What are we reaching for?
I attended the Mediatel ‘Future of Online’ seminar recently, where much was made of the launch of UKOM, the online industry’s attempt to get a measure of exposure and reach with the aim of attracting more brand display revenues. It has been a tortured process.
Now, this may seem strange, given that TV achieves levels of reach that other media channels can only dream about, but I think we need to think beyond exposure and reach in terms of planning integrated media campaigns.
Yes, I know that commercial TV delivers nearly three quarters of the UK population every day and well over 90% every week, across the vast majority of target demographics, but comparisons with other media based on such data disguise the real impact each medium creates. This camouflage comes from the media measurement systems themselves.
All of the main metrics – reach, frequency, impacts, impressions, ratings – are based on the concept of opportunity to see/listen/read, and yet the difference between opportunity and delivery will vary hugely depending on the media measurement vehicle.
TV measures the audience in the room whilst the set is on, minute by minute, so that we can be confident that all of those featured in the measurement will have had some exposure, even if they had their backs to the screen – especially as BARB carries out coincidental checks to make sure who is reported to be in the room at any moment in time is in fact present.
Press readership, meanwhile, is based on anybody who has spent at least two minutes reading or looking at any printed copy in the past 12 months, whether or not they even opened the page on which the ad appears; consequently, actual exposure to the ad itself requires a much greater leap of faith.
My understanding is that online ‘reach’ will fall somewhere between these two extremes. My point is that, when these reach numbers are placed in a media plan, they are generally considered to be equivalent in value and impact.
Results from a really interesting study by the Television Bureau of Canada helps to put some of this disparity, or false equivalence, into perspective. They observed people watching TV, reading newspapers, listening to radio and interacting online in as natural a context as possible. They used a wide range of biometric and cognitive measures, including eye tracking, in order to determine how long each ad was ‘processed’. On average, the TV advertising generated more than three times the engagement of radio ads (and, possibly connected with this finding, almost three times the next day adjusted recall levels). TV ads achieved 40% more next day recall and 80% more engagement than online video (via pre-rolls). TV delivered five times the next day recall and twelve times the visual attention of online display in general. Against press, meanwhile, TV achieved more than five times the total advertising engagement.
The problem with the media measurement vehicles is that they cannot account for these differences in engagement, attention or recall, and so if an overall reach figure is achieved from a mix of media channels, it will treat them all as equal. There is nothing quite like a spreadsheet for providing the appearance of consistency and equivalence, however what happens in the lives of the consumers they reach, and the brands advertising in those media, will provide a very different story.