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It’s being widely reported that TV ad campaigns are failing to reach their intended audience.

According to research done by US-based company Simulmedia using Nielsen and Kantar Media data, as many as 75% of adverts in a campaign are being seen by only 20% of the target audience.

Whilst it’s not our intention to dispute the findings of this report (indeed, precious few details from the report are available at the time of writing), we do want to put them in some context.

As independent measurement specialists, we have no particular bias towards one medium or another. What we see in much of our work is that TV, certainly in the UK, tends to outperform other media, when measured in bottom line (financial ROI) terms. Put another way, we often measure TV as having a higher ROI than other media. What’s more, we’re convinced this is a real pattern; we’ve seen it too often (and seen the exceptions that prove the rule) for it to be spurious, due to either measurement problems or technique bias.

So, whilst Simulmedia report that the actual reach of media is a lot less than thought, our findings suggest that pound for pound spent, TV advertising often delivers better sales than other broadcast media. The most likely explanation for TV’s effectiveness is the obvious one – TV is, by its nature, a rich medium which allows you to tell a story with words and moving pictures to, in theory, a relatively attentive audience. Judged by this standard, most other media (cinema being a notable, but expensive, exception) are missing one or more elements. This, we think, tends to make an exposure to a TV ad more influential than an exposure to, say, an outdoor poster, or a magazine ad.

This may help us reconcile Simulmedia’s findings with our own: perhaps a TV ad is reaching only a much smaller fraction of the audience than we thought, but it’s influencing them to act far more ‘per impression’ than other media.

And, what about other media? Maybe people are not seeing TV ads. But how many walk past posters which have become all but wallpaper to them? How many skip over ads in their daily newspaper. For that matter, what’s the actual, effective reach of an online display ad? (In this latter case, we know that the norm for click-through rates is very small indeed, at fractions of a percent.)

Of course, strictly speaking we’re not comparing like with like. Maybe the answer lies in the different dynamics of product, category or market, but we’ve measured enough of the world to doubt this explanation.

Three Challenges

Whatever the case, this study does, we think, throw up three challenges.

Firstly, to the industry – to find out why TV ads are missing their intended audience. Is it down to people screening out ads with TiVos? Is it incorrect reach data? Is it people simply doing something else when the ads are on? At stake is the price per rating (TVR, GRP) for your medium.

Secondly, to clients – find out which medium works best for you. It might be TV. It might not. But until you have measured your mix and determined the ROI of each medium in it, you can’t be sure that you’re not missing potentially millions of pounds’ worth of sales and profit.

Thirdly, to media agencies – make your TV commercials as interesting as possible. This research is a wake-up call to check our action standards and make sure we’re giving ourselves every chance possible to do effective advertising. As we comment elsewhere (see our blog article ‘Great Return on Investment’) where creative standards are concerned ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough.

Meanwhile, we’ve written to Simulmedia asking for a copy of the report, so if they oblige us we’ll update this post with any further information.



Piquant are independent measurement specialists, working in the marketing industry. We are not affiliated with any media owners, and aim to provide unbiased measurements to help marketers get the most out of their marketing resources.

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