Keep sights on effectiveness

First, let's define the turf. The heart of the matter is not quality, it is effectiveness.Quality is that something in a rare painting or bottle of wine that sets your heart aflutter.Quality is what you build into a bridge to ensure...

First, let’s define the turf. The heart of the matter is not quality, it is effectiveness.

Quality is that something in a rare painting or bottle of wine that sets your heart aflutter.

Quality is what you build into a bridge to ensure it will not fall down under any circumstances.

Advertising, however, is about effectiveness.

What matters is that our fleeting communication convinces a substantial number of souls that they cannot live without our product or service.

Design and construction

While the quality of design and construction of the advertising are key contributors, they, in and of themselves, do not make for effective, persuasive advertising communication.

On the measure of communication effectiveness, the advertising industry and its suppliers are, on the whole, failing.

Measures of recall of tv commercials have been steadily declining. Broadcasters continually charge advertisers more for less.

And while advertisers cannot necessarily quantify advertising’s effectiveness versus other selling tools, the continuing trend of ad dollars to so-called below-the-line marketing spending paints a pretty clear picture as to advertising’s perceived effectiveness as a marketing tool.

The irony is that, when executed well, advertising has an almost frightening ability to effectively communicate and persuade.

Yet there are so many unsuccessful advertising campaigns. The question is why is it so tough to get it right?

The problem could be that the makers and deliverers of advertising messages are not focussed on communications effectiveness.

Advertising content is the most critical effectiveness issue. If the message is not persuasive, it does not matter how many people see it. However, this is not the mandate for this article.

The subject for discussion today is effective media buying, what is it and how does an advertiser get it.

First, what seems clear is that while program content has value in areas such as trade sell-in and advertiser/employee pride of association, it is not a key contributor to commercial effectiveness.

This is an oft-asked question by advertisers, and over the years Media Buying Services research and analysis have consistently shown little, if any, direct correlation between tv program content quality and commercial effectiveness.

Direct response

The direct response specialists would support this position. While not for every advertiser, some of the best sales response comes from commercials positioned in atrocious late-night B-grade movies.

The argument goes that effectiveness is achieved by getting the right people to see the message the right number of times at the best possible price.

This is not a complicated equation, but one that, for a number of reasons, is inordinately difficult to execute.

First, while advertisers are becoming increasingly sophisticated at identifying their prospects, tv, as a mass medium, is generally unable to segment its viewership in a way that will target advertisers’ specific prospects.

The broadcasters fail to account for this wasted coverage, choosing instead to charge every advertiser for the full audience delivery no matter how narrowly targetted the advertising message.

Additionally, as target- and data-based marketing are becoming the rage, some purveyors of tv time are deploying counterproductive sales packaging strategies which force advertisers to buy untargetted groups of markets or programs.

Optimizing frequency of exposure is the ‘holy grail’ issue of advertising. Of course, there is no definitive answer.

But there is a very real opportunity to dramatically enhance communication effectiveness by balancing exposure frequency distribution among light and heavy viewers, and the various subsets of the target group: men versus women, young versus old, white-collar versus blue-collar workers, and so on.

Easier said than done. Problem No. 1 is the tv industry, which is quite willing to accept $1.6 billion of advertisers’ money, but is not prepared to invest the required 1% of this to provide a basic quality audience measurement service.

Better data equals more effective campaigns, which, in turn, lead to greater advertiser investment in the medium. Let’s get on with it.

Problem No. 2 is the broadcasters’ lingering insistence on forced packaging of programs and dayparts.

Granted, this is a smart way to unload unpopular airtime. But it does not necessarily make for effective ad campaigns.

The final element of the effectiveness equation is cost-efficiency.

Who can argue that getting more exposure for every dollar invested will not improve communication effectiveness?

The industry’s marketing arm, the Television Bureau of Canada, would have us believe otherwise.

In its 1992 long-range plan, tvb chastises ‘broadcasters [who] have actually encouraged this cost-efficiency buying.’

tvb goes on to say that the growth of independent media buying organizations ‘has been founded on cost-efficiency, rather than effectiveness.’

tvb and those of its members who support this notion are dangerously missing the point that cost-efficiency is an extremely important part of communications effectiveness.

They would prefer us to concentrate solely on effectiveness, for which they have provided no measures, and to sacrifice the current trading prerequisite of cost-efficiency.

When the corporate cost-cutters come calling, the least-supportable expense item on the profit-and-loss statement is advertising.

This is because the poor ad manager rarely has the tools to measure, let alone demonstrate, the effectiveness of the advertising effort.

At the same time, we can safely assume that much of what is spent is wasted; messages going to the wrong people; too little frequency; too much frequency. Herein lies the opportunity.

A greater focus on the action standards, and measurement of effectiveness, and development of the research tools to deliver it will provide huge returns on investment for advertisers.

Broadcasters will also see tremendous opportunities, as the buyers will no longer be chasing the same spots at the lowest possible price.

The Northern Exposure versus The Simpsons quality debate pales in comparison.

Jeff Osborne is group vice-president of Media Buying Services in Toronto.