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The internet has long threatened to cannibalise TV advertising, but there are good reasons why it simply can't, and won't, according to Andy O'Brien, creative director for Amaze, who here explains why the anticipated internet-driven changes in family entertainment habits simply never happened. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Peer through any living room window 20 years ago and you'd see a family watching TV together. True, the kids may have been playing Kerplunk, ignoring their maths homework and not giving the screen their full attention and yes, perhaps the sports pages were open on Dad's knee, and what if Mum had a book in her hand? They were watching TV together. And being advertised to, together.

Five years later and the desktop PC was heralding the death knell for the family: the corners of dining rooms and spaces under the stairs all over the country were entrancing at least one family member who, glued to the desktop, was missing out on family time (and those all-important TV adverts). The advent of the laptop was the final straw - as the concept of family was consigned to history, houses simply contained a number of connected people who weren't connected to each other at all (or to TV advertising, for that matter). With society in crisis, an unexpected saviour in the shape of the smart phone came galloping in on a white charger.

Smart phones and tablets were supposed to be another final straw, scattering family members to the far-flung recesses of their houses, never to meet again. But they didn't. Yes, it's true that Mum now calls the kids down to eat by phone rather than the ungainly bellow up the stairs (according to research from Microsoft Advertising, 30% of families do this), but once they've eaten they don't go back to their rooms. Instead the whole family gets together in the living room once again.

So, the TV advertisers can breathe a sigh of relief. Well, no, they can't. Smartphones and tablets (I can't bear the word phablet and so, henceforth, you'll just have to assume I mean those too) have more than replaced the 'pop-the-kettle-on/nip-to-the-loo' break, they are now being used at the same time as the TV programming. A Microsoft Advertising report notes that 38% of people go on the internet during the adverts. And overall 75% of people dip in and out of the internet during the actual TV programme. And they exhibit two types of behaviour: meshing and stacking.

'Meshers' integrate digital into their TV experience - discussing what's on TV with their friends as it happens, following blogs and news about what's on, Tweeting about it, that kind of thing. This indicates a very high level of engagement - instant and live water cooler talk. According to a recent report from Ofcom, 25% of people engage in meshing regularly. So let's pick up some of that maths homework: Coronation Street usually pulls in about 9 - 10 million viewers, half of whom have a smartphone (and 25% of whom have a tablet). One quarter of those people are using their devices to discuss the show. That's around 1.25 million people. X Factor has around 1 million regular meshers. Large sporting events regularly pull in numbers way in excess of those.

These people present an enormous opportunity. The clever TV advertisers are currently working out how to weave lingering brand and product shots into their 30 second spots so that they're still viewable on fast-forward. The forward-thinking ones are working out ways of segueing into the digital experience, of meshing with the meshers, of spending time with them, of creating a relationship that has far more value than a fleeting glimpse of a TV spot.

The less engaged are the Stackers who do non-associated things on their digital devices, with the TV as more of a background accompaniment to them or, they switch their attention between the two. Ofcom's figures say that 70% of 16 - 25 year olds are media stackers. These people are promiscuous - Amaze's own research, The Amaze Generation, has found that while Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are on the up, BBM is on its way out (a year ago we saw a very different picture). The younger end has very little buying power and so they are easy to ignore.

We shouldn't ignore them, though. These people are unlikely to become meshers as they grow older, they'll continue to stack (or we'll coin another term to describe their behaviour) so we need to work out a way of interrupting them, grabbing their attention and then engaging them; in other words: advertising to them. This could simply be a symptom of parental remote control (Mum and Dad get to choose the channel) and so 16 - 25 year olds create a world of their own in the sitting room as they're not that interested in the TV.

They actually prefer their digital worlds - if it was simply a case of wanting to watch something different, they'd be up in their rooms watching it there. Ofcom again: the number of homes with only one TV set is now 41% compared with 35% a decade ago and younger adults watch the least television with only a third tuning in at peak times. However, the numbers are still worth chasing - we've already got 1.25 meshers watching Coronation street, add another million or so stackers and that's a pretty sizeable audience who are primed to engage with your brand while you broadcast to them.

So how do you do it? There's the rub. We already know that multi-screen advertising is more effective at brand engagement. And that makes sense: show the same creative and the same message (adapted for the device, of course) and recall will increase. But what if you show them at the same time? You're running your advert before, during and after Coronation street, so run it where your audience is meshing (or stacking) at the same time - as it's digital you can offer them more than just video, you can engage them, you can listen to them, you can sell to them.

Just think, they're going to see your advert on the TV and they have the means of researching it right in their hand. So - they'll visit your website, right now. Does your site reflect the TV prompt that sent them there? Does it reward the visit with content, experiences or even offers? Does it integrate the information we know shoppers need to make a decision right up there where we know our meshers will land? It should do.

Microsoft research points to 50% of people saying they have used the internet to find out what music has been used in a TV ad. And how are they going to search for that? Using your brand term, obviously. And so rather than concentrating simply on where your TV watchers are going to land, you need to be integrating all the prompts you can into your TV ad in order to get them seek you out in the first place.

TV advertising will have to change in order to capitalise on this huge opportunity, once seen as a threat to traditional TV advertising. If done properly, it's actually an enhancement - and a really valuable one too.