One of the biggest, if not the biggest, issue impacting media planning over the past decade has been the rapid expansion of media-buying options and the resulting fragmentation of the media marketplace.
Digital cable and satellite TV have spawned a marketplace in which the average TV household now has more than 100 channels. The Internet, especially the rapid acceleration of broadband penetration, is creating yet more channels. And even one of the oldest mediums, print, continues to expand. New magazine launches are incessant and unabated, and even the moribund newspaper publishing business has witnessed a flurry of new major metropolitan dailies targeted at young readers and Latinos.
Fragmentation is a serious issue for media planners. Each new media option competes with the time and attention they can pay to existing ones, and dilutes the overall reach of any given media option. And it’s not just an issue for agencies but for their clients as well. Research conducted last year by the Association of National Advertisers identified media fragmentation as the No. 1 concern marketers have about their advertising plans.
As acute as that has grown, a new expansion of media options that are just now coming on stream could make the current multichannel TV marketplace look quaint by comparison and could make the job of media planners that much more complex and time-consuming. But this new round of fragmentation isn’t coming so much from an expansion of new media options as it is from the inclusion of ones that have always existed but were never measured in a way that could be factored into most media plans. They include mentions of brands that occur in nontraditional advertising environments such as TV programming, sports events, video games and movies.
This was underscored last week in announcements made by two of the biggest media buying agencies. First, Havas’ MPG unit unveiled MPG Entertainment, a new unit that will explore and develop branded entertainment and product integration deals that go far beyond conventional advertising placements. Next, ZenithOptimedia Group announced a multiyear agreement with Nielsen Media Research to begin using new data measuring all “brand mentions” on network TV, including those resulting from branded entertainment, product placement and other so-called “integration” deals.
Significantly, the data licensed by ZenithOptimedia, which comes from a new Nielsen service called Place*Views (see related story on Page 6), will generate an array of new gross rating points for planners to calculate in their media mixes. Ironically, the brand-mention GRPs initially will be superior to the ones that are currently available for conventional TV ads in one important respect. The ratings will be applied to the exact time a brand was mentioned, shown or depicted in a TV program, as opposed to in a TV commercial, which must still rely on ratings estimates based on the average quarter-hour audience of a TV program.
The data will report exactly when the brand mention occurred, how long it ran for, how many viewers were available to see it and what the demographic composition of the audience was. What it cannot yet determine, said David Harkness, senior VP of strategy and alliances for Nielsen parent VNU’s media measurement and information group, is whether the brand mention was something someone paid for or it just occurred as an organic part of a TV program. Mr. Harkness said not even the networks know the magnitude of brand mentions that occur on their own airwaves, except for the ones they explicitly developed as part of media buys. The availability of such information, he said, could change the whole dynamic of branded content at a time when Madison Avenue is looking toward the new practice as an integral part of brand mentions’ future.
Rich Hamilton, CEO of ZenithOptimedia, said it still is too early to determine exactly how the agency’s media planners will use the data, but that the deal is a step in a direction that will dramatically increase the number of options they calculate when assessing a brand’s media exposures, not just for the agency’s clients but for its competitors as well.
He noted that a brand such as Coca-Cola, for example, delivers far more branded mentions on the six broadcast networks than rival Pepsi, and that such information needs to be factored into the planning process. Indeed, according to Place*Views, Coca-Cola accumulated 2,260 brand mentions for the period between Sept. 5, 2003, and May 31, 2004, roughly half of such impressions generated by the top 10 brands during that period.
But as VNU’s Mr. Harkness noted, not all brand mentions are created equal, and planners will need to calculate an array of factors to determine the relative impact they have and how they might relate to conventional commercial advertising impressions. For example, the brand mentions calculated by Nielsen range from one second in length to a plug for Mazda’s MX5, which lasted 668 seconds.
“It’s great that companies like Nielsen are waking up and saying they will help us measure these things better and more comprehensively. whether it is product placement or outdoor or cinema advertising,” said Jane Lacher, VP, director of research and consumer context planning, at MediaVest.
Ms. Lacher said MediaVest is still evaluating how Nielsen conducts the research in Place*Views before deciding whether to subscribe to the service, but she agreed that tracking and factoring such brand exposures into media plans is critical, as is data from other new services being launched by Nielsen and others to track brand exposures in sports events, video game platforms, movie theaters and in new out-of-home locations.
MediaVest has already begun working with Nielsen rival Intermedia Advertising Group to develop benchmarks for defining and measuring branded entertainment in a way that can be formally integrated into media plans.