The bang-for-buck bandwagon reaches the media owners

THE ROI DEBATE: As the profile of the controversial topic of return on investment continues to rise, so the issue has taken on added importance to media owners. Deborah Bonello reports

The “Return on Investment” mantra haunted the corridors of most agencies last year, but now it seems that the concept is moving up the agenda for media owners, too.

That’s not surprising when you take into account the fact that many media sectors – outdoor, newspapers and television – have all formulated, or are in the process of developing marketing campaigns or bodies for their media over the past 18 months.

Although the concept of ROI is controversial in itself – it can mean anything from its effect on till sales through to brand awareness and media profile – the issue is one that has now tranferred to media owners.

Add to that the fact that the last few Bellwether Reports show that marketing budgets are shifting out of bigger branding mediums into more accountable channels – such as internet advertising and direct marketing – and the case for more accountability looks even stronger. More than ever, the better-established mediums have to justify the investment of marketing directors.

Media Week can reveal that CNBC Europe, the business and financial television channel, has addressed this growing issue with the launch of a new product, called Viewertrack. The tool, which will work on a panEuropean basis, is designed to demonstrate the effectiveness of all of the advertising campaigns that run on the television station.

The Viewertrack survey will be a quarterly report covering 5,500 respondents. The chosen viewers will be asked for their response to programme and advertising effectiveness and data will be used to assess the changing awareness of products advertised, the audience’s opinion of the quality and effectiveness of that advertisement, and any shifts in viewers’ perceptions as a result of the ad.

The initiative from CNBC follows Sky’s announcement earlier this year that it is creating its own 20,000-strong user panel to measure both viewing and the effectiveness of campaigns on TV channels on the Sky Digital platform.

Sky will also be able to match campaigns with changes in purchasing behaviour data, which has never before been offered to advertisers by a broadcaster.

Nothing new

A couple of significant initiatives from the world of television, but other media would argue that they have been doing this for years.

Steve Cox is strategic planning director at Viacom Outdoor and joined the outdoor media owner from the Radio Advertising Bureau. He says that both outdoor and radio have been supplying feedback to advertisers for years.

The RAB tends to focus on more generic research – its recent campaign explains how its research shows radio advertising can boost a brand’s sales by 9%.

Outdoor media owners, on the other hand, provide bespoke feedback on certain campaigns.

Omnibus, for example, is a research tool providing accountability on bus advertising campaigns.

It’s different in the case of television, he says.

“Advertisers have tended to think of television as so important to their communications strategies they are more willing to track advertising on it themselves,” Cox says.

Things are changing for television though and he acknowledges that, as both channels and as a medium in general, broadcasters are going to have to work harder to justify their share of the marketing pie.

“The nature of the TV market and the increasing complexity of it are likely to change that,” says Cox.

Don Thomson, commercial director of Chrysalis Radio, said that, as a media owner, the company does a lot of pre- and post-campaign analysis for advertisers which use its stations.

“Advertising is becoming more scientific and brands are becoming more demanding,” he says.

But, while there does, indeed, seem to be vast amounts of bespoke research being done by media owners across the board, the standard initiative from CNBC seems to be something of a first. Feedback on the effectiveness of all advertising campaigns after they have run is not a standard feature of any ad deal – until now, that is.

Clare Murray, an associate director at MediaCom, confirms this. “CNBC’s is definitely a significant development because no one offers it as standard, as far as I am aware.”

Brand exposure

Nick Mawditt, head of research at CNBC, says: “We will measure some kind of effectiveness for all of our clients’ communications and it will be a standard part of our offering to all advertisers.”

According to Mawditt, brands are very keen to expose themselves to research of this kind and find out how they’re doing amongst their target audiences.

Viacom’s Cox said that it would be great if media owners could offer those sorts of services across the board, but that the cost would be prohibitive.

“In an ideal world, then, yes, that would be great, but who’s going to fund it is another matter.

To do a bespoke research project on every campaign you sold would be astronomically expensive,” he says.

Simon Daglish, sales director of Classic FM, agrees.

“The problem with that sort of research is that it’s so expensive – sometimes the research will cost as much as the campaign, so it often doesn’t make much sense for us from a commercial perspective.”

Cox claims that Viacom’s existing case studies and research are proof enough to advertisers that money spent in that area of marketing will succeed.

CNBC’s Mawditt insists that Viewertrack is not a particularly costly exercise, but that’s easy to say for a television station who has only a tiny share of viewing.

What about the big boys? Stuart Corke, director of strategic planning at News International Newspapers, says that, on the print side, looking at ROI is nothing new to his company, noting that advertisers such as Lloyds TSB, Honda and British Telecom have accessed a data bank culled from 2,000 readers.

“Increasingly, more and more of our research and development budgets are being assigned to demonstrating ROI for our clients,” he says.

Corke continues: “ROI objectives manifest themselves in many different guises – awareness, consideration, purchase intentions and sales.

We endeavour to measure what’s important to each client. This means much of our work is of a very bespoke nature, but we also invest in major set-pieces such as The Times ROI tracker andSunSnaps – both panels aimed at expedient and robust feedback on campaigns and executions within our papers.”

Neil Mortensen is ITV’s recently installed head of research. He says that as a media owner, ITV does a lot of pre- and post-campaign analysis for its advertisers, but admits that it’s not a standard part of the broadcaster’s ad package – not yet anyway.

“It’s something we really need to push here at ITV. People in television have been guilty of resting on their laurels,” he says.

But there is a reason why CNBC’s research might not work on bigger or more mainstream channels.

The station has a very niche, targeted audience and is watched primarily by businessmen, often in hotel rooms. When it comes to something like ITV, or other terrestrial or bigger multichannel stations, things become much more complicated.

Mortensen says that TV ad campaigns on ITV generally run in conjunction with other media campaigns. Therefore, it is difficult to separate the effect that ITV has on brand awareness from that generated by other media elements of the same campaign.

Difficult to distinguish

Andrew McIntosh, head of research at digital television sales house IDS, agrees.

He says that, because of CNBC’s niche audience, it is far easier for the station to isolate the contribution that it has made to a campaign – as a lot of the ads running on the channel will be unique to them.

“It’s just about impossible for us to isolate what elements of a campaign’s needs we met compared to any other TV station on which it was running during the same period,” he says.

Most of the media owners Media Week spoke to this week said that it is common for clients to jointly fund research into the effectiveness of advertising campaign, but McIntosh says that, most of the time, this happens only when it involves campaigns that are specific to their channels.

Some were not convinced that surveying TV audiences after an advertising campaign is a very good way of measuring its effectiveness and that accountability should depend on what the advertising was created for.

Chrysalis’ Thomson says: “It totally depends on what the advertising’s designed for. If it’s designed to grow brand awareness, then how can you measure that in terms of sales?.

Benefits of methodology

IDS’ McIntosh was equally dubious about the benefits of CNBC’s methodology, although he was keen to stress that, on the whole, he thinks that it is a positive initiative.

“The issue is that ROI can be measured in many other ways than return through the tills,” he says. “I think that it’s a bit glib and simplistic to look at the immediate apparent benefits of television adverts, because it’s all about longer term brand building. I think it’s potentially giving it more gravitas than it deserves to call it an ROI tool.”

There do seem some strong reasons why CNBC’s approach to feedback may not work for bigger channels, but there is nothing to stop the smaller, niche stations from launching similar initiatives.

But for TV as a medium, the issue is part of a bigger issue. It is in the midst of a research project – being carried out through The Ingram Partnership – to find out what agencies and client wish to see from broadcasters in terms of their approach and relationship to advertisers. A relationship all the main broadcasters will admit has suffered over the years.

Feedback and accountability will, no doubt, be part of the olive branch that the TV industry extends to advertisers in the months ahead

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