How Do You Stand Out in a Tight Marketplace? ITV, Of Course

I can't think of a more fascinating time to be in the advertising business and to be writing a column for MediaPost. I'm really grateful for the opportunity. I'd like to start with something I know a little bit about: the American television marketplace.

Can you believe how strong national TV is, in an otherwise down economy? National television inventory is tighter than a tourniquet, pricing levels are shooting up. Yet advertisers keep clamoring for more -- which will further squeeze inventory and put upward pressure on pricing.

A recent survey from Chicago-based Strata shows that demand for TV time among 100 clients polled ticked up in fourth-quarter 2010 to 44% from 33% in third quarter - while demand for digital time actually decreased! (For the record, demand for radio time increased, too.) When's the last time anyone has pointed to Web demand dropping but TV demand continuing to surge? All is not perfect with pre-roll in online video advertising -- but more on that another day.



Deutsche Bank recently surveyed a dozen or so media buyers and found the national TV market primed for solid growth heading into the upfront season. "Continued strength in the ad market bodes particularly well for large cap media, as within advertising, national is expected to grow faster than local (4.3% vs. 2.5%), and within national advertising, cable networks are expected to take the most share behind only digital, driven in part by continued strength in auto," noted a recent Deutsche Bank report.

"We expect another strong upfront will be on the books," the report concludes, "Our preliminary upfront estimate is strong 8% CPM (cost per thousand) increases for broadcast networks and 6% for cable networks, with total volume up over 10%," the report adds.

Fact is, most agencies, marketers and network sales execs have known this to be true, even during these go-go times for digital media. You can count on two or three fingers the number of national TV upfront markets over the last two decades in which dollar totals dropped. Television is in pretty darn good shape, and rumors of DVRs destroying the power of television advertising now seem a bit overstated and overheated.

So what's a national TV advertiser to do in such a tight marketplace? Simply put, marketers and their agencies need to make sure their TV commercials work even harder for them. (Brace yourselves, here comes the shameless pitch.)

National interactive television is here, and it can be your best friend! Running a 30-second spot enabled with an RFI overlay enhances a standard :30 TV ad in a number of ways.

* It automatically boosts brand recall. In a survey Canoe conducted (and spelled out in a recent white paper), on average, introduction of an RFI in a commercial increased unaided recall of test brand by 132%. Regardless of pod position, ad recall increased when the RFI overlay was introduced. A second study cited in the white paper showed that awareness of the interactive offer led to ubiquitous aided brand recall (100%) regardless of whether or not the viewer replied "Yes" to the offer.

* Using RFI, the ad is always a call to action, because you, the advertiser, are offering either a free sample (who in the world doesn't like "free"?), a coupon (everybody likes to save money) or more information (a more informed customer is apt to be more devout if they like what they've found out).

* Advertisers will know exactly how many viewers they influenced, based on the response rates, which is far more valuable insight than a commercial rating.

* More networks are being on-boarded. We launched on three networks-E!, Style and AMC-last fall, but we're in the process of cueing up USA, Bravo, Discovery and History.

* Even when the interactivity is baked into the program, it has a positive impact on reported purchase intent, according to our research. When exposed to an interactive poll associated with an ad in the third pod position during a commercial break, brand purchase intent scores rose 40%. Other data shows that of those who see an interactive RFI, 42% agreed the ad made them want to buy the product. Once again, viewers did not have to click on the ad in order to be positively affected. Just noticing the interactive ad raised purchase intent to 75%. Even better, 82% of those who accepted the offer agreed that the ad was more memorable.

* TV viewers want this stuff. A survey conducted by FourthWall Media last year noted, among other things, that two-thirds (66%) of TV watchers, including 72% of females and 74% of 13-20s, agree they would change the way they watch TV programming if they had access to interactive television applications.

* The footprint for national interactivity keeps growing week after week. The cable industry in total surpassed its goal last year of enabling 25 million subscribers with EBIF -- the set-top-box-based user agent that enables interactivity. Canoe's footprint is just a step or two behind, and our RFI product is now available in seven of the top 10 DMAs, 18 of the top 25 DMAs and 30 of the top 60 DMAs.

Of you haven't tried national TV interactivity but want to, call any of the cable networks mentioned. Once the upfront rolls through, there will be even less inventory available. Future columns will touch on industry trends in this incredibly dynamic and successful TV business.

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