May 10, 2018

  by Nigel Hollis

A recent study by the IAB UK is simply titled ‘Digital Ad Effectiveness’ and the analysis, which references work conducted by Kantar Millward Brown among others, finds that digital is indeed effective. So how come TV, radio and other studies find digital to have a weaker influence? Is it simply a matter of biased research?

The IAB UK review seeks to answer the question does digital advertising influence people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Given the huge amount of money being spent on digital these days one might wonder whether the question needs answering but, unfortunately, the evidence on effectiveness is not as clear cut as one might expect. Studies by Thinkbox, Radiocenter and Nielsen Catalina Solutions all place digital further down the effectiveness league table. So why is that?

The IAB UK review clearly documents that digital can be effective. Starting with the measure most indicative of likely effectiveness both Kantar Millward Brown and On Device Research find that digital can raise ad awareness by around 4 to 5 percent, comparing a sample of people exposed to advertising to those not exposed. The question therefore is not whether digital is effective or not, it is why is it not more effective?

Leaving aside the issue of how much money is syphoned off before marketing spend becomes working media let’s start with the obvious reason. Digital campaigns still fail to achieve the reach achieved by other media channels. In some cases this is due to lack of spend, in others it is because scaling a campaign demands more and better planning, and, increasingly, it can be because the marketer has thrown reach out of the window in order to target the minority of people shopping their category at that moment in time. Irrespective of the reason, if you do not reach people you cannot expect to change their behavior.

Then there is the fact that most digital content lacks any real creativity. I often wonder if the only reason people even attend to display ads is that they happen to notice a familiar brand name. Yes, display is old and there are much more creative ad formats out there now but most of them still rely on interruption to gain attention rather than earning it. Creative is the number one driver of ad effectiveness because it helps earn attention and get the desired impression off the device screen and into people’s heads, seeding ideas and feelings about the advertised brand which can now influence behavior.

Last but not least, I believe that the potential for direct interaction with consumers offered by digital has misdirected marketer’s attention from what really matters when it comes to brand building. Advertising works most effectively, has the widest influence on attitudes and behaviors, when exposure is unconsidered by the recipient and divorced from the moment of purchase not when people are actively shopping.  

So, can digital be effective? Absolutely. Is it reaching its full potential right now? Absolutely not. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.

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