Cross Screen, Forked Tongue

This post was previously published in an earlier edition of Online Spin.

The notion of cross-screen media is well-heeled by now. There are different names for it. “People-based” is good, since that would make it “consumer-centric.”  A “single view of the consumer” works, too.

Of course, once you have “it,” you have to decide what to do with it: fill reach gaps, or boost cross-device frequency? There are fancy use cases, too: sequencing cross-device, using creative optimization to exploit learning from one device to another, TV sync-ing, reading behavior on one device and responding to that on another.  Basically, though, it’s about having more choice about when and where to communicate to the audience you want: the tyranny of choice.  

For those engaged in mass reach planning, it’s more bullets. For others, it conserves ammo because it supports just the right shot.

Advertisers seem to want cross-screen media, and why wouldn’t they? These approaches can improve results in ways previously impossible. Media companies all now seem to offer some aspect, at least according to their brochures, yet the problems it can solve are apparently not solved, at least according to an eMarketer study in which only 6% of  marketer respondents say their “current solution" across devices and touchpoints "provides an adequate single view of our customers."



So advertisers want it, and agencies and media companies have it, but 94% of marketer respondents don’t view their current solution as adequate. Hmmmmm....

The usual diagnosis is that someone is speaking with forked tongue.

Advertisers might need it, but they may calculate the advantages as incremental; and most suppliers have trouble proving it works. Or maybe the cost of proving it works breaks even with the incremental advantage. Or maybe the service companies found out it results in lower spend and more work, which is a bad deal for them.

If advertisers view cross-screen media as a pure efficiency play, why would the supply side invest? Making matters worse, really doing cross screen means busting media silos — thus, budget discussions where the gloves come off.  Breaking down silos sounds great — until someone wants to see your budget.

And the picture gets vastly more complicated when you introduce TV into the mix.

A static plan in a dynamic world

Sensing and interpreting behaviors across several media can yield a rich picture of a consumer. This picture can inform broadcast TV choices in significant ways. Yet, the opposite is not true. The blurry picture created with the wobbly accuracy of a sparse (TV) sample can’t really help online do its job better unless the goal is controlling reach overlap, but that doesn’t work very well. TV is a cannon with lousy aim, and online is a rifle: semi-automatic, with data back from every shot.

So that’s the problem: When TV controls the game, like a queen, it will be first through the door. But the mushy capabilities of planning for broadcast force the dumbing down of online in a multimedia planning mix. The best story-teller (TV) tells its story to an audience that is likely to be indifferent. Online, on the other hand, has visibility, impression by impression, into the opportunity to see and, to some extent, interest.

That’s why online insights should drive offline media, rather than the other way around.

For sure, the other way around is difficult. Deriving insights from TV requires very deliberate experiments that take months to execute: split tests, surveys, onboarding shopping data, shipment reports, and so on. Online can be in the moment.  

TV is dumbed down because a GRP is based on demography, and demography is only weakly correlated with, and certainly not causal, for most purchase decisions. Are the young females watching “Broad City” likely to want yoga gear? Today? The trick to bridging media is to know something, and online knows something.   

So that, for the moment, is the punchline. Cross-screen campaigns are shooting into the dusk (not quite dark), unless other data are informing the offline screens. That data can come from a lot of places, but online is the only one of those that places that covers billions of data points a day.

But what’s not to like? Nothing — except, maybe, for the fact that it’s hard work to figure that out. Oh, well. Work.

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