How Media Multitasking Fuels 'Brand Response' Advertising

Nielsen tells us that some 60% of television viewers watch the tube and surf the Internet simultaneously at least once a month.  To some observers, this suggests nothing more than a restless consumer brain and a divided attention span.

But sophisticated marketers recognize that multitasking is enabling -- even requiring -- a powerful variation on direct response television (DRTV) called "brand response" advertising. There isn't widespread industry understanding of the utility of brand response, and the reason is simple: not all brand agencies comprehend direct response, and not all direct shops comprehend branding.  

In the not-too-distant past, advertisers ran TV commercials containing unique URLs like www.Reebok.com/espn1. They created special landing pages to correspond to the unique URLs so they could track Web responses generated by specific commercials. While this made it possible to gauge return on investment and optimize TV schedules, the technique was inelegant: the various URLs were hard for consumers to remember and they cheapened the brand names. Moreover, there was less multitasking even five years ago. If consumers couldn't recall the specific URL they had seen in a TV commercial, many would plug the brand name into a search engine, and search-as opposed to TV-would be credited for any subsequent Web commerce. But it was the best the industry had.

            Advances in technology, the availability of new data and the more effective use of existing data by agency people with the right skill sets have yielded huge advances in tying online results to offline advertising. It is now possible to track the Web commerce prompted by TV commercials running in hundreds of markets, each spot containing the same "vanity" URL response mechanism (think Orbitz.com). With media multitasking, more TV viewers are responding quickly to the URL's in the commercials, so the necessity for accurately correlating spots and hits has never been more acute.

            One consumer segment in which brand response advertising is becoming increasingly common is massively multiplayer online gaming, in which hundreds or thousands of people compete simultaneously. Whether it's auto racing, baseball, golf, poker or good old-fashioned "hack-and-slash" war games, the industry is highly dependent upon the maintenance of liquidity, or the constant availability of players. While liquidity enhances entertainment value, it is especially crucial for sports games in which live sessions are impossible without the constant availability of opponents.  Liquidity is not only essential to a positive player experience, it is the main contributor to the bottom line.  Whether the revenue stream is commissions on player activity, micro transactions or advertising impressions, high liquidity is a must.

             For online gaming, the most obvious low-hanging liquidity fruit can be found on the Internet-after all, that's where the games are played. Thus World Golf Tour can derive benefit from advertising on the golf sections of ESPN.com.  These targeted placements deliver aggressive conversion rates but not the high volume necessary for category dominating liquidity.  This is where the value of TV advertising comes in. Understandably, most online advertisers prefer the accountability of online media, because tracking and optimizing are turnkey and a plan to reach positive ROI can be clearly defined.  Also, TV can be expensive.

Without delving into the intricacies of brand response, here are some general parameters. When people view a TV commercial and then register on a Web site, those registrations are time-stamped. By using additional qualifiers within a specialized planning and buying system like network audience size, historical ratings performance and what are called "attribution windows," overlapping Web responses to TV ads can be teased apart and correlated to their appropriate network/program sources. Thus advertisers that use vanity tracking can gauge relative network, program and daypart productivity, so that media can be optimized to reach performance goals while maintaining brand integrity (the unique URL). 

Adoption of a brand response strategy not only offers branding and tracking benefits but considerable cost savings.  In order to track online response, an advertiser must include a vanity URL in the commercial. This qualifies the advertiser as direct response and allows its agency to purchase remnant inventory.  Remnant inventory can cost as much as 50% less than fixed-position inventory, in which a guaranteed audience is purchased.  Although the advertiser is not guaranteed a cost per thousand and audience level, more effective brand engagement and direct sales metrics make up the difference.   Additionally, the deep discount minimizes risk and allows advertisers to safely test TV.

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