Market View: The End of TV Advertising as We Know It?

Feb. 13, 2017
While the execution may change, television 'commercials' remain an essential vehicle for marketing, even as new mediums arrive.

A friend of mine recently lamented that TV advertising was ending its dominance as a way for marketers to communicate and persuade. The data is pretty clear that people are watching less television and more other types of screens.

Nielsen research demonstrated people are watching less TV. In a 2006 survey it found:

  • Teens (12-17) watched 15 hours 5 minutes of traditional TV per week in Q3, an 11.3 percent drop year-over-year and a 37.6 percent contraction over the previous five years
  • Older millennials (25-34) watched 20 hours 4 minutes per week, a 5.2 percent decrease year-over-year and a 27.7 percent drop over five years
  • Gen Xers (35-49) watched 28 hours 24 minutes per week, just a 1 percent decrease year-over-year but an 11.6 percent decline over five years
  • Adults 50-64 watched 39 hours and 54 minutes per week, representing a 1.4 percent increase year-over-year, but a fractional 0.5 percent drop over five years
  • Adults 65 and older watched 48 hours and 32 minutes per week, up 2.1 percent from the previous year and up by 6.9 percent over five years.
Sorry for the dated data, but things undoubtedly have eroded further in the 10 years since.

But is this really the death knell for traditional TV advertising? Maybe not. First, much of the new e-commerce businesses have come to rely on TV to explain how their online businesses work. They need to use every available outlet to let people know they are open and what they sell. Television became a prime medium to tell their story and attract people. Just having a website wasn't enough. Many major online stores advertise on traditional TV, including Overstock, Amazon, ShoeDazzle, Dollar Shave, Blue Apron, Graze, JustFab, Gilt and so forth.

Then everyone worried about the DVR destroying the advertising base. This may be less of a worry than first thought. Although it is possible to fast-forward through the advertising with a DVR, viewers can walk away from or mute live TV commercials anyway. There is no unequivocal evidence that DVR usage has hurt TV advertising.

While I believe TV advertising will be around for a while, one must also recognize that there are more options appearing every day. According to the research house MarketingSherpa, “ye olde” print and TV advertising still have consumers' trust. They asked, “In general which type of advertising channels do you trust more when you want to make a purchase decision?” While everyone is excited about all the online popup ads, ads in podcasts and even mobile phone ads, these were at the very bottom of the list in terms of consumer trust.

However, there is a life cycle to most things and that includes TV advertising. All the other hi-tech advertising will keep getting better and more efficient. There is no question there are many new and innovative advertising media “comin’ round the mountain.” And I think we “ain’t seen nothing yet.”

There is some good advice if you want to be a player in the non-traditional media channels. In his book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell offers some advice to consumer packaged goods marketers who may be adding alternative media to the mix:

  • Be honest: The bromide "honesty is the best policy" applies to new media as well. Brand equity in the new media world, like the old, relies on product and promotional integrity. And I would add authenticity.
  • Be quick: Alternative media is all about speed. The useful life cycle of a message is much shorter than with conventional media. The biggest crime in the new media environment is being boring.
  • Be first: If you want to play the cool game with products and messaging, then you better be in the vanguard. The next cool thing is only cool until the masses embrace it.
  • Be young: Match the medium and message to the market. Alternative media won't reach or resonate with older consumers. New media attracts a new fan base, one growing younger every day.

While the medium may change one thing is here to stay…advertising. It will likely be on TV for years to come but it may be different. Challenges from all of the different non-TV channels may force advertisers to be more interesting and more commanding of our attention. I think the lack of competition over recent years has made TV advertising tired and boring.

One other thing also is certain. Non-traditional media is here to stay, and it is a permanent part of the media landscape. Are you ready to join in, willing to change, or are you still spending most of your budget on the old media? Think anew, act anew.

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