Advertising: TV or digital? It’s no longer either/or: it’s all about both.

“We need to run two weeks of digital to get the reach of one day of broadcast.” Rich Lehrfeld, American Express

Since the TV debut of President Franklin Roosevelt at the opening of the 1939 World Fair in New York, television has grown into one of the main communication tools to inform, entertain and advertise.

The revolutionary thing about TV was that both sound and image could be transmitted at the same time — something printed media could of course never achieve This turned television into a “magic medium” that enabled us to see the world without ever having to leave our living room. A significant share of our knowledge comes from what we see every day on TV, in adverts, sitcoms, educational programmes, quizzes and so on. Our TVs allow us to learn about faraway countries, people and places, and unlike other media, TV appeals to all age groups, all intellectual levels and all social classes.

How has TV evolved over time?

In the past, we made our daily activities fit around the television schedule. If our favourite show was on at 7 p.m., we would eat a little earlier to make sure we were all set on the sofa in time for the start. Missing even a single episode of your favourite series was nothing less than a disaster: it would be all the talk in the office the next day, and you’d feel like you were missing out. Today, you can simply view any episode you’ve missed on demand, so that feeling of exclusion is a thing of the past!

The range of programmes on offer has become fragmented over the years, initially as a result of cable television, and then because of the internet. Today, 18 to 34-year-olds watch up to 50% of their programmes on demand. Another part of this age group uses Netflix, YouTube or other online channels alongside — or even instead of — their televisions. Even though Digiboxes have led to an uptake in the amount of TV we watch, almost 90% of viewers simply skip the adverts when watching programmes on demand.

Also, to add to the impact caused by the internet, it is becoming increasingly clear that when we watch TV, we’re not really “watching”: there is a clear peak in mobile activity during ad breaks — if we don’t just skip them, that is. Consequently, with everyone looking at their phones during the ads, you’d be forgiven for thinking that TV commercials are losing the enormous reach they once had.

What will happen to advertising?

An evolution is taking place in advertising, and both advertisers and broadcasters should pay close attention. The position of traditional commercial breaks must be called into question, and few viewers are likely to complain: most would be delighted with fewer ad breaks!

There is a fear that TV is getting fragmented to the point where viewing figures will plummet, which would make it almost impossible to achieve similar reach and frequency ever again through any other medium.

But there is good news too: one of the big advantages offered by new media as opposed to TV is that they allow targeted advertising — “the right people, the right ads”. So, how can we provide more content to viewers and create opportunities for marketers at the same time? The one thing that TV does best — portraying and building brands — is something that the internet really struggles with. That means the debate is no longer about “TV vs. digital”, but rather about how we can bring the two closer together.

“TV as a traditional medium is still important,” according to Rich Lehrfeld, Senior VP Global Brand Marketing and Communications at American Express. “When we run a heavy TV schedule, we see a lift in sales and product awareness. We need to run two weeks of digital to get the reach of one day of broadcast.” 

One evolution taking place right now is a move towards fewer long ad breaks on TV, and the introduction of shorter ad spots. This serves partly to tempt people back to their televisions, but it also gives advertisers renewed hope. Research has shown that less clutter results in a better user experience and better results for advertisers. The primary goal will always be brand awareness, effect recall, engagement and affinity — and the ultimate goal will always be a purchase and demonstrable ROI.