Analysts have been sounding the alarm on television advertising for many years now. When spending on digital advertising overtook TV ad spending for the first time in 2017, it seemed that the end was truly here. However, the latest statistics seem to indicate that the pronunciation may have been premature - instead of receding, linear sales of television ads grew by five percent in 2018.
Perhaps the single most important factor behind the continued popularity of TV advertising is that it has been around for so long. TV ads are an artform that has been honed to perfection over many decades. They are able to establish an emotional connection with viewers far more easily than other forms of advertising.
Another factor is the psychology behind watching television. When viewers sit down to watch a program, be it at home on a large screen or on a mobile device while on the move, they are committing themselves to being entertained. This places them in a receptive frame of mind.
Eye-tracking research confirms this phenomenon - active viewing rates are twice as high for television versus YouTube and 15 times that of Facebook.
Despite these inherent advantages, it is not all smooth sailing. Chief among the concerning factors is the fragmentation of viewership. Audiences are spread across not just devices but also apps and networks.
The challenge lies in finding the right balance between under-advertising and not reaching the full potential of a campaign, and over-advertising, which risks alienating the audience. In response, advertisers are tapping into consumer data that allows them to create addressable ads. Besides this personalization, TV ads are also being incorporated into omnichannel campaigns where ads follow individuals across devices using unique advertising IDs.
There is still a very long way to go. Addressable advertising accounts for just three percent of the overall market. The main inhibitor in this case is price; traditional TV campaigns are just a fraction of the cost of newer, more sophisticated options.
Advertisers have also come to realize that basic statistics that attempt to link traditional TV advertising to sales can be misleading. It is impossible to gauge whether a buyer exposed to an ad was converted by that ad or had planned to make the purchase regardless. Moreover, there can be a gap of many weeks between first exposure and the eventual purchase. There is a need for better data integration that includes aspects such as brand recall, and visits to online and traditional stores.
An additional feature that has proven useful is "interruptibility," a measure of how often viewers tune out of an ad. The ability to track, analyze, and respond to audience and sales information in real time marks the true dawn of the new era of TV advertising. This ability is currently still in its infancy but is developing rapidly as the technology that supports it increases in sophistication.
Where that technology will take us is not certain; what we do know is that television advertising is here to stay.
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