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Making your Advertising Pay

Friday, October 1, 2010 - 08:49

How does a business communicate with its audience now that mass media is no longer the only game in town? Nicole Richards speaks with three industry insiders.

Communication theorist Marshall McLuhan famously declared advertising to be the greatest art form of the 20th century.

It's not difficult to understand why. Twenty years ago, a good TV commercial was the ultimate in paid promotion. For advertisers, TV was simply the way to go if you wanted to reach a mass audience; all eyes were on the box.

Fast forward to 2010 and it's a brave new world for advertisers: traditional mass audiences have been decimated by media fragmentation and the explosive growth of social media.

The online revolution, Facebook and Twitter, has changed the way we consume media forever. Not only has it changed what we consume, but also how we consume it. Smartphones and iPads continue to raise the stakes in hyper-connected mobility.

Today, that media complexity and the fierce competition for consumer attention mean that McLuhan's art of advertising is now part science, too. Media proliferation has given consumers more choice than ever and, as a result, audiences are not necessarily in the same places they used to be.

Luke Littlefield, Chief Operating Officer at Australia's largest media buying agency, Mitchell Communication Group, explains, "The media environment has become a lot more diverse, more dynamic and complex."

"Where people and eyeballs are now has significantly changed. For example, this time last year there were roughly 800 programs a week on free-to-air TV. Now, with the introduction of digital TV there are 1300 programs, and within the next year that could go as high as 1800."

Big spenders

If you didn't know, Australians are the biggest advertisers on the planet. We have a higher advertising spend per capita than any other nation.

The Communications Council, the representative body for the advertising and marketing communications industry, estimates Australia's media advertising market to be worth $12 billion this year, and industry insiders forecast significant growth.

The Mitchell Communication Group forecast bookings this calendar year to be up 8 per cent on last year, and believe online spend could outrank print and TV advertising in this country within three years. Media buying has become an increasingly sophisticated business and agencies offer more than just bonus media spots for clients.

"A good media agency has qualitative and quantitative intelligence that can help clients understand the market and how they can best reach their target audience," Littlefield says.

Integration the key

With so many media outlets to choose from, it's not surprising that the concept of integrated communication has become a huge determinant of campaign effectiveness. All media channels have a role to play, according to Daniel Leesong, Chief Executive Officer of the Communications Council.

"You have to recognise that different channels serve different purposes. TVCs (TV commercials), print, radio and so on are more message- and information-driven and, generally, engage people passively and emotionally, while digital caters for participation and interaction with a brand. But both reinforce each other. Social networking is now a common element of campaigns, but successful campaigns are the ones that have a mix of traditional and new media," he says.

Littlefield agrees, "A holistic solution might range from online to offline, outdoor, signage, public relations, experiential marketing to mobile marketing."

Know your market

Today's media-savvy consumers can, to some extent, pick and choose how and when they consume your brand's messages. Companies must have a clear understanding of their target audience if they're to stand a chance at communicating with them.

Victor Maree, Managing Partner of Melbourne-based creative agency, Marmalade, explains, "In the current environment it's absolutely vital to know your consumer. Now, one size doesn't fit all. Fifteen years ago you could roadblock the news [advertising simultaneously across channels] and cover 70 per cent of your target market - today you can't do that."

This is not to say that the notion of a mass audience is completely redundant. The monumental success of programs like Masterchef has seen ratings go through the roof. The trick is to use your campaign mix wisely.

"TV advertising still has its place but you can't take a lazy approach to it anymore. Similarly, there are still popular magazines and radio programs attracting huge attention but you can't just look at it in isolation - it's not enough anymore," Maree says.

Online or bust

Australians are spending more and more time online, which makes the integration of offline and online communication increasingly important for advertisers.

"Australians spend more time on social media sites than any other country in the world, with around eight million users on Facebook; and two in five Australians interacting with companies via social networks," says Leesong. "This creates huge opportunities for advertising in that space, if campaigns are designed well."

Maree agrees, and urges clients to embrace the potential of the new media landscape.

A final point, don't make the mistake of thinking creativity is any less important in today's advertising space. Leesong explains why.

"Investing in creativity is a powerful way to achieve 'fame'. Brands can buy awareness but not fame, while fame is key to the most effective advertising."