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Media Zone: DRTV Marketers: Beware of Local Breaks

1 Jun, 2011 By: Peter Koeppel Response

Have you ever been watching a TV commercial when suddenly, after a split-second, a pitch for the local car dealership disrupts the ad? What you’ve witnessed is a local break within the commercial pod of a national network broadcast, where the insertion of a local ad has covered up that nationwide signal.

Such local breaks once served a valuable purpose: Before the Internet became all-powerful, they were affordable time periods that were capable of paying out if the rate was reasonable enough. But today, with the pervasiveness of local cable insertion, unwired networks and the migration of the consumer from the toll-free number to online — where their purchase behavior cannot easily be tracked back to specific media — the value of local breaks is dubious. It is therefore crucial that marketers understand what their agencies are buying, and where, precisely, their ads are running.

Part of the problem with local breaks is that the broadcaster cannot accurately quantify the percentage of clearance an individual ad achieves. So, for example, in a national break, where an advertiser could be assured of beaming into a network’s total distribution base — say 80 million — with local breaks, it could be half that, or a quarter, or … who knows?

Before the advent of today’s multichannel reality and E-commerce, it didn’t matter because dedicated toll-free numbers served as an accurate barometer of response. An advertiser knew with relative certainty whether a particular ad slot was worth the price charged or not because consumers weren’t migrating to the Internet and retail stores to buy to the degree that they do today.

A further complication with local breaks is that much of today’s DRTV serves as hybrid advertising, combining direct sales with the format’s remarkable ability to create awareness that drives sales through all channels. As a result, traditional media metrics that rely on Nielsen data, such as cost-per-thousand and reach-and-frequency, are completely relevant, because — in addition to direct sales — they help a direct marketer assess the value of its advertising. This is especially important as an As Seen On TV product seeks to achieve broad retail placement, because a marketer can use a weighted media schedule to secure shelf space and support sell through.

But local breaks cannot be evaluated using these traditional metrics because where exactly they air is unknown. Further, such local ads, when evaluated on a direct sales basis, do not perform with any reliable consistency, regardless of their price tags.

Local breaks should be avoided, unless they run as bonus airings in a package comprised of a core national schedule. They are not completely without merit and can add incrementally to the bottom line; they just aren’t something that any keen direct marketer should rely on for their success.

In an era of increasing transparency in business, marketers might be surprised to learn what exactly it is that their agencies are buying. They would be wise to inquire. In this case, the notion of “locals only” represents something far worse than isolation — call them the “island of lost avails.” They may be cheap, but then so is swampland. And you wouldn’t build your house on that foundation, now would you? ■

Peter Koeppel is president of Koeppel Direct, a full-service media buying agency based in Dallas. He can be reached at (972) 732-6110, via E-mail at or online at

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