Advertisers know more about the effectiveness of their messages than ever. Metrics rule: How many people saw that website ad? How many clicked on it? How many clicked on it and then made a purchase? How did the response to that online ad compare with the response to a similar TV ad?
Now, factoring in the cost of the ads, which produced the highest amount of sales for the smallest price? What’s the return on my advertising investment?
Despite these strides, a large chunk of big-brand advertising budgets still goes to forms of media — like traditional television, radio and newspapers — that don’t lend themselves to high-quality data collection. How many sales resulted from that $1 million Super Bowl ad? How does brand awareness from such an ad contribute to sales over time? Nobody really knows. A lot of advertising is still guesswork. My expectation would be that over the next 5 to 10 years, advertisers will gravitate even more to modes of media that produce quantifiable results.
A direct reflection of the fragmentation of media, this vision of the near future means that consumers will increasingly see messages reinforcing their brand choices in subtle ways: A brand like Nike, instead of spending $100 million on TV ads to reach a cable audience of, say, 5 million — many of whom might not be potential customers and many of whom might fast-forward through the commercial — might want to spend an increasing share of that budget on highly targeted ads that show up in the Facebook and Snapchat feeds of only the most probable and profitable customers.
In war-making terms, you might say that advertisers are likely to move toward more precision-guided missiles and fewer carpet bombs. The same might be said of public relations campaigns. Increasingly it’s more important to reach the right people than to reach the highest number of people.