Many sell mass media short over one-at-a-timin’ fervor

The Coen Brothers movie, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, single-handedly triggered renewed popularity in bluegrass music, won a few Grammy's and Golden Globes and launched a documentary and concert tour under the title 'Down from the Mountain.' But the movie also contained a glowing testimonial in support of mass media as a marketing tool.

The Coen Brothers movie, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, single-handedly triggered renewed popularity in bluegrass music, won a few Grammy’s and Golden Globes and launched a documentary and concert tour under the title ‘Down from the Mountain.’ But the movie also contained a glowing testimonial in support of mass media as a marketing tool.

A third of the way through the movie, the three hapless heroes, Ulysses Everett, Pete and Delmar along with their hitchhiking, soul-selling, acquaintance, Tommy Johnson, exited from the studios of radio station WEZY. They had just recorded one of their songs on wax disc and as they crossed the parking lot, they ran into ‘Pass the Biscuits’ Pappy O’Daniel, incumbent governor of Mississippi, who was heading into the station to participate in one of his re-election campaign broadcasts.

The governor’s handler, his very own idiot son, asked the governor: ‘Ain’t you gonna press the flesh, Pappy? Do a little politickin’?’

To which the gov replied: ‘We ain’t one-at-a-timin’ here, we’re mass communicatin.’ Oh yes, that’s a powerful new force.’

It seems the notion of mass media was a new and wonderful concept in Depression-era Mississippi. Pappy O was infatuated because the idea of reaching hundreds of voters instantaneously over the radio airwaves beat out driving down dusty back roads, swaying the electorate one by one.

As it turns out, Governor Pappy O probably won that election because he effectively harnessed the power of mass media. He acquired the titling rights to the Pappy O’Daniel ‘Flour Hour,’ a popular music radio broadcast, and he closely associated himself with the newly discovered musical group The Soggy Bottom Boys whose tune, I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow was climbing the country charts at the time. That mass communicatin’ was the way of the future back then.

This sequence came to mind when I was having lunch with a smart, young product/brand marketer who was expounding excitedly on the virtues of one-on-one marketing. He sounded like Pappy O’Daniel in reverse.

‘Imagine, I can get my message to the right people. I’ve got their names and addresses.’ He was embarking on a modern-day version of one-at-a-timin’ and proud of it.

There is substantial evidence that mass media advertising has been shrinking in importance over the years. Within the marketer’s quiver, the mass media arrow has been getting decidedly shorter and this is especially true here in Canada.

Marketing channels that have been chewing away at the ad budget include in-store promotion, in-store trade allowances, display, co-op ad support, consumer promotion, couponing, and most recently one-on-one/loyalty messaging.

I’ve spent a very large portion of the last two years examining mass media’s impact on sales. Thanks to the power of econometrics, software tools and new, accurate client sales databases, I’ve learned a lot. I think marketers undervalue mass media advertising’s contributions to sales. I think Pappy O’Daniel was absolutely correct in his glowing support of mass media and I’d like to share some of these findings with you.

* Mass media advertising moves sales immediately. Not a lot at first, but movement nevertheless.

* Consumers have memories and advertising weight echoes, lifting sales long after the purchased campaign ends. For example, a five-week ad campaign can lift sales for an additional five weeks after the flight ends.

* The echo or residual value of mass media ad weight has sales lifting value that’s three times what the originally purchased weight is worth. In other words, original purchased TV weight of 100 GRPs has a total impact worth 300 GRPs thanks to the power of the consumer’s memory.

* Most marketers only attribute sales lift that happens during the ad campaign, effectively shortchanging mass media’s return by two thirds. No wonder marketers are embracing other marketing channels.

* Brands that are supported by mass media consistently, year after year, are able to create bigger echoes than sporadically supported or unadvertised brands. Therefore as each year goes by the job of lifting sales gets easier and less expensive. The ROI improves year after year.

* The vast majority of marketers can enjoy direct, straight line sales increases when their brand is supported by TV weight. Marketers have an overwhelming fear of diminishing sales returns – lower and lower levels of sales increase when more and more money is spent in media. The fear is usually unjustified. For most brands, the point of diminishing returns happens well beyond most brand budget levels. Marketers leave too much potential sales revenue on the table.

* Multi-media beats single medium. Keeping media dollars constant, two media lift sales higher than a single medium.

As ‘Pass the Biscuits’ Pappy O’Daniel, governor of Mississippi, said…’Mass communicatin.’ Oh yes, that’s a powerful new force.’

Rob Young is a founding partner and SVP, planning and research, at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell. He can be reached at ryoung@hypn.com.