Michael Nutley: Why TV and online ads work better together

At first glance, the research unveiled by TV promotional body Thinkbox and the Internet Advertising Bureau seems to be stating the obvious – the principal finding was that advertising on TV and online work better together than either does alone.

Respondents to the research felt 47% more positive about brands that used TV and online together rather than those who used either in isolation, while the likelihood of buying or using a product increased by 50% when TV and online advertising were used together.

These headline figures refer to people seeing TV and online advertising campaigns running in parallel over time. But elsewhere in the report, some interesting and important changes in behaviour are starting to emerge.

One of these is that, among heavy internet users, the research found two-thirds watch TV while using the internet, with almost half doing this most days. This parallel use of the two media was, in fact, one of the early models for interactive TV. While the UK was developing the red button approach in the late Nineties, the US was looking at what it termed “two screen” interactivity. The model never really took off, partly due to the fact that back then, few people had their computer in the same room as their TV. But with the price of laptops plummeting to the point that various telecoms providers are giving them away free with a broadband connection, and with the growth of in-home wireless networks, the two screen approach is back in vogue.

This in turn implies a new relationship between the online and TV elements of an advertising campaign. The existing assumptions are two-fold, and hinge on the idea that there is a period of time between people seeing an ad on TV and following it up online. They are that the online elements need to support the TV, reminding people of the campaign they’ve seen and ideally directing them to a page where they can take action. And that the online activity is very directed; people going online for more information after seeing a TV ad are already warmed prospects. But if the audience is now sitting watching TV with a laptop open beside them, their behaviour is much more likely to be impulsive.

There has already been some recognition of changing user response to advertising across different media, especially in the world of search. The need to align search strategies with TV campaigns has been known for some time, as has the fact that the bid cost of a keyword drops when the associated TV ad runs. But the Department for Transport is one advertiser that has stopped using the addresses of its websites in campaigns and started including “Search for Act on CO2” instead.

This is the lesson from interactive TV. In its early days in the UK the desire to monetise the medium led to an emphasis on transactional functionality behind the red button, but advertisers quickly realised that what most people pressing red wanted was more interaction with the brand, more information about it. So in the best interactive TV campaigns, the linear TV element is actually promoting the content available behind the red button.

This idea is backed up by the IAB/ Thinkbox research. TV was found to be better at telling people about a brand they hadn’t heard of before (74%), sparking interest in a brand (74%), providing new information about a brand people were already aware of (72%) and persuading people to try a brand or product (59%). Online advertising also has these effects but performs relatively better at helping people decide which brands are relevant (50%), causing a re-evaluation of a brand (41%) and giving enough information to make a purchase decision (41%).

The same idea cropped up in an article that appeared in NMA last year. When asked about the role of TV in the changing media landscape, Lastminute’s chief marketing officer Simon Thompson said that TV is a chance to engage the consumer emotionally, to get them to want more content.

In other words, TV introduces the product or service, but it is really selling the next stage in the consumer journey, which is delivered by interactive means. A great example of this is the recent Schweppes Short Film Festival. As well as creating a short film, the directors were asked to produce a 30-second ad ending with a driver to the full film, which viewers could access either on interactive TV or via broadband.

According to Nigel Walley, managing director of research company Decipher, this illustrates the power of video, and the resulting production of more and more of it. The issue for clients and agencies alike is who is going to grasp the changing function of this content and integrate it into campaigns.

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