TV's No-Freeloader Manifesto

To all you advertisers, marketers and media buyers out there -- Have you ever considered the fact that at least a portion of your audience hates you?

OK, maybe they don't hate you. But you sure do annoy the heck out of them? At least the 75% that aren't the right audience to begin with. After all, you interrupt their favorite programs with ads they don't want to watch, for products they don't intend to buy. They're not customers; they're freeloaders. 

They get their favorite shows for free ,while you fund those shows for them with your ad dollars. And they're ruining your advertising ROI. So why not get rid of the freeloaders and replace them with customers?  After all, whether your audience wants to admit it, you are paying good money to entertain them. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Just like Google users put up with display ads, NPR listeners tolerate fundraising drives, and magazine readers deal with those annoying little postcards, television audiences have always had to suffer through commercial breaks or make quick pit stops at the fridge.

Since the beginning of television, this has been an unwritten understanding between programmers, advertisers, and viewers: One plays, one pays, one stays. But these days, audiences no longer have to stay. They can skip commercials without even leaving the couch. They can watch online with lighter commercial loads, if any. They can even pay directly for content, cutting you out of the mix altogether. (Another Steve Jobs legacy: There are few if any freeloaders in Apple's world; every customer gets what he/she pays for.)

Even so, television remains the most powerful marketing medium around.

Data from eMarketer shows TV ad spending keeping pace with online. And even though TV is projected to stay flat over the next four years while Internet grows by 40% (as a percentage of overall  marketing spend, that is),  TV ad revenues will still be 50%  greater than Internet ad revenues in 2015. As Sam Gustin wrote in Wired a few months ago, "Advertisers know they can still reach millions of people...who flock to such programming as "Jersey Shore," "Glee" and "Gossip Girl."

A Microsoft/BBDO joint report cited by Bloomberg News chalked television's unmatched marketing resonance up to the fact that "its audience is receptive and waiting to be entertained."

But TV advertising -- any advertising, in fact -- only works when it reaches the right audiences. And remember that demographics don't buy products, consumers do. So you need to make sure that the programming you pay for is going to entertain viewers who are interested in purchasing your product. And that means minimizing freeloaders. So don't cut your ad budgets, cut the waste out of them.

Let's face it: Freeloaders aren't going away. Not unless you change where you advertise by honing your media strategy. The data's there -- set-top-box data, household-purchase info, demographic data -- but it's up to you to use it. And you don't have to necessarily buy the long tail in order to get the last 20 points of reach. Use the solution that gives you the reach you want -- at the price you want -- against your own current ROI-driving purchaser segments.

Replace the freeloaders in your audience with customers who are interested in your product, and who buy your product (or your competitor's product, if you're feeling feisty). It's only sensible, and it's only efficient. Your ROI will thank you.



10 comments about "TV's No-Freeloader Manifesto".
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  1. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 30, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.

    Thought provoking.

    Certainly it's interesting to ponder why TV spending remains so strong: in spite of DVRs, TV is powerful - driving impact tht is unheard of in most other mediums (when used for the right purposes). In fact, studies show TV working better today because of DVRs.

    But as to targeting... I'm fascinated that, despite all the intense targeting used online, click through rates are miserably low. And, it is not true that the ability to laser target online has resulted in much better impact overall.

    And perhaps the reason is purely economic. If I have to pay too much of a premium for laser targeting, it can remain dramatically more cost effective to rely on Nielsen's.

  2. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, August 30, 2011 at 5:12 p.m.

    It's ironic that in theaters, where we pay to watch a movie, that's we're we can't escape commercials.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, August 30, 2011 at 11:37 p.m.

    Can anyone refresh me as to exactly when using mass media to reach the masses to generate masses of sales stopped working?

  4. Cece Forrester from tbd, August 31, 2011 at 7:58 p.m.

    Wait a second. First of all, I never signed any contract to get those TV shows. You put them out there. Second, I am paying somebody to receive them; they're not free. And some of that money I pay the cable company is going to very expensive networks I never watch. Their viewers are freeloading off me.

    But if we are going to assume a viewing bargain, I would put it this way: you provide the program, I agree to watch a message that isn't stupid and is about something I might buy. If you can't even repay the expected attention to your commercials with relevance and respect to me, who's dealing with whom in bad faith?

    I've suggested it before and I'll repeat it: The model needs to be the same as with a magazine. I get to turn the page immediately on any ad that does not speak to me, and then I'll spend time reading the ones that do. This is entirely possible now.

    Oh, and as long as we're talking bargains:

    l) I should get some credit for making a commitment and taking the time to watch your show, including programming it in my TiVo.

    2) Networks should not pull series in midseason with story lines unresolved. Put out the unaired ones on DVD, or announce the last season far enough in advance that they can wrap it up satisfyingly and put it out on DVD.

    And if the show is that much of a stinker, why in the world did you put it on in place of something that was working better?

  5. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, August 31, 2011 at 8:40 p.m.

    @Cece - Couldn't agree more with:

    "But if we are going to assume a viewing bargain, I would put it this way: you provide the program, I agree to watch a message that isn't stupid and is about something I might buy. If you can't even repay the expected attention to your commercials with relevance and respect to me, who's dealing with whom in bad faith?"

    What the 4A's have never come to grips with is that any problem with consumer dismissal of ads is because they don't carry enough meaning for the viewer. Instead, all these creative directors run around blaming the research or blaming the medium - unable to look at their work with honesty.

    My sense (purely anecdotal) is that viewers are even much more willing to put up with ads that aren't for products they care about if the ads pass the sniff test - actually carrying meaning for the people who care.

  6. Cece Forrester from tbd, September 1, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.

    Thanks, Doug. Yes, I'll certainly watch a commercial for something I don't buy if it's appealing and amusing enough. There are some I've played over and over because the tunes were catchy and the scenarios clever. And I even noticed the selling proposition, so it must come across to the intended target.

    Proof that creatives can do that kind of work when they can be bothered, and that clients will back it: the Super Bowl phenomenon. Yes, part of it is you get a big budget. But one can work around limited dollars. What's the major factor? Discuss.

  7. Michael Cornette from Bonten Media, September 1, 2011 at 6:45 p.m.

    Awesome points being made. Doug, you hit the ball out of the freaking ballpark on your comment about creative directors unable to look at their work honestly. Don't get me wrong, I am in awe of the talent that the creative people have, but I have yet to hear an agency say they screwed up, either creatively or strategically. It is often the medium that gets blamed, not the message.

    We are saddled by limitations in utilizing a pre-determined demo. Adults 18-49 is easy and popular, but can we seriously believe that an 18 year old acts the same as a 49 year old who has an 18 year old child? Did the movie Freaky Friday prove nothing?

    The fact remains even if the 18-49 audience represents a small portion of the overall viewing audience, the ability to reach this audience through a broadcast medium is undeniable, and only getting stronger. The viewers that fall outside the demo should be looked upon as opportunity consumers, and, with good creative, just might find themselves watching the commercial and buying the product.

  8. Cece Forrester from tbd, September 1, 2011 at 7:15 p.m.

    "The viewers that fall outside the demo should be looked upon as opportunity consumers, and, with good creative, just might find themselves watching the commercial and buying the product."

    Michael--True, and even if I am completely not in the market for it myself for reasons other than age and gender, I might recommend it to, or buy it for, someone who is in your demo, as long as the experience leaves me feeling good.

  9. Marc Allan Feldman from Openivo, Inc, September 1, 2011 at 7:18 p.m.

    Today's technology can enable a shift in the paradigm of television advertising from a soft for of behavioral modification to an honest conversation between equal parties trading the fruits of their labors.

    When all TV ads become optional, and when marketers have the data on who watches and who skips, creatives will be able to make and target commercials that are relevant and entertaining.

    The overall quality of TV programming will also improve with the shift from one-to-many broadcast to a many-to-many targeted model. No longer will there be a need to produce the least objectionable content to the largest number of people at the lowest common denominator.

  10. Michael Cornette from Bonten Media, September 1, 2011 at 11:13 p.m.

    @ Marc Allen There is no reason creative has to wait until ads are optional so they can be relevant and entertaining. If we get to the point where we are trying to develop a strategy for those who aren't going to watch the ads, the people who are watching the ads aren't going to watch.

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