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Saturday, January 19, 2013

TV Reach & Frequency Revisited

When I began Media Realism just over four years ago, one of the first posts was entitled “TV Reach & Frequency--Obsolete?” (See Media Realism, January 13, 2009) It generated some online comments but I also received hundreds of direct e-mails about it. Even today, it usually generates 4-5 hits a day many from outside the United States.

A lot has happened in the last four years so I thought that a brief revisit might be a good idea. My premise four years ago was that sadly many people especially at smaller shops where using performance estimate data (Reach & Frequency) from curves developed way back in 1978. Since that time I am happy to report that the number of people using those ancient projections appears to have declined somewhat. Smaller agencies who survived the crunch of the great recession are now investing in more up to date software and the price is a lot friendlier. Managements of smaller shops have told me that, as they have cut staff, they have been more willing to spend on basic technology in many cases.

To me, however, some nagging issues remain. All a Nielsen rating does or has ever promised to do is measure the number of EXPOSURE OPPORTUNITIES. Everyone in advertising knows this but I still hear and read that clients are being told that the recommended TV schedule will reach 91% of target prospects in a particular market. These days, with a few exceptions like Coke, McDonald’s, Bud and a small handful of others, that is virtually impossible. Actually, it always has been. That is why projections of Reach & Frequency are always much higher than recall scores on commercials.

At the same time, the landscape is changing and at a quickening pace over even the recent past. DVR (time shifting devices) continue to grow and the “Second Screen” is hitting many demographics and hard. The itchy trigger finger on the remote is still prominent and when people send Tweets while watching or look up an advertiser on line they are missing the message of other advertisers (See Media Realism, December 16,  2012, “Will The Second Screen Kill the Couch Potato?” ). It is safe to say that attentiveness to commercial messaging is at an all time low. Yet with the second or third screen, the TV commercial experience may be enhanced as well for a small but important group of people.

Where does this leave us? It means that whatever figure that we give for delivery is perhaps more overstated than ever. Yes, I agree, that you need to have some method of  schedule comparison but does your software system manage to integrate the impact of a package of carefully targeted cable networks with a couple of network affiliates in a Nielsen DMA (Designated Market Area) effectively? I still see planners hiding behind a dubious printout and choosing a daypart mix because one hypothetical mix delivers one or two more reach points than other alternatives. Sharp buyers, on the other hand, often eschew such rubbish in execution and craft a solid mix of cable channels plus broadcast. They cannot prove it definitively but the result is often a very savvy blend of media art and science.

What to do? Well, a few things to keep in mind are:

Good advertising executions still work. Not as well as in the past most of the time because fewer people are seeing them due to audience fragmentation and commercial avoidance. TV alone without a digital component is usually a terrible idea except for maybe a few small market retailers.
Be careful about trying to overanalyze the data that you have. Some people put probability of exposure weights on each daypart and tend to not buy early morning or late night as a result. It is hard to argue that these dayparts have the same attentiveness as prime but I have had tremendous success in Direct Response running only in late night. A formula driven approach does not always work.
Have your planner TALK with the negotiator (buyer). He or she should know the market well and get a feel for whom you want to reach beyond age and gender. They may some good ideas about programming especially in local cable.
Stop lying to clients and say that a schedule reaches 90%. Tell them the truth about what and R&F really is. Long term this can pay big benefits especially as TV morphs in to something different than it is today.

When I wrote to some old friends about this piece, a few told me not to write it. The tone was “why stir things up”, “the clients expect R & F projections” and the “I am going to retire soon” line. Well, it is never too late to speak the truth. As digital options give us  increasingly tighter measures of whom we reach, it is sad that the estimates of real world delivery for the time honored medium of television may be getting increasingly divorced from reality.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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