PROVE IT – Truths and myths about TV advertising effectiveness

Carat KSA’s GM Eyad Zarea examines the truths and myths about TV advertising effectiveness

Eyad Zarea, GM at Carat KSA

Once upon a time, the whole family used to gather around the TV box and enjoy watching both programmes and advertising for hours on end without any distractions. That time was when advertisers used to air one TV spot and it would reach 80-90 per cent of the population.

Fast-forward to today and this advertisers’ heaven has disappeared. Today, with the progressive growth of internet speed, online video content and social media platforms, advertisers and media agencies are struggling to achieve sufficient reach using TV alone.

In 2017, the first data from Saudi Arabia’s people meters came out and demonstrated a harsh reality for actual TV reach. While media plans used to show 80 per cent reach, the reality is that we were only reaching 35 the of adult population in Saudi Arabia, and even lower among younger audiences. This was not a shock as we’ve always known that the current outdated TV measurement methodologies do not reflect real TV viewership. TV measurement in the region, and in KSA in particular, has always been an issue for advertisers. The only serious attempt was launched by GCAM (General Commission of Audiovisual Media), SMMC (Saudi Media Measurement Company) and GfK, which produced some results between June and September 2017. That project ended abruptly in December 2017, following funding issues.

A lot of advertisers are questioning the impact that TV advertising now has on their business; people are watching less TV, but spot rates are increasing. Clutter is growing and people have much lower attention spans with the growth of multi-screening. If we compare the Saudi Market to the rest of the world, top advertisers continue to invest on linear TV (no recording) in the range of up to 50 per cent of their media budgets. We’ve also seen online giants like Google and Amazon (who compete head-to-head with TV for advertising dollars) among the top TV advertisers in the US. Even in our region, Google has started to advertise on TV and we’ve also seen many online travel, e-commerce and online retailer platforms heavily advertise on TV.

This leads us to ask the question: What is making top global advertisers and online giants invest in TV despite all the evidence of its effectiveness pointing in the opposite direction? Let’s try to answer this critical question in the following points:

  1. Cost efficiency: While TV reach continues to decline year-on-year in the range of 2-5 per cent, some programme genres are still attracting a high percentage of the population – including millennials. Key football events and international formats are some of the top performing TV genres, although they come in at a higher cost for advertisers.
  2. TV’s short- and long-term effect: Although it’s still debatable, we’ve seen many studies that show the long-term effect of TV versus other media on brand awareness, top-of-mind awareness and even sales. In the short term, a study carried out by one of the major global advertisers reviewed the effect of going off-air for one quarter on its brands’ sales. The outcome was that two-thirds of the brands that have gone off air for one quarter made an immediate loss in sales. What’s interesting is that the data showed that even when these brands went back on-air, only 40 per cent of them managed to achieve their previous sales levels and regain lost market share.
  3. Halo effect on other media: It’s true that TV may not trigger an immediate purchase, but (according to a 2018 Nielsen survey) TV prompts an interest in checking the product on search (57 per cent), visit or post on a Facebook page (40 per cent) and post on Instagram and Twitter
    (22 per cent).
  4. Safety and credibility: With the growing issues and concerns of data safety and fake news online, TV continues to be a much more credible source of information than many online platforms, including user-generated content. Google and Facebook have increased their efforts to minimise fake news posting and have been much stricter on what content can have advertising. However, this will never be fool proof because there are just too many millions of posts and videos uploaded by individuals.

In summary, TV advertising continues to deliver positive impact on volume and value growth to varying degrees depending on the quality of content and the category. However, the real question is: How can we use TV and digital together in the most effective way? I believe that until there is more accurate TV measurement in the region, there is still a long way to go. The implementation of accurate measurement would enable the creation of multiple scenarios, ensuring that the most efficient reach-based campaign is selected. This transforms planning from an infrequent and cumbersome process into a flexible tool to which clients always have access. This would energise the TV upfronts as a lot of planning happens at this point of the year, but would also mean improved media plan optimisations throughout the year due
to better data access.

With advertisers getting continually more cost-conscious, demanding transparency and looking for the best ROI, TV will continue to lose out unless
it can prove its effectiveness.