Test and learn, gather data, repeat. That seems to be the formula for GM brands pursuing their prospects across an increasingly fragmented video landscape. David Spencer, assistant manager, audience buying strategy, had been test-driving the major and emerging video screen platforms for years. So when the Covid crisis hit and streaming use soared, the GM brands had the traction they needed to hit the accelerator on advanced TV. Spencer joined Brand Insider this week to share his thoughts on the state of the new alphabet soup of video (SVOD, AVOD, OTT, CTV, et al). At the same time GM is spreading itstraditional top-of-funnel efforts across more screens, online efforts like Cadillac Live are engaging the middle of the customer journey with virtual, personal car tour sessions. The real value of these new platforms, he tells us, is not just that they are data-driven but that they are data-rendering. They push more detailed understandings of the prospective car buyer out to both the media plan and even to the dealers. You can listen to the entire podcast here. David Spencer will be speaking at Advertising Week 2020, Sept. 29-Oct.8.
MediaPost: What does your portfolio of video media investments look like typically?
David Spencer: Our linear TV buys are very much in sync with our connected TV buys. When I say linear TV, I'm talking the traditional definition of TV inventory. We do that because years ago we had a mindset and a strategy shift to everything audience-based.
We know a lot about our customers, our networks know a lot about their audiences and do a lot of research and studies and pair that with what we know on our side, and we can agree on what the best target audiences is for us to reach. The networks have been much more progressive in working with us from that aspect. We get the best inventory, but we also get a target audience that is going to have the highest propensity to buy our vehicles.
MP: How does that work in terms of bringing the strategy together across TV and connected TV? Are you looking to just capture lost linear TV viewers on OTT? How are you ensuring that you're not simply overlapping your linear buys?
Spencer: First, we're still heavily invested in the broadcast networks, because we believe in the inventory holders and we've got a lot of equity built into those networks. It's not a zero-sum game.
We like CTV for its ability to apply new sources of data to our buys. [We are]partnering with some of these new platforms like Hulu, Samsung, Vizio, Roku, to test and learn.
OK, they have their audience data, let's better understand what information they have available to them and what insights they can provide to us related to vehicle buying. So we're running campaigns, we're understanding how it delivered against our target audience with Samsung, we're understanding what inventory they have with Hulu. We're understanding what level of transparency we can get from Hulu and how we can help improve that not only with Hulu, but across the board with connected TV.
Our biggest concerns in the connected TV space are transparency and, quite frankly, there's not a great handle yet on that. There's just not technology that is available yet that we can confidently rely on to prevent ad fraud in the connected TV space -- or even detect ad fraud.
As more money shifts there, that's going to be greater incentive for the nefarious individuals to start to prey more and more and try to infiltrate this whole ecosystem.
MP: What have been the early returns on some of the ad-supported streaming environments?
Spencer: I think there is a lot of opportunity in the AVOD world because the subscription-based world -- particularly the non-advertising-based subscription world, things like Netflix -- are squeezing the available inventory we have to reach our target. And so the AVODs are in a position to help us gain some of that reach back.
The early returns, I would say, are positive. Again, we're very focused on high quality inventory with our brands. We want to make sure that our message is appearing in front of shows and/or networks and/or content that align with our perspective or point of view, generally speaking, that our brands want to portray.
So with AVODs, we're taking the same approach where we're going at it in a smart and strategic way, and approaching the space to test a little bit here and there, and slowly increase that reach with the partners that are delivering the audience that we are going after.
MP: Are these environments fundamentally different ad environments in terms of how they perform, how you need to plan them, say in terms of frequency or format or messaging? Or is it just TV?
Spencer: It’s my opinion that if an ad is appearing on a TV, it's no different to the consumer regardless of where they're accessing it, whether it’s through their smart TV platform or their Roku device or their cable box. So we're trying to establish a consistent form of measurement that we can hold everything equal in this space. We're not there yet. I think we're still waiting on technology to catch up a bit in this space.
But our main priority is how do we reach our target audience. So the delivery of that target audience, if it's on a connected TV or if it's on a big TV screen, we shouldn't care. But there are challenges with having the old traditional linear environment whole there are still some networks out there that haven't quite caught up yet, and by that I mean running 8-9-10 commercial pods for five minutes long multiple times and a half an hour.
The consumer behavior has changed and the consumer expectations have changed. If they're watching a movie on a network and they're getting interrupted every 10 minutes with five minute commercial pods, they can just go find the movie on something else. The AVOD platforms that are going to be successful, and what we've seen be successful, are the ones that respect that consumer value exchange. Hulu is a great example of a platform I think very highly of that has gone to great lengths to protect that environment and not let advertising destroy it.
MP: Let's get into the COVID crisis and how you guys responded, because this channel in particular was impacted by the crisis. Before we get into that, how did the GM brands media plan respond immediately in March? What adjustments did you make initially and why?
Spencer: Well, immediately we pulled back completely from everything. But our mindset, from a media perspective, as we started to roll investment back out towards the end of the second quarter, never shifted. We were ready to take advantage of the new audience scale available in advanced TV space because we had been experimenting with it and slowly making that shift. Deborah Wahl, our CMO, even said back in January, before any of this stuff hit that we were planning on increasing our investment in the advanced TV space, or connected TV even more specifically, by over 50%. So we had our systems strategy in mindset in place to just hit the Go button when we did start investing again.
MP: What are the biggest lessons for you coming out of this crisis? About the media landscape or about your own approaches to marketing.
Spencer: I would say that the very first thing is that there are consumer behaviors that are without a doubt in my mind here to stay. And one of those is related to the virtual space. Not just the narrow definition of virtual reality but engaging in events, engaging in conversations, even in parties, in a consumer lifestyle perspective.
The virtual world is here to stay and we need to figure out, from a marketing perspective, how we can best take advantage of this new kind of interface between consumers and companies. We're trying to find ways to better connect with individuals on a one-to-one basis, be more of a resource for individuals and not this giant behemoth kind of untouchable brand. We want to be more personal. And so we're trying to find ways to market within that dynamic and figure out ways that we can provide experiences to a consumer all in their living room.
MP: Traditionally, auto brands focused on driving awareness and consideration. What you're describing is something much closer to the consumer. Where are you starting to do that?
Spencer: Cadillac Live is an experience that allows for a one-to-one call with a consumer and what we call our Brand Ambassadors. And they know our vehicles inside and out, and they can have a conversation, ask any questions they want about any vehicle in the Cadillac lineup.
And to be clear, our end goal is still to get them into the dealership. How can we better help our dealers finish those sales? And that is providing questions that people have that may change their decision on a brand. So they may never even set foot in a dealership if they hadn't gone through the Cadillac Live experience to know that their golf clubs can fit in the trunk of an XT4 -- or some other nuance that is important to that individual.
MP: And you're also getting quite a feedback loop there. When we started talking about an advanced TV, one of the first things was less about reaching cord-cutters -- which is a part of it -- than about the data that you're getting in return from this engagement. Here again is another instance where you're having that direct contact with your consumer. You must be learning a ton about what their concerns really are, in a way that you never were able to before.
Spencer: A hundred percent. And we know a lot of consumers are calling in and asking about [a specific] aspect on a vehicle. So how can we change our messaging at a tier-one level to maybe address that aspect more directly in the advertising?
We can also get insights that help us understand, beyond sales, what vehicles consumers are most interested in -- but also what vehicles are a better fit for those individuals.
So ton on ton of data, ton of insights from the conversations that are being had. What we can learn from those conversations and pass along to our dealers and say, “Hey, 90% of the callers [are] calling in and asking about the charging pad for iPhones.” So when you are showing them around the vehicle or if they're calling in about something to the dealership, make sure you're hitting on that aspect. Or even include something in what they're taking away from the dealership.