Has TV advertising had its heyday?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will know Barbie was the film of the summer, and how do you know that? Because the world went pink! From pink London cabs and buses to Barbie Crocs and the chance to stay in Barbie’s Malibu AirBNB DreamHouse, Barbie mania took the world by storm in a marketing push that was reported to cost in the region of $150 million and attracted more than 100 promotional partners. Although to be honest, we draw the line at Burger King’s pink Barbie Burger!

But with all this marketing activity capturing the attention, the interesting thing is the absence of a TV spot – or rather a TV spot that any of us remember. In fact, when the first preview of the film was revealed at CinemaCon, a gathering of cinema owners and Hollywood studios, Josh Goldstine, president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. commented “We saw how it lit up the internet. It was a very telling moment.”

And it is a telling moment, as his focus was very much on the film’s impact on the internet, which begs the question – is TV advertising all a bit passe nowadays? 

The internet is king

As Goldstine’s comment reveals nowadays the internet is where it’s at if you really want to make a marketing splash, which is remarkable given mobile advertising has only been round for the last 23 years. But what a 23 years they have been!  From the early text messages promoting exclusive offers, brands experimenting with mobile ads, to companies embracing the joys (and despair) of social media, the opportunities to engage with audiences who couldn’t be reached using more traditional marketing techniques has revolutionised advertising. And the operative words here are “reach” and “engage”.

Online marketing offers an unprecedented amount of insight into what you customers are interested in, what type of content they prefer, where they hang out and how best to catch their attention. But producing tailored, personalised content that resonates is just the first step in building valuable long-term relationships with potential customers; the next step is to engage with them. So, whether, that’s creating a whole Instagram channel devoted to your brand and encouraging people to post their comments, like they did for the Barbie movie; calling on users to share their own experiences, such as for Dove’s #DetoxYourFeed campaign;  or incorporating customers’ content into your global advertising as demonstrated by Apple’s #ShotOniPhone challenge, the internet, and especially social media, offers a plethora of ways for consumers to get involved. TV advertising – not so much.

Admittedly, there is data to help brands identify what TV programmes their target audience watches, which channels they prefer and the best time to show their ads.  But engagement is a lot harder to achieve. Yes, you can provide a web address for people to visit, a hashtag for them to use or a phone number to call. Some brands have even started incorporating QR codes into their ads to help people easily visit their website or find the location of their local store.  But this simply isn’t engagement at the same visceral level offered by online advertising.

Why TV advertising is falling out of favour

Ever since the first TV ads back in the 1950s, a debate has raged about whether people actually watch ads or whether they simple see ad breaks as the perfect time to go and make another cup of tea. The introduction of the VCR only added fuel to this particular fire, which has been exacerbated by today’s terrestrial TV channels offering catch up services, often with a paid option which allows you to skip the ads entirely.

Then we need to factor in that traditional TV has seen a massive fall in viewers with the number of people watching a programme on broadcast TV each week dropping from 83% in 2021 to 79% in 2022. Part of this is down to the sheer number of options consumers have in terms of streaming services and other forms of video content and the fact they can watch things when the want rather than when they are broadcast. And while there are ads on things such as YouTube, the difference is the ad breaks, while unbelievably annoying, are so short, you don’t have time to go and do anything else – clever!

And, of course, TV advertising is notoriously expensive, especially if you want to show an ad during prime time (although does prime time even exist anymore?!)  It’s probably why programme sponsorship remains popular as it becomes an integral part of the programme so still shows on catch up services even if you have a paid subscription.

But maybe the biggest blow to TV advertising could be Channel 4’s recent experiment on their streaming service which wanted to see if fewer ads from a single brand, broadcast in a less cluttered advertising environment and in a shorter ad break would be more effective. The answer was a resounding yes, with the result Channel 4 streaming are now offering a one brand exclusivity over a single programme.

It won’t come as any surprise then that, according to latest research, TV is no longer a preferred advertising channel for marketers with online video taking the top spot.

Is this the death knell for TV advertising?

While the evidence might seem damning, we’re not so sure. While it’s true TV advertising is expensive, and it can be difficult to effectively monitor ROI, get it right and it can be amazing. John Lewis, we’re looking at you!

In fact, research finds people watch 71% of a TV ad compared to just 30% of a digital mobile ad and that TV ads are actually twice as memorable.  Also, since 2018 spend on TV advertising has actually doubled for B2B companies who offer services such as web design, accountancy software and mobile-based payments as they try and capitalise on the recent boom in SMEs.

But one of the most interesting developments in TV advertising is that of addressable TV.  Just like online advertising, addressable TV uses data about viewers to deliver relevant, targeted advertising. So, for example, a group of friends watching the Rugby World Cup would get ads for their favourite beer and fast-food chain, while a family with children watching the same match would get ads for local child-friendly attractions.

Addressable TV has actually been around since 2014, but it’s only been in the last couple of years that it has started to gain traction growing 38% year-on-year globally. In fact, the market is predicted to grow worldwide from $56 billion to $87 billion by 2027 and to capture one-fifth of global ad buying.

Research also suggests ads shown to an addressable TV audience deliver greater long-term business impact and elicit more positive reactions than those seen by a broad audience.

So, rather than TV advertising becoming irrelevant, it’s taking a leaf from the marketing playbook and is in the process of evolving to meet new needs and expectations. Whether it will topple online advertising and reclaim the top spot as the preferred advertising channel remains to be seen, but let’s face it, while we might all rush to see the John Lewis Christmas ad online, nothing beats seeing it on the TV.