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The seduction of time in advertising

The average person spends some 13 hours and 2 minutes a day consuming media. This article will take you roughly 2 minutes to read. That’s about 0.26% of your media day. So should you see 0.26% of your daily advertising accompanying it?

Well, the idea that share of time should equate with share of advertising can be seductive. But, although it is sensible to factor time into where advertising should go – no time spent, no point advertising – it should be a signpost rather than the destination in assessing ad investment.

Which brings me to a report released by WARC recently called “The Investment Gap”.

WARC, a valuable source of data and thinking, have suggested that there should be parity between share of media time and share of ad spend. The report asserted that too much ad money goes to social media and TV in relation to their daily consumption, while audio formats and online press are undervalued.

I disagree with the report’s approach to deciding ad spend, but I do welcome anything that allows us to discuss effectiveness. So let’s build on what WARC say.

What about share of time spent with advertising?

The first point to consider is that different media expose audiences to different amounts of advertising.

Broadcaster TV, for example, accounts for roughly two thirds of all the time spent watching video in the UK. But it accounts for over 90% of time spent seeing video advertising.

As a comparison, YouTube accounts for 13% of total video time but a smaller proportion of video advertising time, some 5.6%.

That may sound odd but consider that the majority of viewing to YouTube is to its very long tail of video content and that YouTube doesn’t put advertising across much of that inventory due to brand safety and quality issues. Added to that, many ads on YouTube are skippable and some users have installed ad blockers for .com viewing of YouTube.

Anyway, if you want to use a share of time measure to apportion ad spend, then it is fairer to use the share of time spent with advertising.

If advertisers did this, TV investment would soar. Gravy. TV doesn’t get anywhere near 90% of video ad spend.

But, though I might really like that outcome, it would still be too simplistic an approach to take.

Not all advertising is equally effective

I won’t rehearse here how well TV does in every effectiveness study – or that, based on its creation of sales and profit, TV is often under-invested in – but the headlines from any of the robust ones will tell you one clear thing: not all advertising is equally effective. Plenty here on that.

Some forms are more effective than others, some less. So treating them all as equally effective and basing decisions on the time spent with them – in general or with their advertising – is not a foundation for successful advertising.

The IPA’s EffWorks Global 2021 was held recently. It was full of intimidatingly clever people saying insightful things about advertising effectiveness – such as Professor Karen Nelson-Field talking about attention. She explained that not all advertising impressions are equal because they don’t all receive the same quality or same amount of attention. A partial glimpse in your Facebook feed is not the same as watching an ad in a TV drama.

Attention is just one variable to consider when thinking about effectiveness – there are many, many others: reach potential and speed, ad view-through, content environment, signalling power, sound, price… and, of course, time spent.

But no single one of them should be used as the basis for deciding on advertising investment.

So WARC’s report is worrying. A highly trusted organisation has put out some quite misleading research. And the thing is that I actually do agree that too much ad money is invested in social media. I just don’t think that for the same reason they do.


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