May 30, 2012

What The Web Has Taught Us About TV

The advertising and marketing industries are in such a profound state of confusion that we no longer believe the evidence of our own eyes.
  • We have never seen a single human being activate a QR code, yet we tell our clients that it is a "powerful new marketing tool."
  • We cannot remember a single ad we've ever seen on a Facebook page, yet we are blithely ready to accept Facebook as a fabulous ad venue -- worth 100 billion dollars.
  • After hearing the same nonsense for the past 5 years, we nod our heads hypnotically when we're told "this will be the year of mobile."
Not only do we maintain delusional beliefs in things that aren't there, we are blind to things that are there.

The Internet has had an incalculable effect on worldwide culture. It is a powerful medium of communication, information, and entertainment. It has affected so many areas of contemporary life that it is difficult for us to re-imagine 15 short years ago when it was just an interesting novelty. But it's been a lousy ad medium.

If there is one lesson we should have learned from the Internet's first 15 years it is this: the astounding marketing power of television.

Until now, we couldn't truly appreciate the advertising potency of television because we had nothing to compare it to. Now we do.

Although the web's cultural impact may be equal to that of television (I'll leave that to the sociologists to argue over) its marketing impact isn't even close.

Certainly there have been a few huge web entities that have transformed categories of marketing. Google has essentially replaced the yellow pages. iTunes has redefined the music industry. Amazon has had an enormous effect on the publishing industry and certain other retail activities.

Yet despite all the hype, most levelheaded marketers are struggling mightily to convince themselves that the web is a worthwhile advertising medium.

After 15 years as a mainstream consumer medium, television had been instrumental in creating hundreds of consumer-facing brands in dozens of categories.

But after 15 years of web advertising, I can't come up with a single major consumer-facing non-web-native brand that online advertising has been responsible for building. Not one major brand of beer, or shampoo, or cereal, or soda, or tires, or...

We're not even sure what web advertising is. Is it display ads? Or YouTube videos? Or Google listings? Or emails? Or Tweets? Or "content?" Is it whatever next week's emperor's-new-podcast turns out to be? Or is it just lemmings throwing a lot of different stuff at the medium and hoping something sticks? Because if it is, the only thing sticking right now is Google.

Our online creatives still can't figure out how to motivate a click. Our online media gurus spend half their time torturing the numbers to make them appear palatable.

Fifteen years after advertisers first jumped onto the web, the medium still hasn't convinced me of its purported magic. And if the Facebook face plant is any indication, I am not alone.

Meanwhile, television has proven to be amazingly resilient. Despite the web's popularity, TV viewership is higher than ever. Ad skipping has not been the disaster all the marketing geniuses said it would be. 98% of all video is still viewed on a television.

It is time for the advertising and marketing industries to call a time out, take a deep breath, turn off the online hype machine, and take a look around.

We knew TV was a powerful advertising medium, but it's taken the web to teach us just how powerful it really is.


Josh Clement said...

98% of all video is still viewed on a television. source?

Ed Patience said...

I come from the generation that preceded the presence of the web, and remember when TV was three networks, black and white and tubes

Two thoughts:TV has maxed out its capabilities, as it is broadcast and not interactive.  One ad fits all...or its a targeted ad that misses the larger audience and people flick to the next channel of the 500+ they have.  The web as a vehicle of conversation that has a long, long ways to go before it hits maturity.

Barrier to entry: A web ad ad can be produced and bought for hundreds of dollars, where a TV spot is orders of magnitude more expensive.  The market will always follow the low cost channel.

Kyle Rohde said...

 Josh, Bob cites that number all the time on here - I think it's from the Nielsen 3-Screen report that is published at least once per year.

Rob Hatfield said...

This may prove to be anecdotal, although I believe it is picking up steam: Dollar Shave Other than that, I am in total agreement.

Paul Benjou said...

Ed...  Given your observations and the reality of web display performance, I would rather save the hundreds of display dollars and just do a bit of search marketing using the 3 search engines.
As for TV, yes the cost of entry for production is high, but the returns prove the channel works better than any other.

Steve Schildwachter said...

The Internet did not kill TV, it turbocharged it.

Thanks for the post, Bob.

Atomic Tango said...

I would never have heard of Bob or purchased his book without the Internet. Does that count?

AdContrarian said...

Unfortunately, my book is not a major brand.

Atomic Tango said...

 You should run some TV ads for it. ;)

Simon Billing said...

The problem is that clients are desperate for someone to crack the internet as an ad vehicle because so many people spend so much damn time there. Slavering ad agencies, many of whom never in fact had any constructive theories about actual advertising, snap to attention and order their people to accommodate the client's wishes or - "figure out this web shit". This is then compounded when tech knobs suddenly decide they're marketing people as the clamour for cracking web advertising grows ever louder. 

Nobody (present company excepted) has the balls to tell the client that they're tilting at windmills and (and this is the difficult bit) take them through a sound reasoning of how and why advertising works.

AdContrarian said...


AdContrarian said...

...and if you try to tell clients the truth, they think there's something wrong with you.

AdContrarian said...

Yes, Dollar Shave Club and Blend-Tec have done a good job, but they're far from major brands.

Elaine Fogel said...

I agree that TV and other traditional advertising vehicles still have great value. But what about DVR capabilities cutting into TV spot exposure? Any take on that? 

Howie at Sky Pulse Media said...

OMG been a while you now have Disqus! You rock Bob! Great post amazing stuff how marketers are bigger suckers than the people they try to sucker.

Kevin Puckett said...

Even the newest generation my son at 3.5 y/o is proof of this.  He has access to an ipad and iphone but when he gets up from nap he just wants to "watch my tv with blanky and some milk".  Also its about the content even when he is on the computer its still Nick Jr or PBS kids so its TV content he is consumiing even online.

Douche Bag 1 said...

truly spoken by someone who does not understand the internet... it is easy to disregard something you don't understand.  

The Honourable Husband said...


I recently got a fancy new car.   It has a TV in the dashboard.

Of course, I can't watch TV while the car is in motion.   The sound remains, but the screen blanks out.  A sensible safety move.

You know what?  I can still follow most TV programmes decently, if I'm in stop-and-go traffic.  I dip in and out of viewing, rather like the way I would at in my living room. 

Most TV at home is punctuated by bits of conversation, knitting, cups of coffee, rung doorbells, the popping of popcorn, flipping through magazines, and increasingly, the answering of emails on your laptop.  TV in the car is punctuated by the occasional green light, and a dash to the next red one.

Compare this with how I use the internet in my car. 

(I shouldn't.  Point taken.)

Answer an email in the car while stopped?  I'll miss a the light.  The viral vids that circulate on YouTube seem to expect more attention than I can give them casually. Browse Facebook as I drive?  Even with an in-dash display, that's not likely. 

The internet is just too damn hard.  It demands attention, focus, choice,  and a good deal of actual reading.   So-called "engagement" is a tough slog for a consumer.

TV works because it's easy. 

And if you want people to watch something they actually haven't chosen to watch, you'd better make it easy for them.  Just ask Kevin Puckett's toddler.

(Much of what Marshall McLuhan wrote was fanciful.  But his thoughts on the difference between "hot" and "cool" media might actually prove useful in this discussion.)

The internet is front-brain stuff.   TV is back brain stuff.  

And to be fair, the early practitioners of TV didn't understand that.  They treated a TV ad like a set of instructions and demanded your attention—remember Run, don't walk, to your nearest store!  It took practitioners a decade or two to get a grip on how TV works. 

Bruce said...

The problem with TV is the advertising. Thankfully someone invented the PVR.  We love to PVR our shows thus circumventing all the advertising. ALL our prime shows are PVR'd now. TV advertising is relentless and frustrating.

Natchi said...

I don't watch TV. Don't owe one. Many of my friends neither. Number that is growing. TV content is mind numbing. The web allows me to find what I want, when I want, how I want and interact with it. When was the last time any channel asked it's audience about what they want to watch, or whether they like what their watching? How do TV stats get calculated. Please be kind enough to point me to where you got your stats?