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Confessions of a Digital Ad Tech Executive: 3 Valuable Lessons Learned From Linear TV Buyers

by James Malins, December 03, 2020

Key Takeaways:

  • Understand the basics of a traditional media plan.
  • Return to panel-based measurement for a true 1:1 consumer connection.
  • Learn to plan and allocate across diverse upfront inventory to get the most from premium media.

“Parents just don’t understand”- DJ Jazzy Jeff, Will Smith

Growing up in the digital advertising world can give you the feeling that you’re the next best thing to sliced bread. There’s no better example of that than the prevailing industry narrative that “linear and digital coming together” means linear needs to “act more like digital.”

With that digital egocentric mentality, when I engage with broadcasters and traditional media buyers as the GM of Amobee ACCSS, it’s a humbling and educational experience to realize there’s a different—and dare I say better—way of buying media. In short, there are many lessons linear TV can teach us. 

“Walk a mile in my shoes” – Elvis Presley 

The value and practicality of having a real media plan

Ask a digital native for a media plan and they’ll rattle off a list of audience segments, targeting tactics, maybe give you a site list and a ballpark CPM. Look at a linear TV plan, and you’ll see a budget allocated to broadcasters and networks, dayparts and DMAs down to the penny or GRP. That linear TV plan serves as a detailed roadmap, a recipe of the exact ingredients that go into the TV cake. Ask any programmatic media buyer before they launch a campaign how much they’re going to spend on Yahoo or Pluto TV, and the best they can guess is “a lot.”

Digital advertisers and DSPs are really good at spending all your budget, and they’re also really good at hitting KPIs. But at no point is there an evaluation of “was that the best way to spend the money?” or “was that the absolute best result I could have gotten?” A TV media plan that looks at the exact budget allocated to networks and dayparts that will deliver the best results is done upfront and it requires true planning.

Linear TV lesson learned: Upfront allocation is something digital needs to adopt from linear immediately. It will lead to better campaign performance and more efficiencies for advertisers. 

The importance of panel-based measurement for a 1:1 connection

John Wanamaker has become the unwitting poster child of the superiority of digital measurement. “Here you go, John. Here’s the advertising that was a half wasted. You’re welcome.” 

For the past decade, 1:1 targeting and measurement has been digital’s ideal model, compared to the panel-based measurement world of linear TV. I remember being scoffed at in a meeting once as I was going through brand lift studies. “A brand study? With a panel? I’m not sure I can trust that,” someone said.

But the imminent cookie apocalypse will have a huge impact on the advertising industry. We need solutions that are purpose-built for advertising’s future and that protect consumer privacy. Panels of consumers have always been the primary means of measurement for linear TV and the basis of billions of dollars of media decisions. Today, panel-based measurement gives us real insight into the way linear and digital channels work together and provides us with measurement capabilities in places we could never—and still can’t—track 1:1. 

Linear TV lesson learned: With the pending demise of the cookie, the digital industry will need to accept and embrace panel-based measurement as the means for valuing media performance.

The advantage of planning and allocation against limited inventory

No kid likes to be told what they can’t do. Tell any trader that a DSP client wants a site list and an audible groan can be heard. In digital, we’ve grown up with abundance. Digital is focused on solving excess not scarcity problems. But with the ongoing threat of fraud and the growth of connected TV, the digital world is starting to look at premium inventory as “a thing” again. 

But linear TV inventory has always been a constrained environment (there are only so many commercial breaks available). With limited supply, in bidded environments, prices tend to soar. As a result, advertisers need to commit to more upfront inventory and execute via direct buys or programmatic guarantees. Knowing how to navigate that goes back to having a plan and taking a minute to look at the forest, not the trees. It’s not about entering into a bidding war to win every impression. Given any constraint, there is still an optimal allocation of budget that needs to be planned and executed upfront. 

Linear TV lesson learned: By understanding how linear TV buyers navigate constrained inventory sources, digital advertisers can apply those lessons to how they plan programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals for more holistic media buys and activations.

Shared learnings and skill sets are key to TV-digital convergence 

Convergence and the coming together of linear and digital needs to borrow the best from both worlds. Taking the air of superiority and assuming the world is going to operate like digital does is alienating, naive, and runs the risk of not taking advantage of a lot of meaningful and historical knowledge that will make us all better at our jobs. The start of this journey is to understand both sides.

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