What’s Critical in Cross Media? Online.

In the last few years, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in Americans’ media consumption habits as people increasingly began to embrace the Internet as part of their daily lives. A study by the U.S. government released this week showed 54 percent of Americans (143 million people) used the Internet in September 2001, and approximately one-third of those people used the Internet to search for product and service information (36 percent, up from 26 percent last year).

So, whose loss is the Internet’s gain? TV, for one. A 1999 Yankee group study found 32 percent of U.S. households characterized themselves as moderate-to-heavy TV viewers. When researchers viewed households reporting daily Internet usage, the number of moderate-to-heavy TV viewers plummeted to less than 9 percent.

A more recent study, released in early 2001 by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, found that one-third of Americans with home Internet access would give up TV if forced to choose between the tube and the Web. Not surprisingly, the people most likely to give up TV were younger — the adults (read: big consumers) of the future. Forty-seven percent of people now aged 12-24 said they’d rather have the Internet than TV if they had to choose.

OK, so these aren’t groundbreaking numbers. Internet publishers have touted them for years in an effort to convince traditional marketers they need to follow the eyeballs and spend money (or more money) online. What grabbed my attention are figures quantifying drawbacks of not spending enough online. In other words, if you’re a marketer not spending money (or enough money) online, you’re missing out on efficiencies and losing a potential competitive advantage.

Agencies and publishers should wave charts and graphs in front of their clients and prospects. In conservative, fear-driven times, only concrete numbers penetrate the minds of those doling out the dollars. For the first time, we have the numbers.

The study I’m talking about is the culmination of work by a number of industry folks. Nearly 13,000 people were surveyed. It was commissioned by MSN, conducted by Marketing Evolution, helped along by Dynamic Logic, and signed off on by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The focal point is a campaign for Unilever Home and Personal Care’s Dove Nutrium Bar. The study examined what role online should play in the media mix. These days, the industry’s chasing traditional advertiser dollars — not dot-com bucks. Have you ever seen a traditional advertiser do an online-only campaign?

The industry has long believed cross-media campaigns generate some sort of vague synergy. This study’s intent was to learn exactly how all parts of a cross-media campaign work together.

“I termed it “surround-sound marketing,” for lack of a better term,” said Rex Briggs, principal of Marketing Evolution. “The idea was that each speaker in a surround-sound system does something slightly different. Perhaps each element of a marketing mix should do something slightly different, but they should reinforce each other to create a consistent experience for the consumer.”

The study was conducted over seven weeks. The media mix changed during that time. The campaign began with print only; the next week, online was added. For the next four weeks, print, online, and TV were used. The final week, TV was dropped, print and online remained. Throughout the campaign, U.S. adult females were interviewed and surveyed about their perception of the Dove Nutrium Bar product. By learning each consumer’s feelings about the brand and mining that person’s advertising exposure, researchers worked to calculate the relative effectiveness and synergy of the different media.

All creative used in this campaign was visually linked by an image of the Nutrium Bar itself — the familiar Dove oval with pink and white stripes. In TV, print, and online, the image dominated — tying the campaign together and, presumably, maximizing synergy.

To keep it simple, I’ll just talk about purchase intent, the metric most closely linked to actual sales. In the existing media mix, the campaign did well, lifting purchase intent by three percentage points. The researchers wanted to know if tweaking the mix would produce better results, so they did some statistical modeling.

Using actual dollar and cost-per-thousand (CPM) figures, Briggs nipped a little bit of cash away from print and TV and added it to online to increase frequency (keeping the reach at 10 percent). Results were quite dramatic. For purchase intent, the initial frequency of 1.7 impressions generated a 49 percent lift over precampaign numbers. The numbers generally kept climbing (with some dips) until, at 12.5 impressions, the lift was 152 percent. Considering each incremental impression in online media is significantly cheaper than the corresponding in print or TV, a frequency increase makes a lot of sense.

Boosting online reach is a no-brainer. Increasing reach from 10 to 60 percent showed a 5 percent increase in total branding metrics. Increasing both reach and frequency (reach from 10 percent to 60 percent; frequency from 1.7 to 3.1 impressions) gave an 8 percent boost in overall branding metrics.

Bottom line: Companies not utilizing online are leaving money on the table. We’re not talking about increasing overall spending, just shaving a little off the top of much more expensive traditional media and buying some cheaper online impressions.

The research isn’t perfect, of course. It’s not necessarily applicable to other products, and it measures mushy branding effects, not actual sales. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, toward a future in which online takes its rightful — and much more prominent — place in the media mix.

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