As Discovery Channel launches its 28th annual Shark Week this week, fans have been flocking to social media and mobile apps to get an early taste of this pop culture phenomenon. Even before the event's July 5 start, shark aficionados started tapping into mobile marketing tie-ins by Discovery and its partners to fuel their shark-themed feeding frenzy.
For example, Discovery Channel, in conjunction with Dunkin' Donuts, is using Instagram and Twitter to get people talking about its event week. Viewers are being asked to post photos of themselves acting like sharks—but with doughnuts. The best photos will end up on Dunkin' Donut's New York Times Square billboard or on Discovery's Shark "After Dark" show.
This marketing campaign, among other Shark Week efforts, is a perfect example of how and why mobile and television go hand-in-hand—something more marketers need to be aware of, say experts, especially since over two-thirds of all Americans have smartphones and are increasingly using them to access entertainment programming.
According to Nielsen's most recent Total Audience Report, 70% of all adults are accessing content on smartphones as compared to 87% of adults who are viewing television on a weekly basis. However, adults ages 18 to 34—the coveted Millennial crowd—spend nearly as much time using digital devices as a whole as they do watching TV.
"[The use of mobile related to television] is unprecedented," says Dounia Turrill, senior VP-insights at Nielsen. "It's an element of a total distribution opportunity that is far-reaching and can only increase the reach and the engagement of a piece of content for either the media company or an advertiser."
It's also something that many companies are aware of and taking advantage of because they recognize that mobile is a part of the marketing puzzle, she says. "Mobile gives you an opportunity to earn the exposure and that engagement in a very different way than if you paid for the media or did a traditional media push."
Those marketers who are not engaged in mobile are missing out, particularly in reaching Millennials and other younger generations, says another expert.
"Among Millennials, watching television live comprises 30% of their viewing time as compared to other generations that report a much greater live viewing," says Adriana Waterston, senior VP-insights and strategy for Horowitz Research. This means that there is a huge opportunity—and a crucial one—for networks that are using alternative ways to get the word out about programming events. Social and mobile are two of the most important ones, she says.
Shark Week 2014 is a good example of this. According to Discovery, it ranked as the channel's most social programming event to date, drawing 13 million people on Facebook with more than 21 interactions, up 110% from 2013, and had 70 prime-time Trend Topics on Twitter the week it ran.
Ms. Waterston suggests that brands should have their own social media presences and provide consumers with the assets that they can share with others. This includes videos as well as hashtags and photographs that can be used by the fan base, something that Shark Week does in spades.
Binge viewing services are another opportunity to use mobile marketing to reach consumers as many viewers will start watching a show on television and continue it on their phones. It's an especially good option since the platforms allow you to create mobile ads that are more personalized. Ms. Waterston points to Hulu's personalized, choice-based ads, for instance, that let consumers choose which ads are best for them and provide a potentially higher level of engagement, she says.
Once mobile marketing is in place, the trick will be merging what you're doing online and in mobile with actual viewing behaviors, Ms. Turrill says. Nielsen, for example, offers Nielsen Twitter TV ratings that shows a correlation between the number of tweets that happen around a show or event and its ratings.
For Discovery's Shark Week and other big TV events, the very nature of the mobile marketing campaign provides both the metrics and the viral aspect that can boost the programming's profile.
In the end, mobile is the equivalent of blood in the water—something that gets people communicating with each other via mobile. Says Ms. Waterston: "It's the word of mouth of the 21st century. Finding creative ways of leveraging mobile is going to be critical for building audiences in today's environment."
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