The internet, of course, turned this world upside down. As
media-planning options went from eight or nine media choices to
hundreds, creative agencies were left in the lurch. The connection
between media planning and creative, which had always been tenuous,
was now almost nonexistent. Aligning creative ideas to emerging
media opportunities became the definition of great creativity, yet
the media people and the creative people were usually not even in
the same building. At the same time, when networks and cable
stations were most under attack for their lack of targeted impact,
media buyers were focused on lowering the cost per eyeball.
This course of events has helped lead inevitably to broad-reach
vehicles like TV continuing to decline in the face of highly
targeted media options. Consumer behavior was the driver, but
commoditized eyeballs hastened the economics of the decline.
But the worm appears to finally be turning.
Recent headlines from two of the most important mass media
clients, P&G and Coca-Cola, should be turning heads. A few
weeks ago, Advertising Age reported that Coca-Cola's Chief
Marketing Officer Marcos de Quinto defended TV as providing the
biggest bang for Coca-Cola's marketing buck. Coca-Cola's data
showed its TV investment "returning $2.13 for every dollar spent on
TV, compared with $1.26 for digital." That's a big win for a
broad-reach medium that has had very few lately.
In mid-November, P&G weighed in on broad reach in the wake
of its divestiture of over 100 brands. Ad Age reported that P&G
would be increasing spending "to benefit the biggest social-media
platforms and 'broadly-appealing' TV shows." P&G Chief Brand
Officer Marc Pritchard said the focus would be on "reach and
continuity." Most importantly, the article noted: "On the TV side
in particular, the move seems to reflect what some brand managers
privately have said for years in the face of optimizer-driven buys
that focus on thinly watched cable shows—that they saw better
results from broader-reach primetime shows."
P&G and Coca-Cola promise to be in the vanguard (as they
often are) of new priorities in media-planning objectives. We are
entering a period where the focus will be on "engaged reach." The
pendulum will swing back to broad-reach vehicles (in traditional
and digital media) over optimized reach or cheap frequency, but
only so far. A program or website's ability to gather a broad
audience will become shorthand for engagement worth buying.
Programs or websites with more narrow reach and high engagement
will still be valuable, but will carry a discounted pro-rata
The key ramification of the new world of engaged reach will be
the precipitous decline of narrow low-engagement programs.
Consumers have been eagerly waiting for the other shoe to drop on
cable companies for years, so consumers could choose and pay for
only the channels and programs they want, and not 50 other channels
they never use. Engaged reach, led by P&G and Coca-Cola (and
the rest of the industry in their wake) will make sure the
advertising dollars and the viewing demands of the majority of
consumers are going in the same direction. It will mean that
consumers will finally start getting what they want, not just from
streaming options like Netflix, but from cable operators and TV
networks for a change. The walls of these models have been
battered, but the primacy of engaged reach will bring them crashing
down sooner rather than later.
MarketingCharts.com's most recent analysis (Oct. 2016) of
Nielsen data showed that between 2011 and 2016, viewing of TV by
18-to-24-year-olds had fallen by more than nine hours a week. They
stated succinctly that "In the space of five years, almost 40% of
this group's traditional viewing time has migrated to other
activities or streaming."
In the end, P&G, Coca-Cola and those who will surely follow
have given broad-reach TV programs a huge shot in the arm, but they
have also sounded the death knell for the majority of lower-rated
shows on TV. The era of engaged reach will make traditional TV get
to its future faster. And it is about time.
Brian Sheehan is professor of advertising at the Newhouse School
at Syracuse University. He spent 25 years with Saatchi & Saatchi and nine years as
chairman-CEO of Team One in Los Angeles.