Many folks in the ad and financial industries are way too literal in how they apply Mary Meeker’s time spent analysis. It’s a useful tool to show the imbalance between time spent and ad spend between print media and online media, for example, but the blunt application of the model to claim that ad spend should mirror time spent – which is what it is used for thousands of times a day – is wrong, and misses the fact that different media and different devices can deliver quite different advertising experiences and impact.
In fact, if the power of an advertising media was only about time, then cups and cutlery would be the next big winners in the advertising game. Why not? According to the USDA, Americans spend two hours and 33 minutes on average each day eating and drinking (including multitasking time), which is only a little bit shy of average daily time spent on mobile devices, which eMarketer now puts at two hours and 51 minutes per American. According to time spent logic, dining utensils should be due something close to the $17 billion in spend that eMarketer estimates mobile ads will capture this year.
But, you argue, cups and cutlery are not currently carrying ads, nor are they smart and connected. Worry no more. Just a month ago we learned about Vessyl, a glass and polymer-coated cup that identifies and measures liquids poured into it and tracks what you’re drinking throughout the day. And at CES a year ago, many of us got to see the HapiFork, a smart fork that tracks eating habits, including duration of meals and the frequency of forkfuls. Can ads be far behind? I can already hear the venture pitches for ad-supported cups and cutlery, with Meeker’s slide in every one.
Are cups and forks ready to challenge for $17 billion of ad spend? Of course not. That’s not the point. The point is that time alone is a very blunt – and inaccurate – way to allocate money across media and devices. Here’s why:
Not all media activities are equal. Americans spend about 20% of their online time in search; yet search ads capture more than 40% of all digital ad spend (Nielsen, IAB).
Massive, efficient reach matters. As RBC Capitals David Bank pointed out in a recent report on the media industry, a single show on TV, Judge Judy, delivers twice the volume of U.S. audience ad minutes every month as all of YouTube, and ten times as much if you only consider ads on premium YouTube content. Massive efficient reach in a short period of time is still limited to a very small number of media properties, and overall time spent doesn’t take that into account.
Reach into local markets and niche audiences matters. For every local market, there are a limited number of media properties (newspapers, radio and TV) that can efficiently deliver ads to those markets, and not others. Scarcity means they get a lot of local buys and have some power in pricing.
Doesn’t address impact. Search captures an outsize amount of online ad spend because it drives measurable results predictably, on demand. The same for TV. No other media puts butts in seats or moves products off shelves at the scale and predictability of TV. Money follows sales. Time may have a factor in it, but it’s the business that drives it, not the time.
Time spent with something doesn’t make it ad media. Just because you spend time with it, holding it, looking at it, doesn’t make it advertising media. Cups and cutlery are not the next big thing in the media game. They are a great utility. The same goes for mobile devices: much of their usage is not appropriate for ad delivery.
The time-spent analysis was a great way, years ago, to demonstrate that online media wasn’t getting much of a fair share of ad spend, and that print was probably getting too much. However, many folks in our business have made it their bible, putting it at the center of the universe for how advertising dollars should be spent. Today, now that we have closed-loop data that can link most media to actual sales results, we can move past proxies like time spent and focus only on each medium’s actual ability to drive business objectives, chief among them sales. What do you think?
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