Last year, brands were still spending more money on regional newspaper advertising and classified press ads than on digital display ads like banners, video and social. Given that the internet as a whole has cut a swath through other media to become the UK's biggest advertising channel, this seems fairly unbelievable. On closer inspection, however, perhaps not.
It goes without saying that digital is the monetisation King of Advertising, the Crown Prince of ROI, the Lord of Accountability. It is great at prompting action – buy instantly, download here – and this is why direct response makes up more than half of digital display advertising spend. But what is less clear is its ability to tell stories.
Storytelling Key To Online Video & Digital Media Success?
Some of the most memorable (and successful) ad campaigns of all time have this in spades. Take the Gold Blend couple for instance. Over the course of 10 years, the nation was gripped as the pair progressed from instant attraction, to a final declaration of love. By the time the campaign came to an end, sales of Gold Blend had risen 70 per cent.
So how can digital fulfill a similar storytelling role? Is this even possible? Perhaps it is through social networks such as Facebook. 'Social Media' spend was up 60% year on year according to the IAB but I'm not convinced. Invading social media channels and bombarding consumers with commercial messages is almost as bad as bringing your Dad to the disco – it just isn't appropriate.
And there isn't the big brand spending required. Take Ford for example, whose centrepiece of their 2012 Focus launch was a Facebook page. While Ford shelled out an estimated $95 million to advertise the new Focus across a broad range of media, it spent just pennies on the dollar for Facebook ads according to the WSJ.
As for results, the Pepsi vs Coca Cola battle and how it ended (Diet Coke edged ahead of Pepsi to claim the number two sales slot in the US, behind Coca Cola) are well documented. In my experience, Facebook largely consists of small business ads – in my case cycling charities, easy credit solutions, greying hair cures and angry birds updates (so at least it is well targeted!).
Is digital display, therefore, resigned to the role of "click now" or can it really be a storytelling medium? Due to a number of developments, I feel it definitely can be:
- Brands have lots of content, often expensively produced, often under used or under viewed
- TV is an expensive place to show this content
- TV by and large restricts a brand's content to thirty seconds in length
- More and more consumers are watching more and more content online
- Online is the most efficient, targeted content distribution network that exists
- Storytelling can be measured, using relevant and actionable performance indicators
- Brands can engage consumers using bespoke, synergised content – square peg into square holes
- This amplifies existing TV and digital budgets cost effectively
Underpinning all this is the need for a less binary thought process and a more collaborative approach across all media as well as within the digital discipline. Joining individual elements such as display advertising, video and bespoke content for example will enable brands to use digital to tell stories with an outcome greater than the sum of the parts. This is critical, harnessing the various 'non matching luggage' touch points of digital advertising that the consumer encounters to deliver compelling stories – across screens, across devices, across formats.
Insight underpins this approach to storytelling too. The insight derived from hundreds of campaigns and millions of users' online behaviour shapes and informs creative ideas, audience interests and content distribution. Being digital also allows campaign effectiveness to be quickly and easily measured, or indeed pre-tested.
As part of our Specific Media VITAMIN project we tested a number of original programme concepts – with and without pre roll advertising – among a range of content types and audiences. Consistently it was the strongest performing advertising format from a brand metrics perspective (recall et al) but also the most welcomed from a format evaluation point of view.
In a recent look ahead to 2012, Jane Ratcliffe, chairman of MediaCom said: "There may also be exciting times ahead in the content arena, both in terms of production companies and content rights, which will open up huge opportunities for the brave." With the case for branded content so compelling I feel it also offers huge opportunities for the logical and rational as well.