4 Lessons from a Busy Media Year

by Jessica Hawthorne-Castro on Sep 22, 2016 12:00:00 AM DRTV

4_Lessons_from_a_Busy_Media_Year-409259-edited.jpgWith the presidential election competing for television airtime, the environment has so far created several unusual challenges for marketers and media buyers. At the same time, companies disenchanted with the results of their digital campaigns and brand awareness continued a migration back to TV.

“Digital has not turned out to be the great shining hope that was forecast,” says Ed Papazian, president of Media Dynamics, in a Hollywood Reporter article, “TV is Dead? Hardly, as Upfronts Defy Gravity in Unexpected Cash Grab.” He points out that last year’s upfronts—when networks sell the bulk of their primetime ads—generated $8 billion for English-language broadcast TV and close to $9 billion for cable, and analysts predict a 3 percent to 5 percent increase in 2016.

The election, last month's Summer Olympics, and growing demand for TV airtime creates a perfect storm in which “avails” are harder to come by, prices are up, and a wide swath of buyers jumps into the game on behalf of clients. The environment presents both challenges and opportunities, the latter typically coming from the lessons learned along the way. Here are four key takeaways for 2016.

Social Media Works

In the past—and as seen in the 2012 campaign , when President Barack Obama spent $47 million on digital re-election campaigning compared to GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s $4.7 million—social media proved to be a powerful outlet. In a blog post analyzing a BuzzSumo database of more than 14,000 articles about the four major presidential hopefuls from both parties through the end of March, content about GOP frontrunner Donald Trump was shared 211 million times—far more than any other candidate. Content about Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders got the second-highest number of shares—153 million—but the gap was still formidable. Social sharing is a mainstay activity for most consumers, and this statistic shows the power advertisers can gain by effectively leveraging social media.

Cross-Device Platforms Are Critical

A 2015 survey conducted by the cross-channel marketing firm Signal found that just 6 percent of marketers worldwide report an adequate view of customers or prospects across all devices and touchpoints. The fact that cross-device platforms aren’t used presents a significant opportunity for marketers that understand how to leverage data to identify and segment audiences with personalized messages catering to individual users and the issues that matter most to them.

It’s also a case of identifying audiences geographically—finding areas of the country that don’t have a large turnout and encouraging people to get out and vote. Through June 2016, Sanders ran the savviest digital marketing campaign, combining big TV buys with digital videos that contain readjusted messaging. By successfully identifying segments of potential voters and hitting them with ads targeted to a specific issue or demographic, the Sanders campaign was able to effectively leverage a platform many advertisers continue to ignore.

TAM Produces Results

At the beginning of 2016, no one could have predicted how polarizing, controversial, and interesting this political season would turn out to be. It is perhaps fitting, then, to look at the power of media by looking at the strategy executed by Trump in the era of new media and audience impressions.

While lacking political or government experience, Trump came to the table with television media experience—an advantage that has served him well. With little donor support, he used his media reach to take front-runner status. More than any other candidate, Trump instinctively understood Total Audience Measurement (TAM) across platforms, and how a controversial comment can generate unprecedented earned media in a cost-effective way. As Van Jones said in a recent CNN.com article, “The most successful politicians have an innate understanding of that environment and the skill to act on it. In our era, that could be Trump.”

The Difference Between ‘Bought’ and ‘Earned’ Media

A final lesson we can take away from this year’s media environment lies in the distinction between “bought” and “earned” media. In a recent article, the New York Times compared total amounts of bought and earned media since the start of the campaign season for all of the major Democratic and Republican candidates. Bought media encompasses political advertising, and earned media includes news and commentary about a campaign on television, in print, online, and on social media (see chart).

According to the story, Trump’s nearly $2 billion worth of earned media was more than double Democrat Hillary Clinton’s, and this trend is expected to continue through the general election. Until then, news coverage will intensify, drawing larger and larger audiences, and advertisers should execute strategies now to impact business. It will be the most engaging general election in the country’s history, and advertisers must pay close attention to it across platforms.

This election cycle reflects where we stand today in terms of media practices, social media, cross-device marketing, and omnichannel marketing. Whether we’re talking about the presidential campaign, the Olympics, or the fact that ad dollars are shifting back to TV, the bottom line is that the media is a powerful force for gathering, sharing, and disseminating information to mass markets. The media environment—and the information circulating within it—changes on a daily basis, but it continues to reign as a powerful, influential force in all of our lives.

Photo by amalkhosh/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is CEO of Hawthorne Direct.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro's blog
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