Are We Too Skeptical?

According to the one and only Yogi Berra, "if you come to a fork in the road, take it." Wise words, especially when placed against a new piece of research, released a few weeks ago. Commissioned by MSN, endorsed by the IAB and ARF and held together by a client and brand that you might have heard of: Unilever and Dove.

What got me interested in this piece of research was the fact that it was a real campaign for a real brand. Furthermore, the findings gained the Advertising Research Foundation’s seal of approval. ”We've seen lots of proof that online advertising works, but this is the first time we have measured how online really stacks up to television and magazines," said Jim Spaeth, president of ARF. "The results are a giant leap forward for the advertising industry, addressing a question it has long been pondering."

Amen.

What didn’t get me too motivated was the lack of support from the New Media community. No spin. Negligible response in the email discussion list circles. I suppose I shouldn’t be too disappointed. This type of apathetic reaction is far too typical these days. Perhaps we’re too jaded and our first reaction of skepticism is a knee-jerk defense, which is all too often leveled at us when we’re selling our medium’s value to constituents.

I brought Rex Briggs and MSN in to present the findings to our agency. I was impressed by the balanced turnout, with representatives from both “traditional” and interactive. In fact, I found that some of the smartest questions asked by the audience came from the account (who intimately know their clients’ businesses) and media folk (who are genuinely making an attempt to understand how we fit into the bigger picture.) Much to my surprise, most of the criticism came out of the Interactive corner.

I’m not about to throw stones as I live in a beautiful glass house and have been at this crossroads many times before. I’ve sat through countless presentations given by new technology vendors or publishers and expressed one concern after another as I carefully deconstruct and dismantle their entire business plan. Whilst I’m not saying I won’t do the same in the future, I am now making a concerted effort to look (and sometimes search) for the moments of truth; the highlights and opportunities that shine through the clutter that is PowerPoint.

My advice to detractors is to put yourselves at the other end of the table. In this case, let’s analyze the MSN Cross-Media Study. Yes, it was MSN behind the study and yes, they wouldn’t have done it if there wasn’t something in it for them (when last I checked, we do live in a capitalistic society.)

Taking the high road, MSN commissioned the study on behalf of the industry, recognizing that as one of the Big 3, if the industry wins then they do too. On a slightly less altruistic note, one of the insights that came out of the study was that there are optimization efficiencies to be gained; in this case, by elevating both online’s reach and frequency through slight decreases in traditional’s frequency. There aren’t many players in the market who would be able to get close to – let along fulfill – a revised 60% reach (the definition in this methodology being somewhat questionable). To be specific, there are about 3.

Taking all of this into account, my advice to the naysayers is simply to discount the obvious self-serving reasons responsible for the study. Divide it by 25% – heck, split it down the middle if you like. No matter how you do it, the results are unchanged.

Numbers aside, here’s what you should take away with you.

1. An integrated campaign should yield higher brand lift
2. There are optimization efficiencies within the media mix

The implications arising out of these conclusions are just as important:

1. Based on ever increasing online penetration, media consumption time and broadband access (to name a few), there is a substantial role for online to play in reinforcing and sustaining an idea.
2. Integrated planning – if undertaken in a collaborative fashion at the earliest possible stage – can result in significant optimization opportunities.

What makes me even more hopeful is that this study used only banner and skyscraper units and we all know how much more is possible with larger and richer combinations.

If you want to know more about this study, go to http://www.advantage.msn.com/services/crossmedia.asp

If you have “concerns” or better still, come out with your own positive insights you’d like to share, send them to me and I’ll address them or get them addressed for you.

Fork away!

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