The TV industry is no stranger to disruption with the current Coronavirus pandemic bringing further opportunities for the media channel to evolve.

In response to current trends right now, Calum Smeaton, CEO and founder of TVSquared talks to PerformanceIN to discuss why brands shouldn’t “go dark” during this time and how even throughout global uncertainty, TV is providing both brand building and performance uplift, and why attribution is more important than ever.

With marketing budgets being reduced, paused or shifted elsewhere, why should advertisers be prioritising TV advertising?

Calum Smeaton: Thanks to the lockdown people are watching more TV than ever before. And when I say “TV,” I mean linear, OTT and VOD. Data shows that 36% of consumers in the UK and US are watching more linear TV, and 24% have increased their online TV content consumption. This gives brands an opportunity to reach an increased number of eyeballs via a channel experiencing an unprecedented boom. Despite this, many marketers are considering halting all TV campaigns while they make sense of the current uncertainty. It’s understandable, but “going dark” is a mistake for the vast majority of brands.

TV has an enormous impact on a brand. In addition to short-term performance, TV’s “halo effect” – its longer-term impact – is extremely powerful and resonates across platforms. No matter the industry, brands need to make sure they’re still visible to consumers, especially now there’s such a massive at-home audience gravitating toward TV platforms. “Out of sight, out of mind” has never been more true. Pausing a campaign will lose the brand impact a marketer has spent time building and potentially damage long-term prospects. 

There’s currently a huge opportunity to cut through the noise to reach consumers, measure the impact on business outcomes and optimize for performance. TVSquared data shows that, in March, the first month of the lockdown, many brands actually saw an increase in TV performance across direct-to-consumer (DTC) areas, including, education (+250%), personal care (+160%) and fitness (+136%).

With an increasing number of channels and platforms being engaged as a result of lockdown and isolation, how can advertisers best target audiences during this time?

CS: If there was ever a time to know your audience at a granular level, across both linear and digital TV, it’s now. Easter weekend attracted record viewing in the UK, up 29% year-on-year (YoY). And the ITV Hub reported a surge in consumption and reach for its VOD platform for the first three months of 2020. The number of hours audiences spent watching shows jumped 82% YoY.

With the homebound economy driving these TV consumption changes, it’s important that advertisers find a way to stay on top of new behaviours and viewing trends. The only way to truly understand where and when audiences are watching and, more importantly, watching and responding, is to continually measure the impact of TV, and then make those insights actionable to improve performance. 

In other words, increasing and changing TV viewing across platforms means that always-on attribution is more critical than ever. Understanding audiences is an ongoing, dynamic process, so you need to be able to process data 24/7 to keep up with shifts in consumer behaviour. This is critical to maximise reach, frequency and reduce waste, and those advertisers that implement test-and-learn strategies – around new programmes, genres, dayparts or networks – may even discover new audiences they never even knew about. I could write a book about how many times that’s happened to our advertisers!   

Is there a way for brands to use TV advertising for social good?

CS: Absolutely. Advertising bookings on TV channels may have halved since the virus impacted the western world, but many brands are using their spots to promote compassion, giving and reassurance. And with research showing that consumers are receptive to pandemic ads, there’s no reason not to continue advertising – only 5% of UK consumers think brands should pause their advertising, with 42% wanting brands to be more informative in their ad campaigns and 23% looking for a sense of normalcy. 

Brands like Guinness, one of the first to address the crisis head-on, demonstrated how advertising during the crisis can deliver a poignant message. When St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were cancelled in light of safety guidelines, the brand reassured audiences with an impactful “Don’t worry, we’ll march again” creative.

And it’s not the only one. Tesco and BT are emphasising the importance of social distancing with their respective campaigns, and M&S Food reworked its sponsorship of Britain’s Got Talent on ITV to celebrate the efforts of those working on the front-line. Even Facebook is promoting ads on ITV, Channel 4 and Sky that encourage community support at this challenging time.

As long as brands stay authentic, and shun any kind of marketing pretence and fabrication, there is no reason marketers shouldn’t continue advertising – particularly when it can be used as a force for good. This is a key time when audiences will connect with a reassuring message.

Lastly, as a marketing channel, why is TV attribution so important right now?

CS: When budgets are tight, knowing what works – and what doesn’t – matters more than ever, and accountability for every ad dollar is so important. Cost optimisation is being prioritised by marketers across the ecosystem, and attribution strategies are being ramped up by brands who want to weather the storm. With more eyeballs on screens at home, there has really never been a better time to test and learn.

To do this successfully, marketers must adopt data and analytics; using real-time, accurate proof of performance to measure and optimise ad spend. Every dollar has to be efficient, so marketers need attribution to first identify changing response patterns and then act on them. The future TV ad industry will be defined by accountability; particularly when marketers see the benefits of real-time, accurate attribution in dissecting the exact elements of their performance.

There is still a lot of uncertainty around COVID-19’s impact on our industry. But there is one thing we know for sure: only by adopting attribution will brands be in a position to lead recovery efforts.