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Don’t Break with Tradition: Traditional Media Still Plays a Key Role in the Media Mix

Gabriella Servello, Director of Media & Agency Advancement

It is well documented that digital advertising budgets are rising and traditional media spending is declining. What is less clear is where this mix will level off. What role will traditional have in the long term?

Let’s start with a couple of observations to set the stage:

  1. The euphoria surrounding digital marketing is justified. Over four billion people are online as of 2021—over 300 million more users than five years ago.
  2. Viewing habits have dramatically shifted toward streaming digital video and audio channels.
  3. The lines defining traditional and digital are getting blurred. For example, is it traditional or digital when we watch TV on Hulu, read newspapers on an iPad or listen to the radio on a phone?
  4. As media planners, we still use the “traditional” and “digital” terminology in large part because the market still talks in this lexicon. But the reality is that we have moved on to thinking about channels in terms of the strategies and messaging we are planning. What we typically refer to as “traditional” might be better defined as those channels that deliver one-way communication, e.g., radio, billboard, TV and print. And what we typically refer to as “digital” might be channels that encourage two-way conversations and invite engagement.
  5. We have also begun using the term “tradigital” when referring to traditional media that now offers digital components—for example, print publications offering digital editions and web banners. Digital audio, OTT or the mobile app affiliated with a local TV station would also be considered “tradigital.”

The Best Partnerships Yield the Best Results

If you fail to think about media in a new way and not understand how the various media in this new mix work together, you risk not achieving the full potential of your audience reach. Careful consideration and successful mixing of campaign channels is essential. Each channel offers its own unique benefit to achieve the type of engagement you are seeking.

The effectiveness of the media mix—the partnership of traditional with digital—depends on multiple factors. Each campaign should be treated differently, but the factors below should always play an important role in determining the channels deployed:

  • Audience demographic
  • Product or service
  • Geographic location of your target
  • Niche markets
  • Campaign budget
  • Campaign type (brand awareness or call to action)
  • Campaign goals
  • Desired conversion type

The Important Role of Traditional Media

Brands and consumer perceptions are established over time, so the purchase decision requires focused messages for all levels of the buying process. When entering the sales funnel, many customers may not be in a position to make a decision or even be ready for a two-way conversation.

With their widespread distribution and extensive impressions, traditional channels are well served to deliver these invitations to first meet the brand. Only after this awareness has been established comes the time to pair traditional marketing efforts with a more two-way-conversation approach to help guide the customer to a decision and, ultimately, an action.

According to a January 2021 survey by YouGov, traditional media channels remain the most trusted places to advertise, with TV and print in the top slots (46%) and radio coming in a close second at 45%. For the most part, traditional ads are purchased directly from the media outlet, making them more trustworthy than digital or social ads, which tend to be purchased programmatically. And there is a much smaller chance of personal data being accessed from a traditional channel versus a digital channel.

The Proof Is in the Numbers

With a growing number of ways to consume “traditional” media, it is no wonder consumption times continue to rise. And with the vast quantity of traditional channels available, the sheer number of engagements per channel is hard to ignore. For example, there are over 300 million people who use OTT streaming video services.

A 2020 study found that Americans spent a daily average of 166 minutes watching television (largely driven by election and pandemic coverage). Meanwhile, OTT video service usage surged during the pandemic and will continue to increase in popularity as people substitute TV with digital video alternatives—most of which will continue to be viewed in the living room.

In 2020, average time spent with digital audio exceeded average time spent with radio for the first time, albeit narrowly. According to eMarketer, in 2021, digital audio will make up 52.6% of total time spent with audio, up from 50.5% last year. This includes services such as Pandora, Spotify and podcasts, but also accounts for listenership of terrestrial radio stations that are streamed on smart speakers, mobile phones, tablets, notebooks or desktops.

In terms of reach, radio leads all other platforms, with 92 percent of all adult consumers tuning in. US consumers still listen to 102 minutes of AM/FM per day.

  • Over 70% of adults listen to digital audio, which includes Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, Apple Music and podcasts. Approximately 25% of adults listen to Spotify alone.
  • The top radio formats are country, news/talk and adult contemporary.

While TV and radio remain effective media to reach all age groups, print has evolved into a medium more applicable to niche markets. Keep in mind that people still engage with print because it gives them a tangible break from their online activity. In fact, according to Nielsen Scarborough research, 48% of adults still prefer reading traditional newspapers. However, with the remaining 52% preferring either digital or a combination of print and digital, it’s important to factor these considerations into your media mix. And if you do decide to advertise in a print-digital hybrid, it’s important to include a URL or QR code, since they are either clickable or scannable.

Working Out a Successful Media Mix

The bottom line is that campaigns need to be adaptable and strategically integrate both digital and traditional channels. Peloton, the boutique fitness company, has found their right mix of traditional and digital advertising in 2021. You may recognize their TV spots with the catchy song “Purple Hat” by indie duo Sofi Tukker. These spots, in conjunction with digital efforts, have helped increase their sales by 128%, as they successfully leveraged at-home workout trends to their benefit.

Bottom line: The right mix of digital and traditional advertising allows for exposure across various channels and the opportunity to reach your current and potential consumers, whatever their media consumption habits may be.

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