Following the revelation that Super Bowl ads sold out this year for an average $3.7-$3.8 million, we took a small, unscientific poll of our digital marketing analysts to see if we collectively believed such an investment was still worth it in the digital age. The results were far from unanimous, but more analysts agreed with the statement, “…given the buzz, these ads could be a bargain” than thought they were “…a complete waste of funds better spent on digital.” Of course, we all believe that brands generally need to do a better job of integrating their TV ads to digital activities, as I’ve been saying since the “shankapotamus” days, but the point is, despite a continuing drumbeat of spending shifts from mainstream to digital media, mass media seems to still have a place in the digital marketing world.

Doubts? First read NY Times’ David Carr’s timely run-down, Old Media’s Stalwarts Perservered in 2012, which dispels any misgivings about the ability of traditional media companies to still turn eyeballs into gold. Then, consider David Lieberman’s observation that these companies didn’t just do well – they actually outperformed the hot technology group composed of Amazon, Netflix, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft!  Take that, Silicon Valley.

OK, I know what you’re thinking: 2012 was an election year, we had the Olympics, and anyway the financial performance of media companies says little about their long-term strategic value to marketers which is still in doubt. TV viewing is going down, online and mobile viewing are going up, and eventually the lines must cross.

There’s still a problem, however, with the theory that digital media (or “unpaid media”) will displace mass media banding campaigns, and, evidently, the digital brands know this, as Apple, Google, and Microsoft continue to spend heavily on traditional media. My colleague Mike McGuire, who had the good fortune to witness Qualcomm’s 2013 CES keynote live, points out how the company hoped to generate consumer brand-awareness without the mainstream media buys, and rely on social media instead to achieve buzz and reach. It’s safe to say they achieved that, although The Verge headline “Qualcomm’s insane CES 2013 keynote in pictures and tweets” highlights the risk of relying on the audience to carry your message for you.

The point is this: there’s still no substitute for TV’s brand-building capacity (that is, brand building over which brands still have some measure of influence if not control), but the role of digital in both optimizing and amplifying mainstream media investments can’t be understated. Millions more superbowl ads will be viewed on YouTube than during game, but without that media buy, those earned views would not occur. The most important thing a marketer or agency can do about this is to tear down the wall between traditional media and digital and get people in the same room to coordinate strategy and tactics rather than compete for budget allocations.

Do you agree?

1 Comment
  1. 12 January 2013 at 12:12 am
    Doug Hadden says:

    There’s a fundamental misunderstanding about the digital disruption. Broadcast media is ‘obsolete’ in the Marshall McLuhan sense: taking a new role & reacting to the new medium (such as the rise of the detective novel in response to the telegraph.) Legacy media is attempting interaction and engagement. Social media uses legacy media for content. The key problem with Super Bowl adds is that they are ‘broadcast’ – out of network. Sports and reality TV have more visceral engagement than other manifestations of the boob tube – yet this is a transitional period. Like ‘radio with pictures’ for the early TV days.

    We should not be fooled during media transitions. Broadcast TV has become more technically efficient thanks to digital technology. It can still compete for eyes with social/digital media, especially for non digital natives who tend to have higher incomes (for the time being).

    So, the Super Bowl ad could have a positive ROI. Especially if part of a larger digital campaign. Not for long. Consumers are beginning to value authentic brands that communicate within networks and distrust PR brand manipulation. Digital provides consumers with sufficient info to verify brand promises.

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