Roadblocking in the 21st Century When You Need the World to Hear Your Message

Advertisers have to find new ways to get in front of their audience
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"Recreating the efficiency of roadblocking in the 21st century is much harder. The obvious challenge is that highly fragmented media platforms across many new screens make it incredibly difficult for marketers to establish a prominent brand presence and share of voice."-Ashwin Navin, co-founder and CEO, Samba TV

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Want the whole country to see your ad? From television’s earliest days until a few decades ago, advertisers could easily accomplish this through roadblocking, a strategy that involved buying a concentrated amount of TV ads during primetime across ABC, CBS and NBC. By using the three major broadcast networks to deliver the same ad campaign in the same timeslot, anyone watching primetime TV, which during the 20th century was just about everyone, would be exposed to that campaign. Some of the largest brands in the world used the practice for ambitious campaigns, including Ford, McDonalds, and Coca Cola.

Recreating the efficiency of roadblocking in the 21st century is much harder. The obvious challenge is that highly fragmented media platforms across many new screens make it incredibly difficult for marketers to establish a prominent brand presence and share of voice. Furthermore, advertisers have to ask themselves if 100% reach into all homes is not a wasteful endeavor, considering the number of people exposed to paid media who are outside of the brand’s target audience. New challenger brands, like Casper, Dollar Shave Club, and Away luggage, are launching every day in highly targeted social campaigns with direct-to-consumer fulfillment models.

Advertisers today want what they’ve always wanted: to get in front of as many of their target consumers as possible with a frequency that makes the best possible impact. But here’s the thing: advertisers who want 100% of the audience at the right frequency today aren’t going to get it -- at least not with today’s TV currency. Buying GRPs amid a period of cord cutting and cord shaving is creating huge gaps in the media plan, overexposing some segments while completely missing others. Our industry is still using 20th century models to address an audience that’s spreading its attention across linear, on demand, over-the-top (OTT), digital and social — sometimes at the same time.

The bad news is that traditional roadblocking is no longer realistically achievable. The good news, however, is that, the opportunity to run even more efficient cross-platform campaigns is. The rise of the connected living room and OTT content finally gives advertisers the opportunity to transform the business model and get more ROI from their paid media. Cross-platform measurement and audience targeting for TV can raise brand awareness and drive new business with greater efficiency than the traditional TV roadblock ever could.

Why Roadblocking Worked

Roadblocking was simple: all networks aired the same ad at the same time. Everyone who was watching television at the time of the roadblock was exposed to the ad. There were no DVRs to skip the ad, and everyone was exposed the right number of times, because no one could watch two programs at the same time. There was only one screen: the TV.

Of course, the majority of those viewers might not have any interest in the product being promoted. Given that granularity was impossible to achieve in TV advertising at the time, advertisers accepted (and still do) that many of the viewers they reached were outside of their target audiences.

Cable TV fragmented audiences across more networks, and the ability to put up an effective roadblock in TV advertising fell apart., The concept resurfaced online in the early 2000s, when purchasing ads simultaneously across Yahoo, AOL and MSN could reasonably secure a brand about 90% reach on the online audience. The dominance of these three players, however, did not last long. With the decline of centralized focal points of digital attention, advertisers again lost the ability to one-stop-shop for a large share of voice at a given moment.

For the past decade, there’s simply been no reasonable opportunity within the media landscape, whether in TV or online, to capture 100% of an audience, which is a huge problem for the world’s biggest brands. However, with the advent of hyper-targeted platforms like search and social, the carpet bombing that came with roadblocking has been replaced with the performance and precision of audience segmentation. It’s no longer about capturing 100% of the entire audience, but capturing the highest possible percentage of the target audience.

How OTT Paves The Way To A New, Better Kind of Roadblocking

Ad-supported OTT and connected TV platforms provide marketers a way to home in on the specific living rooms of their actual target customers, reducing the massive waste that came with roadblocking. The problem is that, to date, cross-platform OTT targeting and measurement have lagged behind where they need to be for advertisers to jump in with both feet.

One of the biggest issues is the inability to enforce desired frequency caps. This is one of the most infamous annoyances in OTT advertising to date, with consumers frequently exposed to the same ad over and over again, often in the same sitting. From the consumer point of view, repeatedly seeing the same ad is worse than finding the ad on every channel. From the advertiser’s point of view, it destroys brand equity.

To bring effective roadblocking into the 21st century, advertisers need access to more and better data sources, in order to identify consumers across screens and ensure that they are reaching their target customers at an appropriate frequency.This results in fewer frustrated customers, while also enabling advertisers to identify the people in their target audiences who are currently missing from media buys, and fill in those unexposed segments accordingly.

As OTT measurement and targeting improve, brands are going to reclaim their ability to execute effective advertising roadblocks in the most elegant manner we have ever seen in the history of brand advertising. Marketers won’t be reaching all available viewers at a given time. They’ll be reaching all the right viewers at the right time. At last, the precision and performance of digital will apply to TV in the ways marketers have always dreamed.

Samba TV is a leader in global TV data and analytics.

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