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Asking the Right Questions Is Key

Nov 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Although the great majority of national media dollars are spent on traditional television commercials, advertisers are constantly on the lookout for new ways to reach their customers. Product placement is today’s hot button, but its usefulness is limited by the inability to deliver copy points, lack of creative control and far less availability than conventional commercial units. The few spectacular successes, such as Oprah Winfrey’s Pontiac giveaway on her show, are exceptions that prove the rule.

At conferences and in trade press articles, advertisers are exposed to new nontraditional media forms that promise a fresh way to deliver their advertising message. As their media experts, planners are expected to be familiar with them and to recommend whether they deserve a place in the media plan. Below are some questions they should ask when evaluating nontraditional media.

Is the Medium Premature?

Does the medium exist? The nontraditional media we see are often still in the pilot stage. The roadshow presentation is made in hopes of signing a major advertiser who will give a testimonial and offer reassurance to financial backers that the medium has promise.

The sales representative will say, “We are talking to XYZ, and they are very interested.” “Interest” is not a contract. Ask, “Do you have an order?” Advertisers who are willing to experiment get favorable rates and a chance for a long-term relationship if the medium succeeds, but these early exposures will have a limited effect on sales.

Ability to Deliver

What is the nature of the advertising communication?

Will the medium offer live-action video with sight, sound and motion? Does the advertising exposure communicate copy points or is it simply a picture of the product or logo? Can the medium effectively introduce a new brand or product concept? For how many seconds is the viewer exposed to the advertising? Is the exposure repeated? What is the physical environment of the medium?

While there might be distractions in some out-of-home settings, the ability to deliver a message where the product is being used or sold can reinforce its effectiveness.

Geographic Relevance

Is the geographic coverage area relevant to the brand’s marketing objectives? It is expensive to launch a new medium. First-round financing may be just enough for one or two markets, and they may not be markets that a given national advertiser needs. Local ventures may be restricted to a few shopping centers, cable systems or communities. They will have minimal effect over the entire DMA, but they can be powerful forces in those specific areas.

Obstacles to Growth

What is needed for growth? Projects that are still in the pilot stage may have bold plans for expansion, but there are always obstacles. If the medium depends on custom technology, there must be a sure source of supply.

I remember a retail store video display that planned to download content from a satellite. The project was delayed a year by a fire in the Singapore plant that was going to manufacture the receivers. New media are especially vulnerable to Murphy’s Law hangups that planners have no way to anticipate. Often the first time we learn there is a problem is when we are told it has been fixed.

Does growth depend on governmental, union, patent-holder, copyright or other claims that must be negotiated or paid for? Custom hardware is expensive. Expansion often depends on second-round financing that may or may not materialize.

Safeguards in Place

What provisions have been made for stewardship? Is there an independent audit to ensure that the units are in place and operating, that the advertising runs as planned, that the creative has been properly trafficked and that the medium’s technical standards are being adhered to? What firm will conduct the audits? How frequently will they be repeated? Is there a report for the current period?

Does the medium depend on a third party’s cooperation? Circulation audits report bulk distribution of a magazine to retail stores, but a sales clerk must set them out and maintain the display. Does the medium give them an incentive? In the past, some unsophisticated audio systems were so loud that site staff turned down the sound-or even pulled the plug-just to avoid the noise factor.

Measure the Audience

What do we know about the audience? Measuring the nontraditional media audience poses special challenges. Planners need to know how the audience is measured and the precise meaning of an ad exposure so they can interpret the cost per thousand. Will the study be conducted periodically so planners can predict future audiences and confirm delivery of ad exposures with a post-buy analysis? Who will conduct the research?

Nielsen has a reputation as the premier supplier of custom research, but planners should not confuse these Nielsen numbers with television ratings that receive extensive industry oversight and certification by the Media Rating Council. Since nontraditional media pay for and own the custom research, planners should ask to see the complete report as it comes from Nielsen or another research supplier-not just a sales sheet.

When evaluating any new medium it is important to ask questions, listen to the answers and use the research to get a general indication of the medium’s delivery. There are many things to look out for, but given acceptable answers, a nontraditional medium can present the advertising message in a new and unexpected way, adding creative sizzle and excitement to supplement the core television plan.

Roger Baron is senior VP, media research director, for Foote Cone & Belding.