Television advertising used to be really simple, especially for direct response advertisers. “You would air an ad and people would call in,” says Lauren Mitchell, vice president of TV and video media at Nutrisystem. “It was as straightforward as that.”
Today, with a lot of consumer behavior shifted into the online world, just figuring out where a lead came from — and how to attribute it — is extremely difficult.
“There are a lot more platforms that people can use to watch content. There’s traditional linear TV, video-on-demand (VOD), TV Everywhere, streaming, and more,” says Mitchell. “The cable companies aren’t even fighting it anymore, with some even offering YouTube and Netflix channels.”
That means viewers don’t even need an additional device or smart TV to access the streaming content; it’s just right there on their cable boxes.
With the goal of retaining eyeballs in a world where cord-cutting is the thing to do, the same providers are now offering some type of “TV Everywhere” service. An added service for subscribers, this allows cable networks to give customers access to content through live or on-demand internet-based services. “Consumers are really content-driven now, and they’ll do whatever they can to get that content,” says Mitchell. That could mean subscribing to multiple services in order to be able to watch Stranger Things on Netflix, but then skip over to Hulu to watch The Handmaid’s Tale.
“Consumers are essentially creating their own TV bundles,” says Mitchell. That not only makes media targeting more difficult, but it also makes attribution more challenging than ever.
“We don’t have control over when people watch the content,” she explains, “so we’re utilizing different services that allow us to watch consumer behavior.” For example, how many times are people going to their smart TVs for content? Or, how many times are they seeing Nutrisystem’s ads before taking any action?
The answers to these questions are helping marketers like Nutrisystem target their ads more successfully while also making good media buying decisions. The company — which recently hired a full-time employee to manage its digital creative strategy (“and keep it a little more separate from TV,” says Mitchell) — is working this year to build different creative lengths for certain services and adding promo codes for better trackability. It’s also tagging some of those spots in an effort to trace and track them with Google Analytics.
“We’re definitely getting a lot of information on our customers,” says Mitchell, “and watching their behavior throughout the customer journey.”
Reaching Audiences Whenever, Wherever
As companies like Nutrisystem already know, TV isn’t dead — but it is evolving. It may not “look” or “feel” like it did 10-15 years ago, but TV as a whole remains quite relevant. It also plays well with others in the media sandbox, where online video, VOD, over-the-top (OTT), and content consumed via smartphone are getting a lot of attention right now.
According to Scott Berger, Dish Media Sales’ general manager, direct response and paid programming, both content providers and marketers are focused on reaching audiences “whenever and wherever” because they’re no longer just sitting in front of their TVs, ready to be served.
“They can take premium TV outside of their living rooms,” says Berger, noting that Dish also owns the live-streaming service Sling TV, which provides “the same experience of watching live TV by streaming it through an app.”
“Whether the content is delivered by satellite or the internet, we’re giving viewers the same opportunity to get that full-screen TV experience,” says Berger. And that spells good news for marketers, he points out, and the chance to reach a large audience of “non-duplicated eyeballs” across more than 13 million households.
“Our marketers and brands reach their target audience with their ads,” says Berger, “regardless of the service that they’re using.”
To maximize that opportunity, brands are moving toward a more “targeted approach,” says Berger, and no longer just going out and trying to deliver their messages to an audience that might be watching a certain channel at a certain time. “They’re using that digital precision of advertising known as ‘addressable advertising,’ which allows them to target a very specific audience,” says Berger.
“Addressable advertising really is a heat-seeking ad that finds the audience, so marketers are no longer blasting out to someone who may or may not see the ad during primetime,” he continues. “When that household turns on its DVR, we can guarantee that — irrelevant of the network or the time of day — someone is going to see that ad.”
Comparing addressable ads to direct mail, Berger says that, similar to a postcard that’s sent to a specific mailing list of targeted recipients, the former reaches outside of the traditional Nielsen age/gender/demographic parameters.
“We’re doing the same thing with video,” says Berger, who admits that there are challenges to what Dish and other providers are doing in the current evolving digital and TV content environments.
“[We’re all] trying to get the marketplace to embrace the reality that things are changing rapidly in terms of video consumption,” Berger says. “It’s really about getting in front of the agencies and the clients themselves, and then driving home what the solutions are to the ever-changing way that people are consuming media.”
The World Is Their Oyster
With 45 percent of people watching more than an hour of Facebook or YouTube videos a week, more than 500 million hours of videos watched on YouTube each day, and more video content uploaded in 30 days than the major U.S. television networks have created in 30 years, the world is literally the marketer’s oyster right now. But as channels and options proliferate, finding the right formula — and then adjusting it as the media environment continues to evolve and morph — isn’t easy.
In the OTT space, companies are working to help marketers capture the shift in viewer behavior. “TV is really a whole new game with new rules,” says Michaela Giovengo, Hulu’s sales director, direct response, “and it’s being built around choice and control.”
It’s also putting the consumer first and giving them choices that traditional TV didn’t necessarily offer. For example, Giovengo says consumers right now are “very adamant” about being able to access the on-demand environment, and about leveraging the associated choice and control.
“[Because] of that, we’ve really seen both Hulu and the OTT space grow,” says Giovengo. “So, where TV is definitely alive and well at this point, the way people are consuming content is very different than it has been in the past.”
That trend isn’t going to reverse itself anytime soon. In fact, by 2021, a million minutes (17,000 hours) of video content will cross global IP networks every second. The millennial generation watches the most online videos, with men spending 40-percent more time watching videos on the internet than women do.
To advertisers that are trying to crack the OTT space in an on-demand environment like Hulu — which can reach consumers in their living rooms while also offering co-viewing experiences across multiple devices — hitting those viewers from all the different angles tends to pay the highest dividends. For example, Giovengo says OTT viewers are more likely to engage with brands when they’re offering multitasking opportunities, such as online searches (for products) or social discussions. Keep in mind that video creates a one-to-one viewing environment, she adds, that’s very different from linear TV.
“With our one-to-one environment, it’s about reaching the right consumer and the right audience and making the content the most relevant for the viewer,” says Giovengo. “This is what we’ve really started to narrow down over the last couple years — educating marketers on this ecosystem and making sure that they’re [producing] unique creative for the OTT space.”
It’s Always Primetime in OTT
There was a time when advertisers that wanted to be on TV had to fight tooth and nail — and pay exorbitant prices for — spots on primetime television. Those days are gone, at least for creative marketers that are using more online video, OTT, VOD, and other ways to get their messages in front of large audiences.
“It’s primetime, all the time in the OTT environment, where there’s no such thing as remnant inventory that you’d find in the digital world or with traditional TV,” Giovengo points out. “Unlike those spaces, where national advertisers take precedence, OTT media inventory is run alongside general market advertising.”
That opens up more opportunity to a larger swath of advertisers, she notes, and also creates more chances to target specific audiences. Because it can match first-party and third-party data, for example, Hulu gives marketers numerous attribution solutions.
“We know that advertisers are going to be continuing to air on linear TV and advertise on broadcast and cable — which we highly recommend — but we’re still seeing incremental reach on Hulu versus linear TV,” Giovengo adds.
Looking ahead, she expects marketers to get even better at targeting their OTT ads to make sure that they hit their intended audiences in a way that’s both engaging and relevant.
“It’s really important for a direct marketer to be able to utilize unique promo codes and URLs to a get really deep understanding of measurement, and to also use different creatives that speak directly to the Hulu viewer,” she advises. “Those are the [ads] where we really see the strongest results; we find they are really the most successful in terms of reaching the viewer.”
Growing at a Crazy Clip
People are not only consuming more video content, but they’re also doing it in many different ways.
“It just continues to grow at a crazy clip,” says Pete Stein, general manager of Fullscreen’s brand services group. Credit the smartphone with helping to drive some of that growth. Checking Nielsen’s most recent data, for example, Stein says that where consumers used to spend three minutes per day viewing video content, they’re now spending two hours and 27 minutes watching their small screens. Meanwhile, from 2016 to 2017, TV screen viewership dropped from 409 minutes to 355 minutes.
“TV is still the biggest, and it gets the lion’s share of people’s time,” says Stein, “but in terms of growth and/or decline, TV and mobile seem to be going in opposite directions.”
Due to the fact that more consumers under the age of 35 are watching multiple devices at once (according to Fullscreen’s own research), distraction will continue to challenge marketers that are trying to get their ads in front of the right audiences.
To achieve that goal, Stein says companies need to focus on creating and broadcasting or uploading content that’s engaging, relevant, and tells a story. This isn’t anything new for direct marketers that have traditionally focused on doing just that but doing it in the digital world requires a certain “new” finesse.
“You have to make the ads engaging and entertaining in a world where your target audience could be looking at three different devices at once,” Stein advises. “Then, if you can make it so that the people who are actually in the content are relevant to the audience (i.e., getting a YouTube ‘creator’ that the audience follows to appear in a short spot), it’ll be a home run.”