Why do ad agencies still put TV at the front of their marketing plans when no one is watching? What will it take for digital to be the flagship piece in marketing?

As the new TV season is upon us, 2017 is projected to be the year when digital finally overtakes television. Consumption is down 11% and viewers are less engaged, with 87% using another device while watching. Even NFL football ratings are dropping. Counter that with the fact that on a monthly basis, more than 8 billion videos are viewed on Snapchat and Facebook. Which begs the question, why do the majority of advertisers and advertising agencies lead with the television spot in their media plans?

The former crown jewel of advertising has poorly adapted itself to the changing landscape. Simply moving TV ads onto Facebook and YouTube have stripped these spots into shells of themselves. Forcing spots to mute their audio, skipping them after five seconds and even blocking them all together are taking away even that little sliver of communication.

People used to take their medicine.
Just to be clear, it’s not video content that’s dying. It’s the idea of a 30-second spot thrown at users in a random order while they’re trying to watch something else that’s dying. Fifty years of cognitive training to watch eight minutes of advertising with every 22 minutes of content will do that to a species. But once the ad-free world was introduced, the TV spot’s back was broken and has just been crawling around on the floor ever since.

And despite this dire description, TV is still a juggernaut. TV still, even in the age of 50 million YouTube views, delivers more numbers in one :30 spot than any other option. Despite rising prices for fewer impressions, TV still delivers the goods. To get the similar amount of impressions in digital, you would need several platforms (which can have a wide variety of engagement types) and more than one placement. Plus, the recent bot scandal or Facebook’s inflated video numbers has damaged digital’s credibility further as a mass advertiser.

Moreover, a television spot is a comfortable purchase for advertisers. For everyone who was born before 1990, TV is a familiar medium that needs little introduction, even when you get into hyper-targeted spaces. A show, a demographic and an expected audience size. It’s a simple, straightforward way to calculate an ad buy.

Measure that against years of digital marketing, where the ground still feels built on sand. Is Twitter dying or reinventing itself? Has anyone ever looked at a banner ad without being paid to do so? Does a click or a view mean anything towards purchase intent? Make no mistake, digital video projections are strong. But the digital landscape seems to reinvent itself every year, with new tricks to entertain their growing audience. And each new app, new mobile site or plug-in becomes a courageous purchase for media companies and advertisers. A trip into the unknown. Advertisers are not a group known for their courage.

What can digital do (and more importantly what can advertisers do) to truly replace television as the mass communication platform?

First is focus.
A television spot forces companies to choose what they want to say carefully and it helps with overall comprehension. While a website can quickly become bloated with information, advertisers must make hard choices in order to have a successful video communication. That same simplicity needs to be applied to digital work. A digital plan may be across multiple platforms and formats, but it has to keep its messages to a minimum. Another way to avoid complication in a campaign is to only use the platforms that work. You don’t need to Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook all at once. Each provides a different audience, and you need to decide which ones really work for your brand.

Secondly, metrics.
Television impressions are measured, quantified and broken down before the popcorn bowl is empty. The question is, what are they really delivering? Digital can literally track a consumer from end to end. Yet advertisers often track meaningless data like clicks and opens. The most important discussion every digital agency must have with their clients is about how your ad is building a better customer experience. Television is thrown at users in the hope it will pay off with a sale or by keeping the brand top of mind. Digital can make the entire experience better from end to end, and can respond to the customer behavior at every step. Measuring success with customer experience based metrics is the key difference in digital vs. TV and can truly lead to better results.

This may be the golden age of television content, but it certainly hasn’t been the golden age of TV advertising. Where are the Just Do Its? The Taste greats? The Pricelesses? Digital needs to strike while TV is fading and truly transform the world of advertising around the customer experience, leaving its interruptive roots behind.