Mark Ritson: Even ‘millennial-minded’ marketers should see TV as a gold mine

On International Television Day, brands would do well to remember that TV is still in rude health, even among millennials.

In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed this day, 21 November, to be World Television Day. That’s right on this very special, if rather arbitrary, date we are meant to spend the day celebrating, promoting and proclaiming the power of telly.

I thought for this auspicious occasion I would turn my column into a bit of an agony uncle session. In 1996 celebrating TV was probably a pretty bland affair. Back then TV was the centre of the world’s video consumption. Sure, there was a bit of occasional cinema but for audiences and marketers TV was the biggest medium in town.

But that was 21 years ago; things aren’t what they used to be. For starters two digital upstarts, Facebook and Google, have turned up and pumped out all kinds of nonsense proclaiming themselves to be bigger than TV in terms of video consumption and advertising impact. Worse still, a large section of younger marketers have taken the duopoly at their word (never a good idea) and now spend their time promoting the death of TV and its apparent replacement with new alternatives.

Rarely does a week pass without me encountering a tweet, LinkedIn post or pub conversation in which an utterly delightful but entirely wrong young media person talks total bollocks about TV. Usually I bite my hand, Sonny Corleone style, and wait for the bollocks to pass. But this week, just this week mind to honour the UN and TV, I thought I might do my bit by responding to the usual bollocks with some thoughts.

To do this, I’m going to turn to young digital marketer Aled Nelmes and a very helpful article from the Guardian entitled ‘A dying habit’ which suggests that the average BBC One viewer is 61. Aled asks on LinkedIn “Should millennial-minded marketers even be considering TV anymore?”.

Well Aled, it’s an excellent question so let’s break this down and work it all out. First the Guardian article is a bit unhelpful with its reference to 61-year-olds and “dying” and all that. Averages, as my old statistics professor used to warn me, are a very misleading statistic. They tend to hide more than they reveal. While 61 does seem old – it is old – we should probably remind ourselves of some of the other facts contained in the article.

First, the BBC (never mind TV) still reached 91% of all 16- to 34-year-olds last year. Ofcom estimated last year that YouTube reached about 62% of the UK population so that does put things in a bit of context.

To be fair, the BBC is struggling to match Facebook for reach but, as you might recall, that is because the social media giant has unbelievable reach. And I mean unbelievable. Facebook currently claims to reach more than 12 million 20- to 29-year-olds in the UK, for example, despite the fact that less than 9 million actually inhabit it. So aside from Facebook’s incredible reach of 140%, you have to accept that 91% ain’t bad. It’s hardly a statistic that connotes death or suggests you should discard TV if you are “millennial minded”.

But what about the actual duration of viewing? While it’s true that grandma is watching a lot more BBC, there is plenty of inconvenient evidence that so-called millennials are also watching the BBC too. The Guardian noted in its article that 16- to 34-year-olds are spending “just” 11 hours a week with the BBC. The “just” bit is interesting. Because a recent study from Mediakix puts the average YouTube user at 40 minutes per day and the average Facebook user at 35 minutes. Multiply those daily figures out to weekly levels and you end up with 4 hours 45 minutes a week on YouTube and just over 4 hours a week on Facebook. To be fair, that was an average figure across all users, but it still adds up to significantly less weekly time than is spent with the BBC. Never mind all TV.

thinkbox tv viewing
But the ultimate evidence of TV’s rude health in this younger demographic group comes from Thinkbox. Yes, they are the industry body responsible for promoting TV in this country, but they use representative data from BARB, comScore and Ofcom to run their analyses and the findings are pretty conclusive. The data confirms (see the chart above) that TV continues to represent 40% of all video consumption for 16- to 24-year-olds – significantly more than YouTube and Facebook combined. In fact, you can add together all online video and porn and all the subscription VoD channels like Netflix and this younger demographic group still gets more of their video from TV.

I know those people lying motionless on their couches in front of their TVs look pretty depressing to a young man of enviable prospects and vitality, but they are a marketing gold mine.

I know it’s difficult, Aled. You have Facebook and Google making big claims. You have all your mates saying they no longer watch TV to look cool. You have the general anti-TV propaganda from places like the Guardian that try and show that TV is in a death spiral. Then you have blokes like Gary Vee wandering about talking total bollocks as well. But always rely on data. And while the data says TV is watched less by this demographic than their older peers and that this age group watch less TV than their predecessors in the 1990s and 2000s there is a big but: TV remains the dominant source of video for younger consumers.

But that is just total video. The bit that really should convince you of the potential of TV for younger demographics is advertising consumption. As you may have noticed, the digital landscape is totally fucking hopeless for ad viewing. What with ad blockers, multi-screening and general active audiences, the ability to hang onto a viewer and actually show them some ads in the digital world is terrifyingly hard. I know those people lying motionless on their couches in front of their TVs look pretty depressing to a young man of enviable prospects and vitality, but trust me, Aled, they are a marketing gold mine. They occasionally take a crap or make some pasta, but far more than the annoyingly active smartphone viewer, they also watch a fuckload of ads too.

thinkbox video ad stats

As you can see from the chart above, TV might only account for 40% of the video consumption of 16- to 24-year-olds, but it represents nearly double that figure in terms of the amount of video advertising they see. Almost eight in 10 of the minutes they spend watching ads takes place on a TV. I am not sure what benchmarks you are used to, but 80%? That, combined with the reach of TV, still makes it an amazing medium.

Now, before we go any further – a few caveats. Your question was about “considering” TV advertising and I hope I have made the case for it. But that does not mean a brand should or must use TV. A whole raft of other factors such as budget, creative, strategic objectives and target segment come into play to dictate whether you should actually invest in TV ads. But should you consider them? You’d be mental not to.

It’s called ‘media neutrality’ if you want a name for it. We used that concept a lot before digital marketing turned up and starting taking a giant piss on most of the established concepts of marketing and celebrating a complete ignorance of core marketing concepts and training. You don’t have to proclaim TV to be dead for digital tactics to be valid. Actually, the two work very nicely together in an integrated fashion.

That’s another old-fashioned word from a previous century Aled – “integration”. It’s the notion that rather than a or b, you are much better off with some a and b combined into a campaign. In fact, many of the most effective campaigns will use four or five different channels, drawn from both “digital” and “traditional” sources, and have a significantly better impact than those using one or two.

Of course, all that’s impossible if you are a ‘digital marketer’ because you do not want to touch TV, or radio or outdoor. But that’s why digital marketing is actually the thing dying, not TV. As the new marketing boss at L’Oréal noted last week – digital is marketing these days and we should just get on with it. Rather than building a big silo with the word digital on it, we should just see digital marketing as marketing and stop looking at what we should not consider, and try considering everything.

READ MORE: L’Oréal’s new CMO on why brands shouldn’t have a digital strategy

So, there you go. Sorry to bang on but I hope this helps on this special day to answer your question. Should millennial-minded marketers even be considering TV advertising anymore? Yes, they should Aled. They most definitely should.