Incontrovertible Evidence

Fact-based marketing. It’s a phrase we used to throw around at one of my former jobs (at the urging of senior management). It was an attempt to bypass subjectivity, emotion and the inevitable political trade-offs in the annual budget planning process, and instead rely on purer, statistically-driven decisions to justify media advertising strategy.

The concept lasted about three weeks.

As a marketer, I always gravitated to the numbers side. I especially like a foundation of data analysis for media planning. What will it take for everyone to recognize the massive shift in media consumption to the Web? How much data are needed to unshackle thinking that remains rigidly fixated on decades of increasingly unsupportable conventional wisdom?

A few facts, all documented within the past 12 months:

  • Daily newspaper circulation in 1982 was 62.5 million; in 2002 it was 55.1 million. (Scarborough Research/NAA)

  • C-level executives’ most important source of business information is the Web (38 percent); followed by daily newspapers (26 percent); industry trade publications (17 percent); magazines (8 percent); TV (7 percent) and radio (4 percent). (GartnerG2)

  • The Internet is the top media source “influentials” use to research places to visit (86 percent) or things to buy (82 percent). (RoperASW)

  • Virtually all affluent adult shoppers (HHI $100K+) use the Web to make or research their purchases. For automobile, computer and travel purchases, Internet use is extraordinarily high (over 90 percent of those surveyed). (Nielsen/NetRatings)

  • Teens and young adults spend more time with the Web than various other media: online (excluding email), 16.7 hours/week; TV, 13.6 hours/week; reading books/magazines (not scholastic), 6.0 hours/week. (Harris Interactive)

In the face of overwhelming evidence, denial reaches the level of absurdity. This week, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young reported for car buying decisions, search engine advertising proved itself a stronger influencer (26 percent) than TV ads (17 percent).

Yet Mike Palmgren, media account director for BMW North America at Publicis Groupe’s Optimedia International, told AdAge.com TV auto spots “provide quality shots of vehicles and can show off their performance, something the Internet and two-dimensional ads can’t do. On TV, you can see the light dancing on the sides of the car.”

While you scratch your head, consider whether that statement reflects a media planning decision based on objective data analysis.

I guess Mr. Palmgren is unaware of a little project of his client, BMWFilms.com. You may have heard of it. It’s easily the most ambitious online brand awareness campaign to date.

Is it any surprise an August 2003 GartnerG2 survey found the top two barriers to increasing interactive advertising, as cited by chief U.S. media buyers, are:

  1. Lack of standardized measurement/ROI tools and systems (31 percent). Translation: “You mean an online ad impression is delivery to a guaranteed unique pair of eyes? Sorry; I only pay for GRP’s I hope to get.”

  2. Upper management and client skepticism (30 percent). Translation: “We’re going to continue to drag our feet on embracing the Web until we figure out a way to force it into the business model we haven’t changed since the ’50s.”

It’s easy to whine, retreat into misery and rant on the issue — so long as resolution isn’t expected. You see the isolation on the client side, at agencies and media firms. Too many have chosen to take bunker positions.

What will it take? When will the hypocrisy of demanding more proof of online marketing’s viability be overcome by fact? Refusal to take advantage of the media consumption shift disavows customer preference.

The IAB’s cross media studies help start the dialogue. Yet too many discussions happen among members of the online reconnaissance teams who already get it.

Who takes these numbers to the sales pitch in front of traditional media and marketing decision makers? Which online firm bets its survival on convincing advertisers to shift more dollars online?

I spoke with Jim Spanfeller, CEO of Forbes.com this past Monday, the day the online publisher launched a trade campaign promoting the value of Web advertising in light of shifting consumer habits away from traditional media.

“Listen, this isn’t a crusade on behalf of the industry,” said Spanfeller. “It’s a matter of the continued growth of Forbes.com revenue. It makes smart business sense for us to pursue this initiative. Beyond all of the positive attributes of Web advertising, like incredibly trackable ROI, the fact is business decision makers don’t look to TV and newspapers anymore as their top sources of information; they go online. Whether senior executives actually see TV or newspaper ads is another issue.”

Imagine that. A fact-based marketing decision.

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