Doug Garnett’s Blog


The Power of Low & Consistent Mass Media Spending

Advertising is far too often driven by lore and anecdote – even when it comes to media spending.

So it was refreshing to read Byron Sharp’s latest post “A Little Advertising Goes a Long Way” (link here). Sharp focuses on campaigns with huge media bursts and finds that far too often they’re tremendously inefficient.

If you recall, Prof. Sharp is the head of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute which studies advertising with really smart leveraging of statistics. And they develop their findings until they reveal truly scientific learnings.

Media Efficiency vs Media Spending. Sharp and his team focused their efforts on efficiency — contrasting bursts with a consistent & lower level of mass-reach media over a long period of time.

When compared with intense bursts, they found “…low weights of advertising on high reach media are very efficient. Generating a lot of sales per dollar.”

Hmmm. A lot of agencies aren’t going to like this. Agencies and clients, relying on lore and anecdote, have developed a dis-like for spending smaller budgets on mass reach media (e.g. TV). (The sad reality is that burst campaigns have the ego satisfying result of leading neighbors to say “I saw your campaign last night”. Too bad “neighbors” aren’t your dominant target!)

Why This Finding? Sharp’s team looked specifically at reminder campaigns – designed to build and keep fresh the memory pathways needed to bring the brand back to the forefront in order to drive purchase.

“The most memory refreshing dollar spent on advertising is your first. Decay in returns start immediately unless the 2nd dollar hits purely new people. And in the modern media environment the amount of pure additional reach you can get decays rapidly.”

DRTV/Retail Experience Agrees with This Finding. While Sharp was discussing reminder campaigns, I was thinking about our many 30-minute retail oriented direct response television campaigns – ones that drive long term sales and brand development while introducing new products to new markets.

These aren’t the types of campaigns Sharp studied. But consistent with his results, we often run our 1/2 hour infomercials at low levels for very long periods of time. And we find this approach develops massive retail and brand impact – in fact it’s usually the best use of the media dollar.

We’ve delivered these results for both the Kreg Jig and the Drill Doctor. Our Drill Doctor client eventually sold nearly 3 million drill bit sharpeners, at an average of around $100 each. And, in the meanwhile, developed a thoroughly recognized brand for themselves where it mattered – among dedicated tool users. Pretty powerful given their relatively low media investments.

While we’ve lacked Sharp’s statistics, we concluded this works for a couple of reasons:

1. The messages hit fresh new minds without wasting too much money repeating the message to those who have already bought or rejected the messages.

2. These fresh/unexpected messages are given time to sit before potential consumers see them again – giving new ideas time to gestate in the consumer mind. Then, when they hear the message again, the consumer hears it with new confidence or can find the new things that they want to know to decide if they’ll buy.

Media Bursts Aren’t Always Wrong. What this leaves open is the question of when bursts are right. Sharp’s post clearly leaves the door open (intentionally) for bursts.

Some new product introductions need to be executed in bursts – especially when DRTV supports some styles of retail introductions. We’ve done some very powerful 8 week campaigns for Kobalt brand tools from Lowe’s. In these cases, they had to be big & short to support the retail execution. And, they worked with exceptional power.

Some bursts are seasonal – driving sales volume at a time like the Holidays when a massive spike of shoppers are in the store and when those shoppers are buying larger volume. Or when a product has a specific seasonal cycle.

Bursts can also be strategically smart. Sometimes it’s an important strategy to influence your sales channel. So, for example, a heavy-up campaign that hits when new product reaches the retail floor can deliver the sales needed for manufacturers to become trusted suppliers.

But, You Might Say, Ads Become More Powerful When Seen a Lot (or Seen In Different Media). I think this argument starts with a fundamental logical flaw. If I spend $x to reach someone once and $3x to reach them 3 times, it’s unlikely that I’ll get 3x value out of reaching them that often. It simply isn’t reasonable unless you know you have a problem to solve where that repetition is make or break.

There are messages that need to gain the respectability power that comes from a single individual seeing them in multiple places or seeing them often. But you’d better be certain about that. Because if your message doesn’t NEED those additional consumer touches, then you’re wasting big media dollars because of the decreasing returns identified by Sharp.

Perhaps, also, this suggests why 1/2 hour infomercials do so well at constant low levels of media – a 1/2 hour message is so thorough it doesn’t benefit nearly as much from multiple viewings.

Allocating Media Budget Takes Skill, Strategic Insight, and Experience. Far too often, the idea that integrated campaigns are more powerful causes companies to spread small marketing budgets across far too many media options. My sense (and I’d love to hear from Sharp’s team on this one) is that these campaigns lack the consistency in any one media to build true strength.

Of course only bottom line that matters is this: What is your situation and what allocation of media achieves your business result. But we should all take away from Sharp’s post a fundamental caution about the burst approach and add to it a caution about spreading too little money across too many media outlets.

Copyright 2012 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

Categories:   Advertising, Business and Strategy, Communication, DR Television, Innovation, Marketing Research, Media, Retail marketing, Technology Advertising, TV & Video


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