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Digital vs TV advertising: the Coast Digital team debates

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We all got rather excited about this morning’s news that online marketing spend in the UK has overtaken that invested in TV advertising – for the first time ever.

I was busy putting together this story about it for our news section when online marketing executive James Fairweather dropped me a line about it, cc’ing in consultant Kayas Fayez at the same time. I told him I was busy posting about it, when Kayas kicked off a series of exchanges that showed we all had strong feelings about the news, but didn’t necessarily agree…

We thought we’d share our emails with you and find out what you thought. I’ve not edited them, as I think it’s nicer to keep the flavour of how we communicate at the beginning of the day.

So, over to Kayas:

This is good news for the industry. However, have to bear in mind that there are a lot (85% of all UK businesses are SMEs I believe) of businesses that can’t afford TV advertising as there’s little bang for their buck. Digital is usually the only channel that’s commercially viable for them.
 
A better examination of this would be to carry out a separate report for businesses that engage in both TV and Online and see what the overall split (media spend) is for those businesses.

I came back with this (I’m Ben Locker, by the way):

If there were figures for effectiveness of TV spend compared to digital spend, that would be interesting. Though the rogue factor would be that all TV advertising has to be done professionally, whereas a lot of online spend will be done by amateurs (esp PPC). So a more accurate comparison would be, say, ROI comparison between the top (say) 100 TV agencies and the top 100 digital ones…
 
Thinking out loud. Do excuse it!

Kayas developed his ideas further:

Good point. However, just because an amateur runs a digital campaign doesn’t mean it should lose weight in the fact that it is still media spend. By comparing top 100’s you’re essentially omitting recognition for the primary USP of digital – it’s available and accessible to all to use as an advertising tool.
 
Also, ROI shouldn’t be considered for reporting media spend – the big boys spend millions on digital brand campaigns for brand (and not direct response) purposes because digital works. ROI is not a KPI for those campaigns.
 
Feel free to jump in – I’m up for a Wednesday morning discussion 🙂

Me again:

Yes, I agree, but I’m looking at it from the selfishly commercial POV of encouraging greater online spend away from TV. In other words, if you can say to the big boys that digital gives you more bang for your buck, you will attract more of them to agencies like Coast (especially in tight times, when TV and print spend is dropping). But as you say, the fact it is accessible to everyone is a great attraction to SMEs, that form the bulk of the market (I think – do they?).

So, no – ROI isn’t a KPI for the TV campaigns, but it’s a great marketing tool for online agencies.

What interests me about what you’re saying is about brand. It’s not easy building brands online – it would be great to find ways of doing so. After attracting a lot more people to online marketing, it would be easier to retain them if you could add better brand building into the mix.

James jumped on the question of brands:

I think the real issue is that there aren’t many brands that can afford television presence that have no existing brand awareness in the marketplace. From the Web Analyst’s perspective, this essentially means that if you measure the website visits, TV coverage will drive both brand and direct traffic, Brand awareness from other efforts will also drive brand and direct traffic. This ‘pot’ of brand and direct traffic is where things blur, as it is very difficult to measure where these have really come from – TV, other offline advertising or returning visitors from any possible initial source.
 
The ‘Compare the Meerkat’ ads were probably the smartest way to measure just that – run a separate site with a TV campaign to assess the effectiveness of that channel alone. Again, the boundaries blur as soon as you get involved with social media and people start passing links around virally and through email and social networks.

I ended with this, and I’m sure the matter isn’t going to rest here:

I suppose if you then look at it from the point of view of an SME, the advantage of digital marketing is that agencies like Coast can prove – and deliver – an impressive ROI. So, assuming people want to buy your products and services in the first place, services like SEO and PPC are going to result in measurable profit. And that’s extra money that can be investing in brand building exercises like TV ads etc, which in turn drive more online traffic as well as bolster brand.

I think my point is that digital marketing is, or should be, a core part of every business’s strategy (for sales, and for growth) – whereas it’s part of a virtuous circle for companies that use brand-building marketing such as TV.

So, that’s what we do in the mornings when a good story comes along. But what do you think? Why is digital marketing spend overtaking TV? What do you think about comparing the effectiveness of online marketing with TV advertising. What are your thoughts about using digital direct marketing for brand building?

So many questions, and even more answers. Let’s hear yours in the comments below.

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