Collision Avoidance For TV Media Buyers

As I wandered around the weekly old-car show in my neighborhood this past Saturday night, I couldn't help but smile when I saw "my" '68 Camaro. She was a beaut:  white with two blue mag stripes and a whale tail (puny 289 engine, though, and no Hurst shift). 

Remember your favorite old classic? Of course, she didn't turn over in the winter, which was problematic from time to time. Those headlights? Sleek, but dim.  Seatbelts?  Safety? What was that? And boy was she expensive to maintain and insure. A labor of love for sure. Still driving her? Nah, you upgraded long ago.

It got me thinking about other objects of nostalgia: the 8-track, the original Walkman, my first TR80 PC, my blinking VCR.  All, thankfully, abandoned. But some habits die hard and somehow we still cling to them, even though we should be moving on. 

One that comes to mind (no surprise) is how media is still (largely) bought and sold today:  using the same 1960s classic Plain Old Ordinary Ratings and dying age/sex demos. Here too, time for an upgrade.



After all, just as technology has completely remade the automobile in the last several decades, it's also revolutionized television research and measurement.

The automotive buzz phrase you hear most often these days is "collision avoidance." (I learned this reading USA Today a couple of weeks ago.) Most of the innovation that's going into making today's cars safer than ever has one aim: to compensate for bad driving by automatically reading the environment to help drivers avoid making stupid mistakes (aka collisions). 

Among the safety features we're starting to see in high-end cars are: intelligent air bags; self-braking ("imminent-braking systems" in the parlance); adaptive headlights that see around corners; warning lights that flash when another car's in your blind spot; and motion detectors to keep drivers in their own lanes.

It's incredible stuff, when you think about it. The industry has basically created vehicles that all but drive themselves. (Of course Marc Andreessen, for one, thinks that too is right around the proverbial corner, as do the folks at Carnegie Mellon.)

While this all may be a bit futuristic, it does relate back to TV. Now that we in the TV-measurement space have the technology and the data we need to better understand the marketing environment, how can we adopt these "safety features" to avoid head-on collisions of our own?

·     Keep the headlights on. Use all the data you have at your disposal, looking deep and wide at the actual consumer behavior of your audience (for instance, purchase behavior).

·     Check your blind spots. Use data to plan ahead, of course, but also to look back. Do a post-mortem on each campaign to see which ads resonated with which audiences, and which got skipped. Look for value-based opportunities on networks and programs you don't usually consider.

·     Use air bags. Cushion the blow that comes from a mediocre campaign by allocating your media spend among several outlets -- but the right outlets.

·     Look before switching lanes. Don't allocate between networks or move your spending from one program to another without truly understanding whether you will be reaching the right audience.

·     Put on the brakes when needed. Slow down and think twice before relying too much on new metrics.  Make sure your customer on the other side of the negotiating table believes in those new metrics. 

After all, you wouldn't feel safe driving a car without a seatbelt, would you?

So why rely on a media strategy that's based on assumptions and processes that are just as outdated?

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