TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Roads

Is your ad strategy on course?

If you’re a business in Hampton Roads weighing your advertising options, traditional TV (broadcast and cable) continues to provide huge reach and impact. But how people consume various media, and more importantly how their video viewing habits are shifting, is essential for you to know to effectively plan where your advertising dollars should be spent.

Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro

Nielsen numbers show that US consumers still watch over four hours of traditional (Nielsen calls it “live”) TV every day. But that number has dropped from four hours and 29 minutes per day in 2013 to four hours and 11 minutes over the past two years. The pace is precipitous and consistent. The amount of DVR viewing has held pretty steady, but the amount of time spent on smartphones has nearly doubled.

Three very important points to keep in mind here:

  1. The shift to online/streaming viewing is generationally driven. A recent report from ABC showed that 28% of TV watched during prime time by 18-34-year-olds is online streaming or video on demand, compared to 11% for those age 25-54. Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro
  2. This shift will accelerate. Smartphones are already in the hands of 80% of US consumers, but the lion’s share of mobile online TV is viewed by only 20% of those folks. This is not an “80-20” rule that will stand. As network apps and “TV anywhere” gain awareness, that number will experience a hockey-stick effect. Add to that the fact that nearly 60% of households now have an Internet-connected TV, and the opportunities to stream video skyrocket.
  3. These are no longer individually unique media consumption behaviors. People don’t consume one medium at a time. Look around in a restaurant, airport, doctor’s office—or your own family room. Who is looking up, and who is looking down at their mobile device? Nielsen reports that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners use those devices while they’re watching TV. YOU NEED TO BE IN BOTH PLACES.

The graphs here are published data from Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report.” It’s a great deep dive to understand what’s going on in the world of media consumption. But to help understand what’s happening, and what will happen with TV viewership locally, I reached out to some local media experts for insight.

The bulk of ad spending for local broadcasters and cable still ties to traditional TV advertising: :05-:60 spots inserted into linear broadcast (that includes cable) programs. And, of course, the stakeholders feel that will continue. “Local newscasts (including weather, traffic and high school/college sports) remain some of the highest-viewed programming on local broadcast televisions in any market.” Says Doug Davis, president and CEO of WAVY. “Newscasts provide a daily, engaged viewer for local advertisers…a viewer who is watching the news…not DVRing it.”

Kari Jacobs, WVEC president and GM, agrees. “I believe TV viewing will remain strong largely due to locally produced news, live sports and big events (e.g., the Oscars). It will be interesting to see which (streaming) delivery methods (Netflix, Roku, etc.) will excel.”

But Gordon Borrell, CEO and president of Borrell and Associates and nationally recognized expert on local market media trends, is a bit more pragmatic. “The fact is, people are watching more ‘video’ than ever, but it’s the old model—broadcast TV—that’s in trouble. I wouldn’t recommend that a TV advertiser necessarily cut back TV. Rather, I think an advertiser needs to determine the appropriate mix of media available today that is needed to support whatever promotion they have at the moment.”

Local broadcasters, as well as Cox, have long offered digital advertising packages and online content to help you diversify your media mix and reach their viewers online. “We certainly recognize the impact digital has on traditional viewing patterns,” Jacobs adds, “and our digital options for content and advertising options reflect this change and will continue to evolve.”

But with the shift to streaming and on-demand viewing through Internet-connected devices, advertisers are clamoring for a way to measure their text boxvideo advertising investment that makes sense online and offline. That shift is underway. Sharon Fanto, vice-president of Cox Media, explains. “Most [advertisers] want to measure how they reach consumers with a metric of impressions rather than simply gross rating points (GRPs). Those impressions are found on multiple screens across multiple devices, which makes sense since consumers are spending more time with video on multiple devices. Our focus has to continue to be making it easier for our clients to reach consumers wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.”

This shift in planning and measurement from GRPs to impressions, cost-per-impression, and ultimately cost-per-conversion (sale) tied to your impressions are what ultimately open the door for effective cross-platform planning. Hopefully, all media reps, planners and buyers are headed in this direction because digital advertising options will drive it.

An impressions-based video strategy can level the playing field in comparing costs for reaching TV viewers in a mass broadcast audience vs. an individually targeted and streamed insertion online. Add to that the efficiency that real-time bidding (the ability to set budget limits on how much you are willing to pay for each individual impression) online can bring, and you have the ability to make your video advertising achieve results that you could never afford in a broadcast-only world.

Your online-to-broadcast mix percentage will vary based on your objectives as well. In Borrell’s words, “TV is the number one medium for branding. No one can touch it.” But if your goal is to drive online engagement, having at least a companion digital video strategy is vital. The Virginia Dental Association, in a statewide campaign that has been running for the past three years, has been able to increase traffic to a targeted page from 200 page views a month to over 500 A DAY by integrating a targeted digital video campaign. That’s how effective it can be.

Bottom lines:

1. If you are a local advertiser whose ad strategy is heavily leveraged in TV, and you are not already consistently and diligently deploying a SIGNIFICANT online video component to your strategy, you are behind the times.

2. If you’re are a local business that has not been able to afford TV advertising because of budget or geographic scope, you could be losing ground to competitors who have learned to geographically and demographically target video messages online to your prospects and customers.

Video advertising is king. It carries more emotion and credibility than any other medium. Consumers will find it wherever they go. More and more, they are going online with devices in hand. Your media mix needs to recognize that.

The Crowded Higher Ed Marketplace

Zero to bachelor’s in 2.5. Bring a spark, light a fire. From here, go anywhere.Higher Education Marketing, Higher Education, Marketing, Hampton Roads

Those college taglines are comfortingly familiar to Hampton Roads residents. On any given day you’ll hear a radio ad with one, whiz by a billboard with another.

Which one are you most familiar with? If you answered #1, stay tuned.

With 5 traditional universities (including 2 historically black schools, Norfolk State and Hampton University), 2 colleges (including the second-oldest in the nation, William & Mary), the world-renowned Eastern Virginia Medical School, and a robust community college system, Hampton Roads is spoiled for choice when it comes to higher education.

But the competitive pressure continues to escalate from for-profit schools, most of which are based outside the region altogether. Perhaps the best-known locally is ECPI, which is HQ’d here in Virginia Beach—and who belongs to that ubiquitous tagline #1. (Recently replaced with “The best decision you ever made.”)

And that’s pretty telling. You know ECPI’s hook—but do you know ODU’s? Virginia Wesleyan’s? (It’s #2 above) NSU’s?

If you’re struggling, it’s not your fault. Chalk it up to market saturation.

When you add up ALL higher ed advertisers, including those outside the region, a staggering $25.4 million is spent on higher education advertising in Hampton Roads each year, with an additional $80.6 million spent on marketing and promotion. That’s to reach an audience of 718,820 TV households and 1.5 million adults in Hampton Roads. (Nielsen)

In 2014, regional schools spent close to $3 million on higher ed TV advertising in Hampton Roads (Kantar). More than half of that $3 million was ECPI. In other words, excluding ECPI, local schools purchased less than 15% of all higher ed TV advertising in Hampton Roads last year.

You see, it’s not just about competing for enrollment anymore. It’s competition for airtime, for screen time, for ears and eyeballs.

And in Hampton Roads, that’s some pretty fierce competition. In fact, if you add up the total number of colleges, universities, trade school and tech school locations within Hampton Roads the options total over 250!

So, higher ed marketers in Hampton Roads face big hurdles to break through the noise and capture the attention of prospective students.

Aside from having the deepest advertising pockets—how do you stand out in Hampton Roads’ crowded higher ed marketplace?

Higher education is a service-driven industry—just like health care, real estate or banking. Any lofty ideas about the Ivory Tower or historic campuses need to take a backseat to deciding what your school excels at, and how to sell it.

Maybe start with recognizing that the average local student looks very different from even 15 years ago.

Hampton Roads is home to one of the world’s largest populations of military personnel, many of whom earn GI Bill benefits. Those are adult students whose needs are very different from those of 18-22 year olds. Students, Hampton Roads, Higher Education, Marketing

Many of them are pursuing education while serving full-time, or they are retraining for a new career and want to complete their degrees as quickly as possible. They’re looking for shorter semesters. (Hence the appeal of “2.5,” brought to you by ECPI’s 6-week sessions).

Incentivize military and adult students. Spotlight any benefits unique to military. Explain how your school can help with any red tape. Bear redeployment in mind: is the coursework portable? What are you willing to do to retain students or help them transfer? And what about those shorter sessions—can your school compete?

Student veterans seek out degrees in business, criminal justice and intelligence studies. Promote these programs if your school offers them. If they don’t, start a conversation.

Norfolk State is leading a $25 million effort to educate a new cybersecurity workforce. That’s a massive opportunity to connect with military and veteran students and help them on the path to a future career with local defense contractors.

Beyond the military community, consider the growing adult student population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2000 and 2011, enrollment of students aged 25+ rose 41%. From 2011 to 2021, NCES projects a further 14% increase.

Hampton Roads has over a half-million adults with “some college” education, and over 194,000 say they plan on going back to school in the next 12 months.

These students enroll for a variety of reasons—to join growing industries such as health care and technology, retrain for a new career after job loss or retirement, or to enhance their current career. Those goals don’t typically translate to a 4-year undergraduate degree. More students are seeking 2-year degrees and certifications, while many professional students want graduate certificates or master’s programs.

Find out what adult students want—and let them know you’ve got it. Don’t forget most of these students are working while in school, too. Regent University’s grad program just switched to two 8-week terms for spring 2015. That’s a good sign it’s listening to the needs of its MBA-seeking students, many of whom likely work full-time.

The smart higher ed marketer is also engaged with Hampton Roads’ top employers and tying those opportunities into their messaging.

Help prospective students envision themselves in a future career. Share real-life success stories (Regent University and ECPI have done this for years), or show that your school positions graduates to land the “hottest jobs” in “growing industries.”

According to Sonya Schweitzer, University Director of Marketing at ECPI University, “We’ve been using real graduates or students for our TV ads for quite a long time—testimonials.” She added, “Every effort is made to show graduates who represent different demographics, as well as making sure their stories are believable and represent the average student.”

Make the most of integrated multimedia marketing. Seventy percent of prospective students go to the college website first. But remember, the path to enrollment is long and winding and needs to include traditional media as well as integrated digital methods (online and social media marketing).

Schweitzer explained ECPI’s perspective: “Even though most people will have seen an ad or a billboard in this market, they will convert through our website, or search [marketing], at a much higher rate. We use social media to have a conversation with our prospects, as well as our current students and grads. It is a very strong selling tool for prospects who are researching who we are. They can hear it from people other than ourselves—unfiltered. That is powerful.”

Meet these prospects where they are, through targeted marketing such as programmatic buying, and through artful social media marketing. Aim for a conversation, a relationship—not just a one-size-fits-some banner ad campaign.


So, ready to graduate with honors from the Hampton Roads school of higher ed marketing? Look over your campaigns and make sure you’re not overlooking any of these opportunities. If you are, take some time to regroup, reimagine and revitalize. With any luck you can still enhance your efforts for fall 2015 recruitment.

And bear in mind that statewide, Virginia public college enrollment declined in 2014—for the first time in 20 years. Things just got a little more competitive.

If you have questions about anything in this article, feel free to post or contact me at

You’re gonna see an ad anyway,

 it might as well be something you like…Marketing Hampton Roads

One big debate these days in advertising circles (of course there are many) revolves around privacy, and just how much we as advertisers know about our prospective targets.’s recent wishy-washiness about sharing consumer privacy information helped fuel the conversation. While I’m not a fan of privacy invasion or over-the-top hacking and snooping, I do fall firmly on the side of the statement above. I know I’m going to see ads on websites, in apps, in TV programs and ahead of that tile-grouting video I just searched for. My sense is, it might as well be an ad for something I give a hoot about as opposed to something totally unrelated to my world. In fact, for me, the more relevant the better. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.

 Three ways to see who’s watching you online.

If you’ve ever wondered who’s watching you, or who knows what about you, it’s not hard to get a good view. Just about everywhere you go online…no matter what platform…you’re picking up cookies or in some way leaving a trail of data. Here are three ways to get a glimpse of when someone’s watching and who knows what:

1.)      Website trackers

Ever wonder who’s lurking behind the browser? Who’s warehousing data every time you mouse over a picture or click a link? Fly over to Ghostery and click on the button that says “Add to (whichever browser you’re using).” After you do you’ll be treated to a magical looking-glass on each page that looks something like this:Ghostery

The list will change from page to page and site to site, but it shows you who the data aggregators are that have placed pixels and are collecting data on that page, as well as the ad exchanges and traders that are serving ads on that site. Clear your cookies if you want, but every time you come back they will still be there. Your only choice in thwarting them is to block cookies…but remember, you’re gonna see an ad anyway…

2.) What Facebook thinks of you

Those guys at Facebook are so smart, and transparent, that if you want to know why you’re seeing a certain ad, all you have to do is ask. Not only that, if you’re not seeing what you want, you can actually add to your preference list. Here’s how:

a.     When you see an ad on Facebook, hold your mouse over the upper right hand corner until an X appears. Click on it, then click on “Why am I seeing this?” Another box will pop up with the answer. Could be you’re the right demo. Could be you like to do certain things or go certain places. Or it could be a lot vaguer, like “this company wants to reach people like you.”

b.     Within the second box, click on “Manage my preferences.” Within the box that opens you can see everything Facebook thinks it knows about you relative to the ads you see. Click on each content area to see individual data tags relative to your content, profile or activities within the site. Some of it will be dead wrong, some right on the money.

c.      If you think Facebook has it wrong, or is missing some things, you can actually customize this profile. You can delete individual preferences, or, at the top of the page is a box that allows you to add preferences. In fact, you can do this whole exercise on practically any ad on any website. Click on the arrow or box in the upper right corner of an ad, then look for the link to manage your preferences. Rather see ads about Disneyworld? The NFL? Here’s your chance. Because remember, you’re gonna see an ad anyway…

3.)   What the Shadow knows

On the creepier side, try out the Digital Shadow and let it build your virtual profile. The site, which is really a clever app built by Ubisoft to market the game Watchdogs, lets you log in using Facebook and then builds a rather eerie, contrived picture of you and your life using your profile data. With claims like, “We know who you are,” “We know who you care about,” “We know how to find you” or “We know what you’re worth,” you can’t help but feel paranoid. If you’re like me, you’ll find quite a bit of it laughable (yeah, try looking for me in the Bahamas). But the idea of getting a glimpse at how data trackers may see you is interesting.

Bottom line is that advertising will continue to become, more and more, a technical business. As an advertiser, you want to know as much about your potential customer as possible. Data trackers and online profiles help you do that, help make the online user experience more relevant, and I believe make it more efficient for all of us. So go ahead, serve me ads for SCUBA diving and sport fishing off of Freeport. Because, hey, I’m gonna see an ad anyway…

The Technology Is Pretty Simple

 It’s the Stuff That’s Complicated

Just ask a digital media buyer.Chevy Guy

Technology and stuff sure make us marketing executives sweat. The whole world found that out firsthand when Chevy’s Rikk Wilde crashed the MVP party with his now-famous #technologyandstuff description of Madison Bumgarner’s new Chevy truck. And of course it wasn’t the technology or the stuff that had Wilde beading up with sweat, it was the national stage.

But the Chevy exec and lifelong baseball fan drew national attention to a big topic, one the digital advertising and media world grapples with daily: finding a way to make high-tech advancements simple enough for everyone, even really high-powered people like marketing execs, to understand.

In local market advertising, even a fairly big local market like Hampton Roads, VA, advertisers grapple with the question of how, when and where to shift marketing dollars into digital media, and how to know when that strategy is working. While pay-per-click advertising can be pretty straightforward if the consumer is properly motivated to click, digital display advertising has fallen out of favor. Measuring response has been difficult, primarily because of the way it has been bought and tracked.

Enter #technologyandstuff.

The highest-tech, most cutting-edge system and tool within digital media buying is a sophisticated system called a Demand Side Platform (DSP), which allows an operator to buy media programmatically and bid on digital advertising inventory in real time.

Whew. See? Sweat beads.

You can read a great blog describing some of the DETAILS of the stuff that makes up programmatic buying here, but let me tell you that what the technology does is make sure that the advertiser’s ad only shows up when a targeted customer is actually surfing. And the advertiser only pays what he or she has bid for that targeted customer. And then all this stuff measures what is working best, and the buyer tells the technology to do more of that. The same stuff measures what is not working so well, and the buyer tells the technology not to do so much of that.

While I don’t exactly expect you to follow all of that particular technology and stuff explanation, I can tell you that as an advertiser you should gain an understanding of programmatic buying.

In one form or another, it will become the way advertising is bought and sold going forward.

It is automated advertising buying compared to manual buying, and it will drive the efficiency and measurability among all types of advertising. And that includes traditional forms like broadcast and cable, outdoor and print.

Even some of largest local advertisers will admit that, although they have a very diverse media mix and an ongoing focus in driving social as well as real-life connections to their brand, the plans are not very well coordinated, and they lack the ability to measure how effectively their digital advertising is working. Technology is going to continue to open up more media mix opportunities. Find someone to help you understand the stuff, and you’ve got the secret ingredient to make it work.


Will Your Customers Unlock the Door?

There are 728,800 potential problems every day in Hampton Roads.

Market a message of trust and deliver on it.

A man at your door with a van in your driveway. If you’re the consumer, as a marketer I know two things about you for sure: 1) you have a problem, and
creepy Guy With Shirt2) the biggest decision you will make is whether or not you are willing to open the door. If you’re a marketer in the home services category, everything involved with your marketing strategy and your advertising campaign has to deal with these two fundamental precepts.

The sheer amount of advertising weight aimed at this category would seem to indicate that a huge chunk of the 1.5 million adults living in 728,800 households across Hampton Roads must have a problem every day. The most popular broadcast-media dayparts in particular are chock full of HVAC, plumbing, pest control, kitchen remodeling, carpet cleaning (name your favorite problem) spots every day.

A man (OK, could well be a woman…I didn’t create the category name) at your door with a van in your driveway. Really, by the time the van is in your driveway, you’re most likely going to open the door. The decision was essentially made prior to or during the phone call you made to the company. According to Bill Day (@Bill_Day_) with consumer research company Frank N. Magid Associates, whether you will be comfortable opening the door and letting this company, or person, in your house is the first and most emotional decision you will make. The marketer and the business owner must project and establish a level of trust. When the consumer has a problem, he or she will make a decision to invite that company to his or her home based on an existing perception of trust for the company or brand.

That relationship, an urgent response based on brand perception, is at the core of why a company like Michael and Son, one of our market’s most persistent promoters, spends so heavily and so consistently. I talked with Eiman Bassam, founder of ESB Advertising based in Northern Virginia, and agency of record for Michael and Son. “We don’t know when someone will need us, so we have to stay top of mind,” Bassam said. For that reason, it doesn’t do any good for the company to focus on specials or sales.

“Price,” Day said, “is one of the least effective tactics for convincing consumers.” Magid’s Advertising Performance Research — a series of dozens of local studies done on markets from coast to coast with local consumers — bears out the most important attributes of advertising for this category:

What you say.

How you say it.

Where you say it.

“And production quality counts,” Day added. “Being your company’s own TV spokesperson is not for everyone.” Without naming names, I believe we have some in our market that could be putting themselves at a disadvantage on this point. It’s not hard to test commercials in a focus-group setting.

What you say, and how you say it.

Make no mistake, this is a business category driven by marketing. Think of 728,800 households with potential problems; the best marketer is going to win here. For a company that’s not based here and has only been operating here for about three years, I believe Bassam and Michael and Son have a winning formula. Maybe you didn’t know that Michael and Son isn’t locally owned. That “and Son” in the name makes it sound small-biz and local-yocal. The brand imagery and truck design is not over the top, and the advertising is well produced for the category but not expensive in look or feel. And even a highly recognizable voice talent, unique in sound, conjures an image of a helpful office person as opposed to a professional announcer. “Absolutely that’s on purpose,” Bassam said when I asked. “We have to look local from afar. When 70% of the decision-makers are women, we know we have to be trustworthy.” And consider the jingle/slogan, “If you can’t, we can.” Well at least they give me credit for trying.

Where you say it.

The most recognizable and the largest service-industry companies are fairly visible in traditional channels: @123bugfree, @MichaelandSon, @OneHourVirginia, @RSAndrewsinc, @VB_Plumbing (Atomic), and others. And most in the category spend a considerable amount on search marketing, which is necessary. But 2015 marks the point when advertisers will be spending more in online video and display marketing than search due to the advanced-targeting capabilities that behavioral data-tracking, ad exchanges and real-time bidding bring.

If you own or operate a business in this category, you should be considering what a more profound digital strategy could do. TV works well aDigital Advertisingnd will continue to work well in driving brand awareness. Not all players in this category can afford TV, but those who do should be looking to align their messages across all screens — TV, PC, tablet, and mobile. New data and technology advancements make that very possible and effective. If your budget doesn’t place you on TV, it’s even more important that you learn about new online-targeting tactics that can raise visibility of your brand. These advancements make it more efficient than ever to be top of mind for the right target.

So will the consumer unlock the door? It’s a matter of trust. Trust in you, and in what, how, and when you say it. And it all makes the assumption that the man (or the woman) at the door doesn’t look like Freddy Krueger.

If you have questions about anything in this article, feel free to post or contact me at

Let’s Make Good Things Happen

Helping United Way connect with young, impassioned and socially savvy citizens.

United Way South Hampton Roads

I’m beginning to despise the term “Millennial.” Members of this generation have been cast as spoiled and self-centered.

In truth, the Millennial generation is a hardworking and passionate group, very committed to their personal causes and more than willing to participate and belong, if you communicate and engage in ways that are relevant to them. At the same time, this group is living with high student debt in a world of salary caps and escalating costs of things like health insurance. They want and need control over their time and treasure when it comes to charitable giving.

With roots dating back to 1923, the United Way of South Hampton Roads (UWSHR) has staying power. Its army of staff members, donors, and volunteers works with companies and agencies to “help solve problems too big for any of us to solve alone.” But, as with most non-profits, connecting with and engaging the younger (call it the future) generation of donors is a challenge.

For the past four months, my colleagues and I have been working with UWSHR to tackle the challenge of building a communication strategy that reaches this group and tells the United Way story through channels and in ways that connect.

A study conducted by Achieve and the Case Foundation and published by Stanford found four key insights about how this generation of Americans connects, gets involved, and gives.

  1. Millennial preferences are becoming more than just preferences; they’re becoming the norm for all donors. The Millennial style of communication involves authentic stories and visual presentations that are concise, mobile-friendly, and delivered online via social media and video platforms.
  2. Organizations must invest time and resources into helping Millennials feel and experience the cause. Millennials are consistent in their desire to see exactly how time, talent, and dollars translate into people helped. They want their contributions—no matter what type or amount—to achieve actual results for a cause.
  3. Organizations must inspire Millennials to work through and with their cause, rather than for their organization. Ultimately, they want to lend their knowledge, expertise, and time to help the people or issues the organization touches—not necessarily the organization itself.
  4. Millennials can be an organization’s secret weapon when it comes to spreading the word about a cause or issue. Tools such as social media and peer fundraising put cause-marketing departments in the hands of this group. Because they’re aggressively taking on this unofficial marketing role, they are contributing to grassroots-oriented movements.

Working through this initiative meant taking stock of current usage of social platforms. Three critical planning elements emerged here:

1) Be sure to utilize the platform or outlet to deliver the type of content (visual, connective, responsive) that is most relevant to that audience.

2) Deliberately plan outbound messaging to communicate events and successes, stay engaged, and encourage volunteers to engage during live events.

3) Monitor messaging to engage and reward those who spread the word of the organization’s initiatives.

To help all of this happen, UWSHR now has a social media strategy map and plan, an event plan to give its annual Day of Caring (#dayofcaring)

United Way Viral Video

Take look at the humorous side of giving.

a large social footprint, and, from the fun side, a series of tongue-in-check online-only (read “viral” here) videos that take its “Good Things Happen When You Give” campaign way over the top. All of this content gets shared and circulated via social channels to help connect and inform younger, more digitally savvy donors and volunteers, and you can find some of it on the UWSHR Facebook page, their YouTube Channel, or on their website at

The role of UWSHR is to “bring people and organizations together to solve problems too big for us to solve as individuals.” The challenge of connecting Hampton Roads’ passionate Millennial givers and volunteers with a mission as critical and impactful as that of United Way is a cause we can all engage in. Forward this note and like United Way wherever you are!

Read more about the United Way/Seventh Point partnership here.


TV Advertsing Postage Stamp

Hampton Roads–Is your TV advertising losing its edge(s)?

Make sure your spots are running as you expect.

Quick disclaimer: This is one of those posts with the true intention of helping all parties. High definition TVs have become mainstream, but merging all of the technologies involved means that sometimes commercials aren’t running as designed. Everyone involved wants the best result every time. More eyes, and more awareness will help.

Read on.

Here’s the quick math from Nielsen: 718,930 TV Households in Hampton Roads. Around 75% of those households have at least one TV that’s high-definition enabled (widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio), and 77% subscribe to some type of HD subscription service (cable, satellite, Netflix, Chromecast, etc.). So if you’re a TV advertiser, the vast majority of households are watching your commercials in HD on a widescreen format.

TV Advertising Full Screen

Here’s the view when your image fills the HD screen.

But are your spots always filling the screen? Are you using the full real estate your spot was produced to fill?

According to some of the market’s most prolific videographers and producers, nearly ALL the video produced for commercial TV for the past several years has been shot in HD and produced in widescreen format for HDTV. Yet I find it amazing the number of spots that appear on HD channels that are either “clipped” on both sides, reducing the image to the smaller, standard definition (SD, 4:3 aspect ratio) image, or reduced in all directions, creating a “postage stamp” impact with a black frame all the way around.

Why does it happen? How do you avoid it? How can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you? Well, the bottom line is the only practical way to really know it’s NOT happening is to keep a human eye on your spot schedule as it runs.

Because cable and satellite providers still carry some channels in SD at the old 4:3 aspect ratio, advertisers either need to provide a version of their commercials that have been edited down to the SD width, or allow the broadcaster/cable

TV Advertising Center Cut

Image “Center Cut” to fit the 4:3, standard definition screen.

system to shrink the entire image to fit, which results in the “letterbox” black bars at the top and bottom of the image. Since some programs, and even some ads, run intentionally this way, you may well be conditioned to not even notice.

According to Mark Johnson, Chief Engineer at WAVY-TV, the problem can happen a couple of different ways. 1) Since all

commercials are digital files, they must be uploaded, labeled and encoded properly by the advertiser, production house, or agency. Then the directions or “tags” need to be accurate as to which version of which spot runs where. 2) The proper spots must be loaded into the commercial insertion systems with the proper directions. When a system finds a mis-match it defaults to “fill” the screen, top or bottom, with those black bars that, to me, symbolize wasted screen space and wasted ad dollars. The other factor that can affect how spots (and programs) look on air is actually how the viewer has his/her own screen formatted, which none of us can really control.

“All of the spots are looked at before they go on air” said Johnson, “but we can’t always tell how the advertiser intended the spot to look.” Cutch Armstrong, Director of Marketing and Client Solutions at Cox Media Virginia, says that each spot is uploaded to the Cox system in Atlanta and viewed by technicians before airing. With both Cox and WAVY, as well as most video providers, the file upload process goes through servers located centrally (national or regional locations) and are added to the schedule through an automated process.

TV Advertsing Postage Stamp

“Postage Stamped.” Full 16:9 frame, but reduced to fit the 4:3 width.

The bottom line is, if a spot is running counter to how the advertiser expects, the first time anyone notices may be when the spot runs live.

Armstrong says it best, “Everyone wants the best possible result. They want their stuff to run perfectly every time.” But the systems can create difficulties. “Cable systems and broadcast networks require certain ‘codecs’ [file types] in order to be compliant with the diverse format standards set by the networks.” Most stations or outlets post the requirements and codecs on their websites and can tell when a file is uploaded improperly (Armstrong sent me an 11-page document, as well as a one-sheeter that Cox Media uses.)

So preventing it comes down, quite simply, to attention to detail. The computer systems do not malfunction; they respond to incorrect inputs and the result is painful. Spots have to be produced, labeled, trafficked, scheduled and inserted properly. I’ve resisted the temptation to add actual examples to this post, because this is not intended to be a finger-pointing exercise. It does happen often, and if you want examples email me at

The only way you know it happens is if you see the spot run. I guarantee, if it happens the broadcaster or operator wants to know. Cox (who also handles commercial insertion for Verizon in Hampton Roads) has set up a specific inbox,, for customers to notify the operator of any problems. We’ve actually created systems to monitor and spot check schedules for clients. It is possible to receive actual air-checks of every spot that runs from third-party services such as Kantar Media or Media Monitors, but the cost could obliterate the ROI of your campaign. Instead, have someone set up spot checks of your schedule on various channels using a DVR, then scan the spot breaks and verify that the spots are running correctly.

Of course human error happens, and a spot that runs in the wrong aspect ratio is not a wasted spot. But until HD formats completely replace SD and until one universal codec becomes standard, the potential problem will exist, and as an advertiser you want to maximize every inch of the screen.

How Are Your Customers Shopping For You?

I touched on something recently during a Hampton Roads AMA panel that really bears repeating, clarifying and driving home for anyone responsible for running a business.

The concept of a purchase funnel is obsolete. Consumers search for information and make decisions based on what they find. Managing what they find, how they perceive your product and how they engage with you is what content marketing is all about.

The goal of content marketing is to facilitate the purchase decision. Over and over again. Your content must be aligned and keep your customer constantly  engaged or your customer will disconnect.

Search for “Purchase Funnel” and you’ll find millions of images and explanations dating back to the dawn of time showing how people move from awareness of a product to purchase. Almost all of them bear a strong resembMarketing Funnellance to the one at right. The consumer or target enters at the top and moves vertically–and in one direction—through the funnel to purchase. Greatly oversimplified of course, but still representative of how marketers viewed the marketing and sales process. In a world where a brand has strong control over the words and the impressions delivered to an audience, the funnel is fairly accurate. Keep delivering messages that build on each other and move the consumer through the funnel. But technology, the availability of big, real-time data and the consumer’s ever-increasing thirst for on-demand product information has made this thinking completely obsolete.

The Audience Has Shifted

No longer can we consider an audience to be a static force that we can “impress.” Even though we still count exposures to a brand or message in terms of “impressions,” the content of that message, the perspective from which it is delivered and the consumer’s ever-increasing lack of desire to “be sold to” have greatly shifted where and how we reach the audience.

Technology is the great enabler here, providing on-demand access through hand-held devices faster and more powerful than the computer systems in spaceships that went to the moon. Social media platforms, blogs, and comparative shopping platforms bombard the consumer with information and opinion (valid or not), that consumers find ten times more believable than “advertising.” The structure and strategy of how well a site is optimized to be found by search engines, or links to the information sources mentioned earlier, now are important to a marketing strategy as the overall brand position. All of these areas of influence affect the consumer in various ways, at various times. None of it happens in a single direction, and none of it happens vertically.

What once was a funnel is now a convoluted path through an almost endless list of information sources.

Information about…

  • You
  • Your product
  • Your competition
  • What your customers think about your product
  • Even what people who’ve never TRIED your product think about it

I describe this experience, rather than a funnel, as a sphere. Consumers enter the sphere through any kind of external influence, advertising exposure, need, life event; anything that could first cause interest in a product or service. But here’s where the behavior shifts. Once inside the sphere, the consumer embarks on a totally unpredictable path of information absorption. Consumers continue to experience the brand, gather information and form opinions based on information they either seek or are exposed to.

Once inside the sphere, the job of content marketing is to keep them inside the sphere and facilitate purchase. The content marketing platforms you manage to keep them inside your sphere, before during and after the purchase, include:

  • BlogsMarketing Sphere
  • Social Media Posts
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Product Ratings
  • White Papers
  • Infographics
  • SEO
  • Paid Advertising
  • Website Engagement
  • SMS Texting
  • Word of Mouth
  • Earned Media
  • Customer Experience

All of these are touch points, and the consumer can experience any of them at any time within the sphere. It’s a three-dimensional journey that requires a consistent, rewarding and aligned experience in order to stay engaged.

If you don’t already do it, you should audit the content you manage as well as the content your current and prospective customers are exposed to. Do you provide information about your product and your product experience? Is the information comparative? Fresh? Relevant? Do you engage your customers, provide insight and seek feedback? Most importantly, do you have multiple paths to capture contact information, and even more paths to use that information to keep them moving within your sphere? Look for all of these principle action points and you will be well on your way to a sound content marketing strategy.

Hampton Roads: Lean on your agency to bring your vision to life.

I’m not an ad guy.  Pretty risky statement for an agency VP who’s supposed to be a strategy guru.

I’m not an ad guy.  I’m a marketing guy.  Marketing@HamptonRoads

A marketing guy raised on the client side of the business.  And after many years on board with the agency that was my primary resource as marketing director for some pretty big communications companies, I have to share my biggest learning.

Clients simply do not lean on their ad agencies enough.  At least not for the right things.  See, I’m not talking about overnight turn-around on email blasts or video spots.  I’m not even talking about “will you guys explain that SEO SEM PPC SMO BFF LMAO WTF thing to me.” I’m talking about marketing.  Ideas.  Innovative media strategies.  Competitive set analysis.  Brand differentiation.  As a corporate marketer, it’s the stuff that I figured could only be really well thought out inside the walls of my own department, by my own staff.  That’s the stuff that I was accountable for; how could I push it out to others?  But I was selling myself short, and putting way too much pressure on my staff. A CEO or business owner that is really willing to engage its agency SHOULD find a valuable experience base to leverage

Agencies are full of energy, fresh learning, initiative and yes, creativity.  Lean on them for new media strategies, completely zero-based thinking and budgeting.  Challenge them to develop your marketing plan.

You’ll be amazed at the depth of thinking, assuming of course that you’re talking to the right agencies.   Start your work with an agency by providing just one piece of information; your BUSINESS objectives.  Find out if your agency is built on marketing muscle or not.  Make the agency accountable for the marketing strategies and ideas that will achieve those objectives.  At least lean on them for fuel and energy to ignite marketing ideas within your company.

If your agency is not willing to play at that level, to start from that position, then you have the wrong partner.  I’m so much smarter now than I was on the client side.  If ever I find myself back there again, I know exactly where my marketing muscle will come from.