For the past few years, a debate has been raging about whether the Upfronts still matter in the era of online video.
But perhaps we should look beyond the question of whether advertising dollars should shift from TV to online video, and focus on the real issue:
Isn’t it time for brand advertisers to shift towards a medium with a stronger signal?
From Intent Signals to Interest Signals
Search advertising showed us the power of strong signals to drive results. When you go searching for something, you’re providing advertisers with a very strong “intent signal” about what you want, and you make it very easy to serve you a very targeted ad that specifically meets your needs. This is why search has been such a successful tactic for direct response.
With the advent of social, there’s a new way to cue into what people like and want that can be leveraged for brand advertising: the “interest signals” they provide in their day-to-day social interactions.
Interest signals include publicly available cues such as self-declared interests; what people share (e.g. photos from a biking trip); who people follow; and what people say online, what they retweet and what they post. These signals can also be augmented with feedback loop information about what people actually respond to, such as receptiveness to a particular campaign.
Building Social Personas from Interest Signals
Social ad companies are using these interest signals to create new types of targetable personas such as “eco-moms,” or “young female Glee enthusiasts who tweet during the show,” and serving ads to these audiences at scale. (Just try reaching this kind of targeted audience with TV ads during an episode of Nashville!)
TV advertising lacks these kinds of strong cues about who people are and what they are actually interested in. With TV, we know viewers tune to a certain channel, at a certain time, but an advertiser is left to guess who viewers are and what they might care about. At best, TV advertisers have had to make due with overly broad groupings, based on meager information and basic demographics, for a particular program. And this in turn has meant a lot of wasted impressions.
Online video advertising doesn’t fare much better at the moment – ads are sold based on demographics, or they’re targeted based on broad web surfing habits.
TV Tries to Cash in on Interests
We do see TV programmers and advertisers trying to move themselves closer to the signal. Trendrr Co-Founder and CEO Mark Ghuneim stated recently that the company is breaking down TV audience segments into “Hyperactives” and “Massive Passives,” which can be seen as social-first personalities. They are highly tuned in, and follow their favorite programs via second-screen technology and social media channels.
But as long as the actual TV programming and ads remain disconnected from social signals, the money spent on TV will continue to be a crap shoot. An auto brand just has to hope that enough viewers of the X Games are interested in trucks, make a very expensive bet, and know that there will be significant wasted impressions.
The TV vs. online video debate fails to grasp the real change at work in brand advertising and social ads. Brands are starting to invest in interest-based advertising through channels such as Facebook, Twitter and 140 Proof because it gets them where they want to be — close to the signal — and close to a highly relevant, interested, and engaged audience. Targeting brand ads at social audiences who you know to be interested means more of your messages hit the right mark, with much less waste.
In my view, the conversation around next year’s Upfronts should be about how TV — and online video for that matter — can better integrate social data into their ad models, both in TV and online.
In fact, this conversation needs to happen now. Because much like “intent signals” made search advertising the number one tactic in direct response, “interest signals” could make social advertising the number one tactic for brands.