Buy on rumor. Sell on news. That’s the first investment principle my parents taught me a half-century ago—it still applies today. If you buy based on what’s happening, you’re already late. That’s what seems to be happening in the lemming-like rush to digital advertising.
The Wall Street Journal this morning reports “For the first time, more than half of U.S. advertising spending is set to go to digital platforms such as Google and Facebook as the sector continues its growth amid the upheaval of the pandemic, GroupM said in a new forecast.”
Digital Advertising vs Broadcast
Yes, digital appears cheaper. Yes, digital can “target” better than broadcast. Yes, it appears digital measures better. But, these three points obscure the benefits of investing budget in broadcast media—or, as digital converts oft refer to it, “traditional media.”
Digital advertising is cheaper because it cannot do what broadcast can
Digital advertising populates across networks of sites. That means its reach is inherently limited contrasted with broadcast. Yes, you’ll speak to specific prospects, but you lose the benefit of reaching influencers or potential buyers who may not yet be in a purchase cycle. Comparing digital to broadcast is akin to comparing cable with broadcast television: spots are cheaper; reach? Not so much.
Digital targeting misses more than it hits
Targeting by its very nature doesn’t reach a mass audience. The more one to one your targeting becomes the more ones you’re missing. Digital targeting’s efficiency costs you the benefits of collateral reach. Targeting leads to an ever-tightening focus deeper in the buying funnel. Brands, on the contrary, are built by attracting new and potential buyers into the funnel. Trying that with digital is like saving every starfish on the beach; there are many and you have only two hands.
Digital measurement’s inherent limitation: humans
It’s hard to argue the science of clicks. Understanding what prompts one, on the other hand, is still art. Clicks are the trigger moment, the climax of a longer drama. It’s High Noon and you hope to be Gary Cooper. (Sadly, some may need to Google that—it’s worth the trouble.)
Your message, digital or broadcast, exists in the wild fighting for attention, appealing to the customer’s self-interest enough to prompt action. It’s that funnel thing again: don’t let counting what comes out distract from how much goes in. Humans are messy, emotional, unpredictable things. That’s why you can’t believe everything a click seems to tell you. Clicks are an indication, not a measurement. Understanding behavior at emotional moments like a buying decision remains more art than science.
Broadcast’s sucker punch makes it a savvy investment
During the onslaught of the pandemic, many a business slashed and burned advertising schedules based on news reports. Not one of my clients followed that rush. In fact, we snapped up bargains and benefitted from an increased share of voice: fewer competitors vying for audience attention. Suckers panicked and took the punch. Could this latest rush to digital create a similar opportunity now? Rumor has it…
Digital is one tool, not THE tool
For the record, I recommend digital advertising for clients—as one of many tools. Just as I love Cherry Pie at Thanksgiving, I don’t make it dinner. (Though, it’s tempting.)
The hype of this latest digital tipping point will probably mislead many into cutting budgets because finally, as they’re led to believe, there’s a way to eliminate the so-called “waste” of broadcast. Baloney. Building a brand without mass reach is a risky and ultimately more expensive strategy that’s like chasing yesterday’s news.