Digital is king, but confusion reigns

Today’s marketing plans must include digital media

Digital media – “yes, we must have lots of that,” is the cry I hear most frequently from media planners. Indeed, legions of conference papers are dedicated to the subject and at virtually every seminar or conference in the media or marketing industry, someone is raising the banner that the future is digital or digital is king. The big question, though, is what is digital?I recently attended an away day run by a major advertiser. Four media owners were asked to present the case for their medium and then the marketers were put into groups and asked to put together a media plan for a specific product with a fixed budget. The thing I most recall from the day was the number of times I heard the teams saying how they needed to have more “digital” on the media plan. When asked what they meant by digital, the answer came back “just digital media”.

On digging deeper to find out exactly what they thought digital media is, there was some hesitation. Defining what it isn’t was relatively easy. Digital media certainly was not traditional media, presumably press, television and radio.

Finally I deduced that it was new media. “Ah, so you mean online?” I asked, to which they replied, “most definitely but digital includes other digital new media as well.” Further discussion concluded that “other” included mobile phone advertising but that was about the limit of it. Which brought us to conclude that digital media means online with a bit of mobile thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps it would be useful if the media industry made things a bit clearer by talking about online and mobile, if that is what they mean. Then we could clear up what we mean by traditional media. At Channel 4 over 60% of television impacts (or impressions) are delivered on digital platforms (satellite, cable, Freeview and online). So although television might be considered by some as traditional media, we would not want anybody to be confused into thinking it is not digital.

There are two reasons why we don’t want media planners and marketers to be confused about whether television is digital or not. First, because I don’t think TV should be labelled as traditional media, and, perhaps more importantly, because I want those media planners who are enthusiastic about digital media to feel the same about Channel 4, E4, More4 and Film4.

Of course there is another reason for defining TV as digital – namely the price that buyers will pay for it. Digital cost-per-thousands (CPTs) – or cost-per-millions (CPMs) as they are more fashionably and expensively expressed – are so much higher than those for traditional media. Yet the reasons for this are not always clear. Take, for example, video-on-demand (VOD) advertising, buyers are willing to pay a CPM up to four times higher than the CPT for TV advertising. While VOD offers advertisers a young and upmarket audience and complements TV, TV’s reach, average rating and the ability to build cover rapidly is still greater.

Perhaps fashion is the answer to the difference in price. Labelling something as “digital” is good branding and allows a price premium. Maybe the TV industry needs to rebrand itself as digital (which it increasingly is and with digital switchover will be entirely) and switch to CPMs rather than CPTs. That way we could see an exponential rise in the cost of airtime.

Mike Parker is head of strategic sales at Channel 4

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