There’s a growing disconnect between where brands are spending ad dollars and where consumers are actually making purchase decisions.
Did you know ESPN the Magazine ceased publication recently? No? Well, you’re not alone. A Washington Post article about the magazine’s impending demise elicited just 15 comments. (A recent WaPo story on Brexit, by contrast, generated almost 1,500 comments.) And one of those 15 comments was “(Yawn) … Nobody cares!!!”
It’s hardly breaking news that print is no longer a practical platform for delivering news. As ESPN said in a statement explaining its decision to euthanize the magazine: “Consumer habits are evolving rapidly, and this requires ESPN to evolve as well. The only change here is that we are moving away from printing [the magazine] on paper and sending it in the mail.”
The only change? Maybe for consumers, it’s not a big deal. But for advertisers, the change from print to various other ephemeral platforms is one of the most consequential shifts in the industry in the last 50 years. And the brands that figure out how to adapt to this new marketing landscape will be the ones that dominate.
Hint: Just sinking your ad budget into mobile devices is not the answer. In fact, it’s a dangerous delusion.
The cash is always greener on the other side
Simply put, the Great Mobile Migration largely disregards the role that the consumer’s whereabouts play in purchase decisions.
Location, location, location — it matters almost as much in advertising as in real estate. Serve an ad in a situation in which the consumer is likely to act, and you will get a good return (assuming a product/market fit, of course). Serve an ad in a situation in which the consumer is unlikely to act, and you are wasting money. Lots of it.
History shows that the most successful advertising channels have been the ones that have reached consumers in their homes, where the vast majority of purchase decisions are made. Start with newspapers and progress through mail-order catalogs to glossy magazines, radio and finally television, and that’s been the common denominator.
And yet ad spend has declined across the board on those channels, with TV down 2.2% this year, and print editions of newspapers and magazines down 18%. Meanwhile, led by the dynamic duopoly of Facebook and Google, digital will become the new leader in ad spend for the first time ever in 2019.
The simple explanation actually isn’t
The reason for the decline in traditional in-home advertising channels is complicated. The obvious explanation is that magazine ads and TV commercials piggyback on content. And as people have changed the way they consume that content – reading articles and watching video and live-streamed events on personal devices – traditional delivery systems like magazines have fallen out of favor. And advertisers have fled in droves.
But marketers have struggled to adapt advertising to the new delivery systems. (There’s no way to replicate the old double-truck magazine spread on a small screen, for example.) The advent of mobile has further complicated the process. Now even when reformatted ads reach consumers, those consumers are often outside the home — meaning the likelihood of activation is often remote. In many cases, the ads still don’t work, at least not as effectively as ads in the time-honored in-home channels used to (and still do in some cases).
Considered purchases reconsidered
To make things even more complicated, the internet has enabled a whole generation of digitally native vertical brands resulting in a vastly expanded consumer ecosystem. Niche markets abound. Search has made information readily available in such vast quantities that it has changed people’s spending habits. Almost every transaction has become a considered purchase.
Consider the humble granola bar.
Not so long ago, a box of granola bars was unequivocally an on-location buy. You made a decision on the spot, in the aisle at the grocery store. There weren’t many brands (or flavors) available, so your decision was based on either a Pavlovian response to a brand name you recognized from a TV or magazine ad or a pre-existing preference (nuts versus no nuts). You might spend a moment reading the labels, but that would be for research. Where else would you get information about granola bars?
Now, of course, the answer to that question is: from the internet. Google “granola bars” and you’ll get almost 6 million results, including starred reviews. (Just a hunch, but you might want to avoid the bar that one reviewer said “smelled like chemicals or some sort of laundry detergent.”)
The impact hits home
‘The psychological impact of even small, inexpensive items becoming considered purchases is significant. Money isn’t the point. The risk isn’t economic, it’s emotional. The more choices that are available to you, and the more information that’s available about those choices, the greater your fear of making a mistake — especially if you’re buying the product for someone else. After weeding through that endless array of granola bars before finally making a choice, the last thing you want is to get that look from your spouse when you get home. What did you buy these for? You know I hate cranberries! (And you don’t want to make things worse by admitting that, um, actually you didn’t know that.)
Once again, you’ve learned that age-old lesson: The most successful purchase decisions are the ones you make at home, in collaboration with your family.
Marketers who figure out how best to enable that process with their advertising are the ones who will survive and prosper in a rapidly evolving digital landscape. And the answer isn’t simply to abandon traditional in-home advertising channels. It’s to make them work effectively again.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.