Much has been made of the fact that television ratings for this year’s Super Bowl, Oscars and Winter Olympics have decreased significantly compared to past years. These massive live tent pole events have typically been a ratings bonanza for the major networks, keeping viewers glued to the action and to the commercials that accompany them, yet concern over the lost audiences from these events often misses the point. It’s not that people no longer care about the Oscars, but rather the awards show’s ratings decline is indicative of a complete shift in how programming is consumed and how audiences are viewing advertisements.
The evidence of this underlying issue is everywhere in front of us, from the ascendant subscriber numbers and heavy investment in original content by ad-free streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime, to the skyrocketing amount of time millennials and Generation Z spend on digital platforms like YouTube and Instagram, to the way broadcast networks are treating their bread-and-butter revenue stream, the 30-second spot. Just recently, Fox boldly announced it would reduce ad time to two minutes per hour by 2020, and in February, NBCUniversal promised to cut the number of ads in primetime programming by 20 percent.
Significantly reduced or completely ad-free platforms aren’t an emerging trend; they’re the new normal. Brand marketers today face an interesting challenge: Their audiences are watching more and more content but are harder than ever to reach through traditional commercial advertising. For savvy marketers, this presents an incredible opportunity and necessity to explore new models of marketing like brand integration in streaming, TV and digital influencer and content creator programming.
The reality is that marketers today are faced with an “and” scenario rather than an “or” scenario. For many, TV advertising will remain an integral part of their brand’s strategy. Failing to incorporate new marketing models into that strategy can cause harm.
As audiences demand more control over where, when and how much of their favorite programming they want to watch, brands need to make a concerted effort to be part of that choice. The Pew Research Center reported last year that six in 10 millennials (61 percent) stream TV versus watching cable. Platforms like Netflix and Hulu are continuing to grow as cord nevers take over. Integrating into content on ad-free platforms is a good bet for brands who want to reach these audiences, and it offers a longer lifecycle for content to be discovered. Cheetos played a major role in the last season of Orange Is the New Black, which is content that audiences can continue to view and discover after the show has ended.
Working with social media influencers is another important model for marketers to consider in this shifting landscape. The assumption by many marketers about working with influencers is that they are meant for one-off projects rather than as parts of a wider campaign strategy. Yet, the brands who see the greatest success with influencer marketing take a longer-view approach, creating a steady connection with their intended audiences.
Influencers represent a unique opportunity to reach millennials and Generation Z in an authentic way and from ambassadors they trust. According to a recent Defy Media study, 63 percent of 13 to 24 year olds stated they would try a brand or product recommended by a YouTube influencer, while a study commissioned by Google found that 40 percent of millennial YouTube subscribers feel their favorite content creators understand them better than their friends.
Advertising’s next frontier isn’t on the horizon; it sits directly in front of us. It is no longer enough to surround the content that audiences flock toward. We need to rethink strategies in the age of digital. For marketers, that means looking for new messengers, for new ways to get inside the programming itself and for the new channels that are providing the commercial-free environments people desire today. To survive in today’s shifting media landscape, marketers need to stop thinking like ad agencies and start thinking like media companies.