Marketing TV

If you’re a TV channel and you’ve got a new show you want to tell people about, it should be relatively simple. You make a trailer or two for it, and then you run that trailer around programmes that the audience for the new show are already watching.

You might want to be a bit cleverer than that, perhaps pulling in viewers of less obviously related programmes. Indeed if you’re really clever you might make different trailers to target different audiences.

But for the most part, TV companies use their own channels, which makes a great deal of sense. Or perhaps did. Because as the audience becomes ever more dis-aggregated, it’s getting harder to reach potential audiences. Viewers are spread far and wide, and you can’t be certain that you’ll reach a large potential audience just using your own channels.

It’s instructive that if you visit a big US city like New York, you’ll see advertising for movies and television shows everywhere. When I visited in April, even the city’s bike hire docking stations had advertising for Showtime’s Billions.

TFL Have Missed a Trick

Yes, Times Square has historically been full of movie and TV billboards, mostly elaborate digital screens, but it was interesting to see just how many Netflix and Amazon shows were being promoted. Beyond those, you have bus sides, taxis, and subway carriages. Traditional media. Ads were everywhere.

Times Square Ads




Compare and contrast with the UK, where advertising budgets seem more modest. Yes, BBC One advertised Troy reasonably heavily on posters, and indeed their current World Cup coverage (I’m not at all certain that the latter is the best use of marketing spend incidentally). Sky has put significant budgets behind Bulletproof and Patrick Melrose in recent weeks. And ITV and Channel do occasional campaigns for bigger shows. But there’s not the same consistent spend as you’ll see in the US.

Yet even those US spending levels aren’t enough.

A really good piece in The Information explains that although Netflix is upping its spend on marketing alone to $2bn, that’s not always enough to gain cut-through.

The story cites a Netflix show called Disjointed, that they promoted via a pop-up weed store in Los Angeles costing $20,000. I would point out two things from that. Yes, it will have created some local buzz (pardon the pun), but that doesn’t particularly do anything much for viewers outside of the Los Angeles area. Secondly, the marketing had zero impact outside the US. I like to think I pay reasonably close attention to the television landscape, and have never heard of this show, even though it had a big star in Kathy Bates! That $20,000 might have been better spent on regular advertising.

It’s also worth noting that the story compares Netflix’s $2bn spend with CBS’s $246m. The difference, though, is that the former is spending across the globe, while the latter is mostly spent in the US.

Netflix today has dozens of original films and series that I simply know nothing about. Unless I’m willing to watch a trailer to learn what a title I’ve never heard of is about, then they are heavily reliant on traditional routes to media. That could be sending stars onto the promo circuit, or just word of mouth. But as the volume of production intensifies, things are much more likely to get lost.

Even a couple of years ago, a die hard Netflix viewer would probably have been able to name most of their big dramas. Today, I no longer think that’s possible – assuming you’re not an industry exec with a professional interest.

“The most common complaint I hear from fellow Netflix showrunners is that they would make a great show, and no one would know that it was on,” said a creator whose show is currently being produced by Netflix.

I don’t know what the answer to Netflix’s problem is, with their vast number of productions, from all over the world, fighting to break through. But I do think some British networks need to probably invest more in off-network promotion.

TV Ignorance

There’s a lot of ignorance both on television and around it. That’s why I’ve never watched an episode of Gogglebox (and almost certainly never will). But that’s not what I’m talking about.

It seems to me that as I live more and more of my TV life through a combination of PVR and On Demand playback, I’m becoming much less aware of what’s coming up – even though I’d be really interested in the programmes. Now behaviour may be atypical – news and sport being the only two things I usually watch live – but I think that this is still true even as a generalisation.

Two recent cases in point.

On Sunday night there’s a new three-part Simon Reeve programme – Sacred Rivers. The first episode is about The Nile. I only learnt about the series a few minutes before I started writing this piece. If I hadn’t seen a preview on the BBC’s intranet, I honestly wouldn’t have known it was coming up, even though I’m certain it has been heavily trailed.

Then on Tuesday, the new Brian Cox series starts – Human Universe. I’m 99.9% certain that this has been massively trailed – but I’ve seen none of them. Again, it was an internal communication that alerted me to it (And I also saw Cox himself, alongside, I think, Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, being “mobbed” in the building yesterday).

To be clear, these are both programmes that I certainly want to watch.

Now to be fair, I think I’d have spotted both of these when I made my weekly PVR selections from The Guardian’s Guide supplement on Saturday. And because I read a daily newspaper, I’d have got a second opportunity on the day of broadcast. I might even have spotted the programmes in the EPG. And even if I’d missed the transmission, I might have found out about the series after the event and caught up on iPlayer.

But I do think that all broadcasters are going to have to carry out cleverer marketing to alert viewers to upcoming shows. It always amazes me, if you visit a big city in the US, the extent to which outdoor advertising is used to promote upcoming TV series. Indeed, if your show doesn’t get that advertising, producers often hold it against the network if the show is subsequently cancelled.

What I don’t want to see is more intrusive in-show advertising. But one thing strikes me as interesting – I think the BBC has less of an opportunity for PVR watchers like me than the population as a whole. Because while I might fast-forward through ad-breaks, the sponsorship break-bumpers and the invariable trails either side of those, means that Sky Atlantic is able to do a much better job of alerting me to The Knick during the season ending episode of Ray Donovan, than the BBC can during Doctor Who.

Retargeting – Mostly a Waste of Money

Even though I live and breathe the internet, I only recently learnt what “retargeter” or “retargeting” companies are, and what it actually is that they do.

You’ll know it even if you hadn’t heard the term either.

You know that thing you were thinking of buying? Well perhaps you looked at on Amazon/John Lewis/Asos/wherever. But you didn’t complete a purchase. You looked at the specifications, perhaps read a few customer reviews. But for whatever reason, you failed to buy it.

Well retargeting companies use the fact that you nearly bought something, or at least had a look at it, to sell display ads that appear on other pages of the internet that you subsequently visit. So when it appears that you’re being trailed around the internet by a camera or duvet you browsed for earlier? Well you are. They know you were interested, and you’re theoretically the easiest conversion to make. You just need to be pushed over the line, complete the purchase and everyone’s a winner.

In case you didn’t know, when you visit the average ad-funded page, a real-time auction is taking place based upon what the ad networks know about you, to deliver appropriate advertising. This all happens in milli-seconds as the page loads, and it explains why you seem to be followed around the web so much.

So much for the theory. In practice, it seems broken in many ways. In a world of big data, it’s remarkable how many companies don’t do it right.

On many occasions, something in the system completely and utterly breaks, and I’ll find a company with who I completed an actual purchase, still retargeting me with the same item that they’ve already shipped to me. This isn’t a one-off occurrence, it happens multiple times.

Waste of money.

Not only that, of all things in the world that you can sell me, very probably the last thing I want to buy right now, is the very thing I’ve just bought. Even amongst FMCG brands that I regularly purchase, an immediate need for additional items is unlikely. Seriously, you’re better off trying to flog me a Ferrari that I will never ever buy, than the door-hooks I actually just bought.

Then there is the fact that retargeting seems to take surprisingly little account of price. I was recently shopping for a £2.99 bike-light mount. This is a low value item, and basically I just wanted a retailer who stocked it. I didn’t really care where it came from. I find it amazing that it’s worth even a fraction of a penny to advertise that item to me. This isn’t a considered purchase – a laptop or a television, for example. This is a no questions asked item that I just need.

Waste of money.

Much worse than any of this is the fact that the retargeting companies don’t take account of the fact that most of us do our own price comparisons if the item is of any significant value. I research the model blender I want. I search a few retailers and check the prices. Then I buy from one of them. Except, the other retailers don’t know that I bought it from a competitor. So I’m followed around by blender ads for days afterwards.

Waste of money.

It gets really odd when a big company should know better. Real case in point. I searched YouTube for a new song by an artist I liked. The song appears on a new album, and I get a pre-roll for that album. Fine. That makes sense.

Then I go to Google Play and buy that very album. Back on YouTube, any video I watch is now deluged with pre-rolls for that very same album. Google knows I own it.

It’s a complete waste of money for the client. They should be trying to sell me anything else in the world apart from the album I just bought.

Perhaps in that instance there is some kind of Chinese wall between Google Play transactions and YouTube, but I’d bet that some kind of terms and conditions that I’ve accepted – without reading – allows that data to be shared.

Personally I think while I get a bit annoyed about it, and it feels a bit creepy that companies and ad networks know so much about me, it’s actually the client companies that are losing out. They are flushing their marketing budgets down the toilet in the belief that this is some of the best marketing cash they could spend.

No wonder Dominic Mills in an opinion piece at Mediatel earlier this week described retargeting as “a grubby business.”

I wrote this piece because I was seeing adverts for something that is currently in my Amazon basket on other websites.

I will be buying it.

I just wanted to get something else at the same time, and I don’t need either item for a couple of days. No rush.

In the meantime, some agency somewhere is wasting a client’s money spending cash advertising something directly to me that I’m in the process of buying. Brilliant.