Surviving the ‘Chaos Scenario’

Faster than Bob Garfield can repackage old ad columns into a best-selling book, the fragmentation of media is scaring the bejesus out of marketers. Garfield’s The Chaos Scenario has been widely interpreted as describing the death of advertising as a business. Ratings are down. Newspapers are dead. Consumers with DVRs skip TV commercials, and everyone else has social media attention deficit disorder. Agencies are being pummeled as clients realize old ad tricks don’t work. Heck, Garfield himself avoided expensive designers and crowdsourced his book cover for $500.

Dammit, advertising is dying, so what’s a poor marketer to do?

Get a grip — on advertising measurement. Simple tracking of ad performance can double the results from any campaign. Of course advertising still works, and there are steps you can take to make it perform much better. But before I explain this, let’s have some fun and blow up Garfield’s hypothesis. Here are three reasons why the future of advertising is not chaotic:

5 hours and 9 minutes: This spring, Nielsen funded a massive study in which hundreds of consumers were directly observed every 10 seconds. It found the average American watches 5 hours and 9 minutes of live television every day, a sharp contrast to Garfield’s suggestion that TV and its associated ad inventory is dying. While Garfield notes network audiences slipped 2 percent each year on average for the past decade, TV viewing remains an American addiction.

Happy Days: Numerous studies by MRI show consumers retain their media habits as they age. Here’s one example: today the average user of videogames is 34 — a middle-aged guy who learned to love videogames as a teen in the 1980s. He took that ingrained habit with him as he got older. Now, consider that our current largest demographic, baby boomers, learned to favor television and print in the 1970s. Boomers are very likely to continue those “trained” Happy Days media habits for decades as they head for retirement.

10 feet: Robert Sommer, author of Personal Space: The Behavioral Basis of Design, defined three distance areas for all human communication. They include “intimate space,” which is near your face or ears (think cell phones); “personal space,” which is about 3 feet away (think laptop computers); and “social space,” which is about 10 feet away (think the big-screen TV in your basement). These modes were ingrained in our genes by cave ancestors who whispered to lovers, talked to friends and watched storytellers around a campfire. While mobile and computers get buzz today, our psychological need to receive entertainment from a TV-style distance has not gone away.

Yes, advertising remains troublesome, because consumers ignore most ads. But measurement solves this challenge. Marketers cannot control macro shifts in communication usage, but they can determine which part of their media mix is working best. Direct marketers have done this for years, but many clients — often in service-oriented sectors such as banking, insurance, and healthcare — fail to measure variances in ad performance.

So let’s define the solution to chaos. If you type a few numbers into a spreadsheet, we’ll give you a free tool for doubling ad performance. Some assembly required:

1. Boot up Excel and plug these numbers into a vertical column: -70%, -40%, 5%, 10%, 30%, 60%, 80%, 120%, 200% and 400%. Congrats. You’ve just created 10 rows of probable advertising performance from a media plan sliced into 10 equal deciles.

2. Create a second column and type “$100,000” into each of the 10 cells. That’s your ad spend in each media category, totaling $1 million.

3. Now, multiply the cells in the first column by the second (-70% * $100,000, etc.), and add up the results in a third column. Your $1 million ad campaign made $795,000 above your investment.

Now: Play with the model. Move your budget around from bad-performing media to the best! Watch the total grow! With a few simple adjustments, your $1 million campaign can top $2 million in return. This is basic media mix optimization.

Simple? Of course. Now, plug in the real numbers from your current ad campaign. What’s that? You don’t have this type of measurement at your fingertips?

Alas. You probably have plans filled with GRPs or CPMs, fictional currencies used to compare media options. You know last month you made 71.3 million (fabricated) impressions on a (fantasy) audience who saw the campaign (in reality was not paying attention). And deep in your heart, you’re worried that Garfield may be right.

The solution is not to fight the tide. If you can build a total view of your advertising media performance, perhaps by tagging each ad component with 800 numbers or unique URLs, and then track variance, you’ll do what smart direct marketers have done for decades: Create a system that allows you to steer your own boat.

Ben Kunz is director of strategic planning at Mediassociates. He can be reached at benk@mediassociates.com.