consumers, it makes little difference. And for advertisers who want to reach those consumers, it shouldn’t, either.
For the most part, advertisers have drawn boundaries between the fronts, developing strategies, creating campaigns and bucketing ad dollars for each in isolation. Audiences, however, are engaging in full-frontal viewing. They move seamlessly between devices, changing viewing patterns along with time of day or day of week; they often begin watching a particular program on one device, only to pick it up again on another.
Planning ad campaigns in silos obviously does not correspond to the way consumers actually view an advertiser’s messages. Siloed advertising tells a disjointed story, disregarding the ebbs and flows of consumers’ viewing habits. In ad terms, these shifts include factors like how many times a consumer has seen your ad, which creative they’ve been exposed to, in what sequence, and where. Holistic planning allows you to control for these factors across multiple platforms, ensuring that a consumer is seeing and hearing the most compelling story to influence their attitude about a brand and their decision to buy it.
Full-frontal planning also ensures that an adequate number of people are exposed to an ad. Shifting viewing patterns are creating fragmented audiences. Yes, television reach is still strong. But even the most strategically planned television campaigns have a “reach cap” — in many instances, especially in certain key demographic groups, that cap is decreasing. The knee-jerk reaction is to throw more money at the problem. In some cases, that might work. But often advertisers don’t need to spend more to achieve better results; a holistic approach can make their dollars work harder.
Planning holistically across screens allows an advertiser to use online video to fill this reach void by targeting those not exposed or minimally exposed to their television campaign. This is made possible by using data that allows an advertiser to match television viewing patterns to online video viewing.
In the past, one factor contributing to the divide between upfronts and newfronts has been measurement. Advertisers need a common metric to build a unified plan. Nielsen is the primary planning and buying currency for television. And now, with the rollout and subsequent activation of Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings (OCR), advertisers have a common currency they can employ for both online and TV buying and planning.
Measurement and other tools can be used to increase reach and optimize allocations in many ways. Say that a major brand finds that its TV plan is strong, but its campaign reach still doesn’t achieve sufficient levels of penetration. Rather than spending more on TV — which may only increase exposure among consumers who had already seen the ad — a cross-channel plan can reach desired consumers in both TV and online video. Measures such as Nielsen XCR studies can be conducted during the campaign to analyze optimal reach and frequency across channels. This analysis not only helps the brand determine how to best balance TV and video ads, but ultimately increases its return on ad dollar investments.
So why should advertisers buy upfront at all? Why not just buy as they go? It’s really quite simple. The upfronts and newfronts are all about predictability: When a spot is purchased now at a given price, it will be available to an advertiser when it’s needed. And advertisers want predictability across both television and online video.
Premium content inventory scarcity is real in both television and online video. This trend is amplified by advertisers’ tendency to battle for the same type of inventory in both traditional television and online. In fact, approximately 80 percent of digital video dollars go to television-centric programming providers such as Hulu. This urgent scramble for scarce ad inventory during the fronts — and other factors — underscores the need for advertisers to tackle the process as a single holistic “allfront.”
The pressure to purchase inventory in advance at the upfronts and newfronts assumes that media buyers and sellers can intuit how the market, programming and their audiences will perform over the course of a year. Television, with its long history — both in offerings and behaviors — has some predictability. Now digital is getting there, as well, giving advertisers the means to look further into the programming future. With that knowledge, advertisers running a holistic campaign can strategically place ads between TV and digital, be more strategic with campaign planning and buying, and increase return on ad buys.
A full-frontal strategy
A holistic approach to purchasing ad content, and the growing ability to activate data across screens, reduces waste and maximizes reach and ROI. Unified buying can also maximize impact and boost engagement by combining television and digital placements around high-profile television programming that’s often accompanied by second-screen views and device shifts. For instance, live events like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards are great opportunities for marketers, but they can be made even stronger by an accompanying second-screen video strategy.
Full-frontal advertising gives you the best of both worlds: The reach of TV and the targeting capabilities of digital. In time, as video viewership continues to grow, and as greater data and targeting capabilities are available on television via set-top boxes and other means, the capabilities of each medium will continue to meld. In fact, the ability to address a specific television ad to a specific household, i.e., what is often referred to as “addressable advertising,” is already a reality.
Convergence of the ad “fronts” may not come tomorrow, but it won’t take forever, either. A recent Forrester Research study found that 70 percent of advertisers and agencies believe video campaigns will be planned holistically within three years.
It’s time for the industry to take a united front, and consider TV and digital with a holistic, long-term view. Then they can maximize results and ROI to achieve their full-frontal impact.
Scott Ferber has spent his career utilizing mathematics and data analysis to build profitable businesses and products. With the goal of bringing the accountability of digital media to the expanding video space, he founded Videology in 2007. Its video advertising solutions platform is now used by some of the world’s largest marketers and media agencies to connect brands with their targeted consumers. Reach him @VideologyGroup.