For many years I’ve questioned the true value of online media advertising. I’ve failed to believe in the hype of data driven, hyper targeted, super-personalised banners littering web pages. Beyond Facebook and Google’s astonishing strides in revolutionizing direct response advertising, there is a severe shortage of consumer attention to buy online.
The challenge for marketers to get consumers’ attention is becoming ever more daunting. We still have TV, and TV demands attention better than any other advertising medium by a yard mile. Yet the trend for live TV viewing is cause for alarm no matter what Mark Ritson says. “The percentage of people who say they prefer to watch TV shows on TV sets has more than halved in the last year, falling from 52% in 2016 to 23% in 2017” (according to Research Live). Younger people are watching less TV too – “since 2010, viewing on traditional TV dropped by over a quarter among 16-24 year olds and children, and by 19% for those between 25-34 year olds. Worryingly for traditional broadcasters, viewers between 35 and 44 year olds also reduced their time spent watching traditional TV by a substantial 17% in the last 5 years” (Business Insider, 2016). These steep drops are not demonstrative of a slow and gradual decline of TV viewership among 18 to 34s, but more a cliff edge situation. As profits from commercial TV stations continue to decline as viewership declines, and paywall TV viewing flourishes where advertising opportunities are non-existent, we are looking at an entirely new landscape. This would all be well and good if other channels (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube) commanded similar levels of attention, but they don’t.
We don’t talk about attention enough. We talk about impressions, and views and viewability. Yet we’re all acutely aware that watching a skippable advert on YouTube, or ‘snacking’ a Facebook advert whilst on the loo is just far too easy to ignore. The TV replacement doesn’t command attention. It’s often targeted and sometimes very creative, but people use YouTube to watch or listen to music videos. They are not slouched on their sofas, too lazy to change the channel. There has always been a very good reason why radio is a much poorer cousin to TV. When people listen to radio they’re often doing something else, they’re much less attentive. I would argue the case is even stronger for many digital channels. The scrolling, skipping, swiping and web browser hopping that happens in seconds’ length episodes makes it impossible to get much if any meaningful attention from consumers.
Stealing Byron Sharp’s view that ‘advertising works by refreshing (and occasionally building) past memory structures’ should qualify the challenge in its purest form. Without advertising mediums which refresh memory structures, by commanding the required amount of attention, building a brand is becoming harder for many advertisers, especially FMCG. I’m not saying that TV is the silver bullet, indeed many brands in the last 20 years have built brands by growth hacking (see Google, Paypal, Dropbox); most of them now rely on TV to increase or maintain brand awareness. The options however are becoming more limited. Youtube, Facebook and Instagram are no replacement for the attention grabbing living room box.