“People aren’t paying
attention to ads.”
“Consumers are seeing
too many ads.”
“Ad overload is hurting brands.”
When was the last time you heard someone in the industry make a claim like this?
Probably not too long ago. Ad overload is a staple of conversations at industry conferences and in op-eds. And, anecdotally, we have every reason to believe they’re right. Ad-free streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are on the rise, with newcomers like Disney+ and HBO Max joining them. Ad blockers continue to be some of the most popular mobile apps and browser extensions. Surveys have indicated for the better part of a decade that a large majority of consumers think they see too many digital ads.
But for marketers,
precious little attention has been devoted to exactly how overloaded
digital advertising is, and what decisions need to be made to ensure that ads
are effective without being excessive. In other words, we know consumers think that
they see too much advertising. We just haven’t done much as an industry on a
granular level to figure out what that means.
The blind spot
This, in my opinion, was
a big blind spot. So, the research team at true[X] looked at both standard and
interactive video campaigns – over
1,000 in total – that run alongside
long-form full episode streaming content on services like those from the
Disney-ABC TV Group and other premium publishers.
We also looked at what
drove brand lift when you dug deep on these ad campaigns. What were the exact
parameters of the campaigns? And how did consumers respond differently
depending on where they were in the purchase funnel? Our reason for taking this
approach was that, when you analyze over a thousand digital campaigns, you
start to see some patterns that might not emerge otherwise, and that starts to
help answer questions that are tougher to investigate without the benefits of
big data sets.
Here’s one: What’s the
difference in brand impact if the only differentiating factor you’re looking at
is the length of the ad? After all, consumers tuning out after a few seconds is
a well-documented symptom of ad overload. Or is it?
We took a look at
15-second versus 30-second ads to figure out whether an ad twice the length
resulted in twice the brand lift or if 30 seconds was starting to reach the
zone of annoyance. It turns out that it’s a little more complicated than
By normalizing the data
and arriving at a “general” brand funnel representative of hundreds of brands
we were able to derive average brand lift gains. As it turns out, for the
upper and middle funnel, doubling the length does double the brand lift. In
fact, it more than doubles it at the awareness stage at the very top of the
However, when it comes
to brand preference and purchase intent in the lower funnel, the improvement in
brand lift is much less stark. What we can glean from this is that when a
consumer is already familiar with a brand, even a relatively short spot can
push them toward becoming a customer. This suggests that perhaps what’s most
important is compelling creative, not just time spent with an ad.
There’s more we can consider,
though. It goes without saying that the digital landscape bears a few key
differences to prior mediums. Even in video advertising that bears a close
similarity to TV commercials, we can require consumers to opt in or otherwise
interact with ads before they advance to their content. This helps advertisers
better guarantee that a consumer actually saw the ad, versus whether that
consumer was off the couch and taking a snack break while commercials were
running. (It’s worth noting that, while we have the ability, sometimes
advertisers don’t take advantage of it.) A smart targeting strategy also means
advertisers are less likely to need to cast the widest net possible,
potentially generating waste by advertising to the wrong audience.
So, that being said,
another factor we can look at is frequency of exposures – how many times does an ad need to be deployed
in order to be effective? Even in digital, many advertisers are under the
impression that more exposure equals more effectiveness. The reality is that
it’s far more nuanced than that. When we looked at how frequency of ad exposure
impacts brand lift, we found that it differed depending on which stage of the
funnel the consumer was in.
At the top of the
funnel, brand awareness improved steeply if a user was exposed to an ad twice
instead of once, or three times instead of twice. But as the funnel gets
narrower, that steep curve flattens to the point that increased exposure barely
moves the needle when it comes to purchase, visit or watch intent.
Again, this makes a lot
of sense and seems kind of obvious when you think about it. A consumer who’s already
well versed in a brand won’t need to be reminded of that brand as much in order
to be moved through the brand funnel. But these kinds of nuances aren’t always
addressed in media planning, even in digital.
And either way, dialing
back on ad frequency won’t help if creative isn’t up to par. We dug a little
deeper into one campaign in particular. This retail campaign deployed two
versions of its creative, each featuring different furniture products. It was
an interesting campaign for a nearly-universally-recognized brand, but a
division within it that isn’t as well known. So, we were curious as to what the
results would be, and indeed, they surprised us.
The effect of each
individual piece of creative by itself, exposed only once, was minimal when it
came to driving brand lift. Showing the same creative multiple times,
similarly, didn’t do much. But if a consumer was exposed to both of the brand’s
ads? That delivered substantial impact throughout the funnel, ranging from an
8-point lift in awareness to 12 points in consideration to 4 points in purchase
intent. This is called complementary effectiveness. The sum of the two parts is
greater than each individual one on its own.
When it comes to the power of devices, we sought to understand whether the smaller screen and the intimacy of a personal mobile phone would be more influential at increasing brand sentiment compared to the larger-profile, bigger-screen viewer experience of a connected TV. Traditionalists maintain that TV is king as it commands the living room. “Next- gen” marketers believe mobile devices command our attention in ways no other medium ever has – and that this necessarily delivers more effective branding.
All things being equal, connected TV appears to deliver significantly more impact for brands when it comes to driving behavioral intention: likelihood to purchase, visit online or in-store and watch in the case of entertainment.
What all this tells us
is that consumers’ receptivity to the amount of advertising they receive
differs depending on where they are in the purchase funnel. It also depends on what
the creative looks like and how it comes to them. When they’re early in the
customer journey, they’re conducive to receiving the same message more than
once. However, as you approach that crucial consideration phase, less is often
Ad overload is real. But
all too often, advertisers’ and publishers’ reactions have been all-or-nothing.
They’ll pull back on ads across the board. Or they crank up targeting in a way
that focuses so much on the consumers most likely to buy that it neglects the
very real need to build a brand outside of that immediate market.
A smarter and more
thoughtful way to address ad overload would take into consideration where a
campaign’s target audience lie in the customer journey and whether elevated
frequency and full length 30 second spots of a single ad might be better
replaced with well-coordinated creative.
While we have evidence
that “the bigger the screen, the greater the impact” holds true, this shouldn’t
take away from always aiming to deliver the right messaging to the right
audience at the right time. In digital, we have the tools to optimize creative
messaging for brand impact. We just have to put in the work.