Is the Pendulum Swinging Back Toward Traditional Media?

Over the last 15 years, online media has been hailed as the advertising savior in a world of fragmented audiences, ad clutter, and declining mass media audiences. But in February 2017, the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) shared interesting information from the largest, most comprehensive ROI and media impact study ever conducted: abandoning legacy media channels causes sales to drop.

Here’s another survey to twist your advertising assumptions into knots. A Marketing Sherpa survey from Autumn 2016 found that 8 in 10 respondents trust print ads when making a purchase decision, with nearly as many trusting TV ads. Direct mail ads were trusted by 76%, and Radio by 71% of respondents. Just 39% said they trusted online or mobile advertising respectively.

Other studies support these findings, showing renewed interest in traditional media advertising among companies and marketers: it appears the pendulum is starting to swing back to a more integrated model. We can sum up the reason for this re-trenching in one word: reach.

Effectiveness and Reach

AdContrarian Bob Hoffman’s (among other voices) long fight to open advertiser and agency eyes to the unverifiable effectiveness of digital media appears to be validated. JPMorgan Chase just chopped the number of sites where it places ads from 400,000 to a white list of just 5,000—with no notable change in cost or effectiveness. Hoffman has advocated the need for mass marketing vehicles to build brand awareness and achieve reach for many years. But until marketing behemoth Proctor & Gamble (P&G) began pushing back against the digital media focus of their agency and media partners, few paid heed. Rising concern about the lack of controls and transparency attached to programmatic ad serving adds fuel to the digital media fire. Google just responded to marketers’ withdrawal from YouTube advertising with new ad policies, enforcement and controls for advertisers.* But the entire programmatic ad serving model is in question, creating a ripe environment for traditional media to reclaim some ad spending.

Digital targeting is great if your goal is to reach and motivate individual buyers. Sometimes, that is an appropriate goal—salespeople nurturing individual leads, for example. But if your goal is to increase product volume, your message needs to reach as many people as allowed by your media budget. Traditional media also continues to be the best way to build brand awareness and consideration. Combining media channels creates a “multiplier effect,” replicating message exposure across multiple media channels, increasing recall and impact. (Read 8 Reasons Why Radio Should Be In Your Media Mix in our December 2016 Second Wind Magazine.)

Remember, digital media is just one way people access information, content and entertainment. More and more people simultaneously use multiple channels—posting on social sites while watching TV, looking at mobile product videos while in store, reading print publications and going online to access expanded content, and so on. Younger audiences may be attached to their smart phones and devices—but they also consume as much TV as other demographic groups, and are the heaviest users of radio among all preceding generations. Their print consumption also is comparable to GenX and Boomers (except for news, where most millennials turn to social media). This makes the renewed interest in traditional media a sensible development.

For Agencies Focused on Interactive, Now What?

For ad agencies, this will bring new challenges. It is time to get back to integrated marketing basics. But have we left it too long? A focus on expertise in interactive marketing, data analytics, mobile, social and other digital channels has pushed many agencies away from traditional media, and actually caused some traditional agencies to close their doors. In the meantime, several changes have been unfolding:

  • Loss of traditional media expertise
  • Changes in the traditional media business models
  • Loss of media knowledge workers to steer marketers and agencies back to targeted mass, vs. hyper-targeted direct marketing

Agencies need to prepare for this shift toward a better media balance. Make efforts to retain agency employees with traditional media knowledge. Get savvy about traditional media options in client industries where you have core competencies. Keep up with customer research so you can speak intelligently to clients about customer-preferred media channels. Be ready for tough client questions about digital media spending. Finally, always respond to assignments with a program mentality. Integrated marketing has always been a best practice. Embracing this will ensure continued health and growth as the pendulum swings away from all-digital.

Watch That Pendulum…

The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) added some recommendations:

  • Consistently invest in multiple platforms (exposures + the multiplying effect)
  • Maximize ROI by adding traditional reach-based media back into marketing programs
  • Spend to reach younger audiences in both traditional and new media
  • Invest about 75% of media spending in traditional outlets to achieve reach

Traditional agencies were pressured to become interactive agencies as the millennium began. It should be interesting to watch the shoe end up on the other foot, as interactive agencies adapt to the client demand for more balanced media planning. Just remember that our job remains the same: to guide clients to the best media mix that delivers on objectives and fulfills the creative brief. It’s back to basics, everyone.

*In the why-was-I-served-this-ad category, I just clicked to see a video about the Keeneland milliners trunk show—Kentucky Derby hats—and was served an ad for Bud’s Gun Shop. Why would a person interested in an article on millinery want to see a gun ad? Did someone type “military” instead of “millinery” in the meta-tags? Can I get a trigger warning, please?


11 months ago

Great article.  I have been saying for several months that the "tide was turning" back to traditional media.  I recently have had TV stations approach me about teaching their young account executives about traditional media.  This helps them to understand all forms of media and helps them to "talk the talk" with media buyers.

Roz Morton


11 months ago

Great article! We are seeing our clients shifting dollars back to TV and radio. Thankfully, we didn't give up on traditional, rather added digital to our offerings. With all of the media options today, the idea that a mix of several mediums is better than any one has never been more true.

11 months ago

I love the fact that it's impossible to use ad blocker software in print -- unless someone rips the ads out of the magazine before you get to read it. Oh happy days!

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