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The Two Dirtiest Words in TV Advertising

Josh Brentan
Josh Brentan
Published: Sep. 15, 2017

Sex sells, the saying goes. And for years, marketers have pushed the boundaries in pursuit of increased sales—in some cases, the more salacious the better.

But there are two words that many marketers won’t utter. The very idea of them leads to feelings of repulsion. And if you dare to say one of these two words in a marketer’s presence, you might as well have a censor standing at the ready with a “bleep” machine. Nobody wants to hear them.

Those two words? Longtail. Overnight.

For this post, we’ve defined longtail networks as the bottom 25% of all rated networks, while the overnight daypart is defined as the hours between 12:00am and 6:00am. The arguments for why these words are frowned upon are decades-old: nobody watches TV in the middle of the night, longtail networks don’t have enough viewership to make advertising worthwhile, and collectively, the quality of programming is so low that brands don’t want to be perceived as low-quality by association.

But like many other things we once believed to be true, these assumptions no longer apply. Consider these statistics:

  • From 2011 to 2016, the average rating on broadcast networks and top cable nets was down 23%.
  • During the same time period, the average rating on longtail networks was up by 21%.
  • In the 2nd quarter of 2017, the overnight daypart attracted over 163 million people¹, which is over half of all US TV viewers.

What do these stats tell us? First of all, people are watching TV overnight. Some people work nights, some can’t sleep, and others just like to stay up late. As for the longtail, viewership is rising because people can find quality niche programming they enjoy at all hours of the day. This means that in both segments, marketers can reach a valuable audience.

So if you’re on a tight budget or looking for a way to do more with less, you shouldn’t consider these two words to be dirty at all. In fact, longtail and overnight advertising can actually provide an enormous amount of value, bringing down the overall cost of your media plan without sacrificing effectiveness.

The Proof Is In The Data

Simulmedia’s Performance Analytics team reviewed nine recent campaigns across hospitality, gaming, big box retail, and quick-service restaurants.

The average conversion rate for the longtail networks in those campaigns was 1.48%. On the top cable nets it was 1.54%.² Pretty close. But in terms of cost per converted viewer, it was just $3.73 for the longtail versus $5.20 on the top cable nets. That’s almost 40% cheaper.

Table showing average conversion rate comparison between longtail and top cable TV advertising.

Now take the dayparts. For this set of campaigns, the average conversion rate for overnight spots was 1.18%, which was the lowest of any daypart. Primetime had the highest conversion rate at 1.44%, or 22% better than overnight. However, the cost per converted viewer in overnight was just $3.81, whereas in primetime it totaled $12.58—a whopping 230% more expensive.

Conversion rate and cost per converted viewer analysis broken down by dayparts for TV advertising.

What can we learn from this? Buying ad space on highly rated networks during premium time slots is expensive. It sounds obvious, but it may not occur to many marketers who buy based on a contextual strategy. To make their ad budgets go further, brands need to create efficiencies by reaching their audience on all networks and during all dayparts.

Imagine a Millennial PR exec who likes yogurt. Maybe she is watching a re-run of What Not To Wear on TLC during her 5am workout. Or think about a retired Baby Boomer looking for new investment options—could he be watching Golf Channel to pick up some tips at three in the afternoon? The average person watches over four hours of TV per day and has access to over 200 channels. With your audience more fragmented than ever before, the key lies in knowing who you’re trying to reach, and where to find them.

This is where data becomes essential. If you were able to use machine-learning to predict what your target audience will be watching during the flight of your campaign, and when they’ll be watching, wouldn’t you put more of your ad dollars in those places? Of course you would, and it wouldn’t matter if they were watching longtail or broadcast networks, or whether they were tuning in during primetime or overnight.

If you were able to use machine-learning to predict what your target audience will be watching during the flight of your campaign, and when they’ll be watching, wouldn’t you put more of your ad dollars in those places?

At Simulmedia, the average media plan includes thousands of spots across upwards of 40 networks, and our plans include all dayparts, because we believe better performance doesn’t come from buying a few spots on highly rated networks. That strategy is fine for delivering GRPs, but it’s lousy at maximizing reach.

When it comes to improving business outcomes and getting the results you want, you need turn audience fragmentation into your friend, not your foe—and you need to follow the data, not your gut.. By targeting a specific audience of people interested in your product or service, no matter what they’re watching, you’ll be able to increase your unique reach and reduce your cost per converted viewer.

Pivoting to this strategy requires that marketers be willing to open their minds to ideas that even a few years ago would have been deemed taboo to consider. So with that in mind, let’s try this again. Longtail. Overnight. See? That wasn’t so bad.

¹ Nielsen Audience Watch, Q2 2017 ² The top cable nets according to P2+ ratings during May 2017.