Blinded by the Tweet

Don't let social media infatuation blur TV and video

The obsession with social media and consumer-generated content may be blinding us to something infinitely more important to the future of marketing. And it has nothing to do with a tweet, a fan or a follower.

For the first time in 50 years, TV advertising is being experienced as something other than a full-screen interruption of content. Not only has video come to the Internet in a multitude of disruptive formats, but the Internet has come to the television screen. This cross-migration will drive a significant rewrite of the rules of advertising.

Somehow it was always assumed, or perhaps just fervently prayed for, that the Internet would simply turn into a TV with keyboard. Streaming video, which couldn't be interrupted, offered the best hope of breaking the addiction to online metrics and simplifying buying. That the inverse could occur - that TV advertising would begin to morph into something closer to Internet advertising - didn't seem a genuine possibility. Surprise.

Welcome to 2009 and beyond. Not only are banners flying across the bottom of TV screens as annoyingly as they do on Web sites, but the more salient attributes of Internet marketing are also moving to the big box. No, you can't click on those banners yet. But interactivity, measurable response and more specific targeting are all in beta or coming soon. 

It is this migration - and not social networking sites - that will force marketers to rethink how brands engage consumers. It will drive a reimagining of the ways agencies and clients measure their own success. Even this early stage of evolution is beginning to present some potentially paradigm-shifting challenges.

Let's start with something simple. The subdivision of the TV screen into multiple feeds of information has been taking place for several years. Adding advertising seems natural. Just stick it in the big box in the middle.

With the ticker moving on the bottom and scores running down the side, who's paying attention to the ad? Or - better question - how do you determine the CPM for this unit? What is the value of the Neilsen rating for this program given this advertising format? A short poll of traditional media buyers reports they are paying the same price as for traditional TV spots.   

Online, video running in a similar layout would earn a single digit CPM. Even though online, you can claim the same "brand awareness" benefits but also get an idea of audience engagement from the much-despised but oh-so-useful click-through metric.

As more new formats emerge, the question of CPM and audience evaluation will become more pressing. It's hard to justify traditional TV-level CPMs for a format where one ad literally layers over another.

But beyond the different formats, TV advertising will begin to offer some of the more powerful capabilities of Internet advertising. Behavioral targeting is coming to TVs soon, thanks to the cable companies. Measure of actions from DRTVs will extend beyond a call to a click - to order information or even purchase. Lean-forward behavior will become the measure of engagement. In this world, the CPM falls behind the CPA and CPC.

The impact of migrating the attributes of online marketing into the living room will be much more far-reaching than the influence of social networking sites. Claims that the role of TV advertising is entertainment or positive brand experience will become harder to support. And, more difficult to invest in. 

It's not that hard to imagine a time when the same metrics measure both media, similar formats predominate and CPM prices are more equitable. Now that would be something to tweet about. 

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