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Peter Field: Marketers are too disinvested in TV advertising

An out of focus television with a remote in the foregroundTelevision advertising has always enjoyed a recognition for impact. Compared with digital equivalents it is undervalued for what it can offer to businesses, according to effectiveness expert Peter Field, who said marketers are “too disinvested” in the medium.

According to Kantar, only 6% of marketers say they will upwardly revise TV spend in 2024. It comes as TV dropped from third on the list of preferred media channels for marketers in 2022 to 12th, according to the Media Reactions 2023 report.

Speaking at the Future of TV Advertising 2023 event on 6 December, Field, co-author of the celebrated ‘Long and Short of It’, stated that System1 data shows YouTube’s unskippable video ads can almost match television ads when it comes to building attention. He cited System1 statistics that demonstrate that meaningful attention only exists once a video ad has been watched for 2.5 seconds – which both TV ads and some of YouTube’s formats can easily manage.

While YouTube’s ads reach that “baseline threshold”, Field argued that “the rewards for generating 10 seconds of attention are massively worth going for” – and that television is the medium on which that time period is most easily attainable. Referring to research from dentsu and Lumen, Field notes that when it comes to capturing attention “TV is very definitely in the domain of mental availability”.

TV’s effectiveness is driven by more than just price

Non-skippable YouTube ads hit an average of 5.2 attention seconds, for example, while a 15 second TV ad reaches 7.5 active attention seconds. Thirty second TV ads hit an average of 13.8 active attention seconds – far and away the highest across all the measured media. By contrast, an Instagram story can only reach 1.7 attention seconds on average.

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That, he argued, is the result of a number of different strengths that TV advertising inherently has that are difficult for other advertising channels to replicate. He noted that despite increasing spend on social platforms, for example, users of those channels are immersed in information-rich environments that do not reward long-term attention building activity. TV, by contrast, is often the sole focal point for its viewers.

Field also cited statistics from Thinkbox that demonstrated television is among the most trusted source of accurate information among audiences. That data is backed up by Ofcom, which found that younger audiences also tend to trust news on broadcast channels over and above other media.

For Field, that matters because “consumers are increasingly forming assessments of the quality of the brand they may buy based on whether they trust them” – and advertising on television has a halo effect for brands due to audiences’ perception of and trust in TV as a whole. He said: “So already it starts to look like a questionable decision for any marketer, even targeting a young demographic, to walk away from TV.”

Reach versus effectiveness

As another example, Field referred to the impact of TV advertising versus digital video for a particularly in-demand audience demographic. The big selling point for many social channels is the relative youth of their users, a demographic that many advertisers want to reach through video ads on social platforms.

Field, however, cited Thinkbox data that demonstrated active attention among young audiences (16 – 34 year olds) is still heavily weighted towards television advertising – accounting for around 70% of the attentive usage of video advertising for that group. Field said “Why would any sensible marketer walk away from that media?”

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Field did acknowledge that brands focused more on performance marketing than brand building will have different objectives for their advertising output. However, in terms of effectiveness, he stated that “much to the disgust” of people working in performance marketing, TV is still “so god damn effective” for moving the needle on everything from consideration to brand-building.

He also cited celebrated investor Warren Buffett as stating that pricing power is the biggest driver of the success of a business. TV, said Field, has “a very powerful impact on price elasticity”: he stated that “very smart” businesses focus on driving incremental volume and incremental margin, which TV’s effectiveness in impacting price elasticity can contribute. On that measure alone, he argued “we’re already too disinvested” in TV advertising.

Seven reasons why TV’s doubters are wrong

It all feeds into Field’s contention that TV advertising is undervalued, particularly compared to social channels. The big selling point for many social platforms is the vast reach and targeting options they confer to the brands that advertise across them: referring back to the dentsu and Lumen data, Field argued that chasing cheap impressions across digital channels can be a “very very dangerous thing”.

Across TV, Barb data demonstrates the average weekly reach for commercial TV stands at 78% of the UK public from January to August in 2023. That accounts for around 42 million people watching commercial TV every week – which translates to around 10 million people reached on linear TV alone for every £100,000 spent.

As a result, Field argued that that marketers need to weight social impressions against the levels of active attention and the halo effect of trust, noting that based on that criteria “TV suddenly starts to look quite cheap”.

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