It's not only about TV

Kids marketing specialist Nick Cross says it's time to stop letting retailers dominate media planning by insisting on huge numbers of TVRs. Marketing support is a lot more complex than that, he argues...
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There is a continuing frustration associated with working on the advertising and marketing side of the toys and games sector, one that we put up with simply because it’s just the way things are. But I believe that we’re better than that, and I think we need a concerted effort to change the status quo. Someone may need to ruffle a few feathers to move things on, and I’m willing to have a go.

Over the last few years I have been required to produce many media plans that have been built - not on what the product might need to give it levels of exposure at which it should start to sell, but on what trading partners deem to be a satisfactory number of TVRs.

This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that it doesn’t make any sense; it’s a bit like briefing an estate agent to find you a house that costs £500,000 but providing no further criteria. You could end up with a one bedroom flat in Notting Hill or a six bedroom detached in Cumbria. The former would be a squeeze if you have three children, the latter would be a tricky commute if you work in Bristol. You get my point.

As £500,000 is just a pile of money until you actually start to qualify what you want to do with it, so 400 TVRs is just a number of units of viewers. To illustrate the point, there are many ways to deliver 400 TVRs – is it best to have 40 spots doing 10 TVRs each, 400 spots doing one TVR each or 4000 spots doing 0.1 TVRs each? All of them are doing 400 TVRs, but all of them would produce very different campaign results in terms of ad exposure and frequency and, quite probably, sales effect.

This is further exaggerated when you take audience profiles into account and start to look at who you’re actually targeting – a sort of “400 What?” test. Convention and standard TV contractor trading currencies will probably be talking about 400 kids TVRs; this means 400 Children aged 4-15 TVRs; this means boys and girls aged anywhere between four years old and 15 years old; this means decisions on your collectible Boys’ action figure range will be based upon levels of support guaranteed against an audience of which roughly a quarter are Girls aged 10-15. How can this be right?

Add to this the actual make-up of kids’ commercial TV viewing and you’ll note that 400 x kids TVRs can easily deliver over 800 x Boys 4-9 TVRs. So what’s the criterion, 400 TVRs or 800 TVRs? If it’s 400, your collectible boys’ action figure range can get to 400 x boys 4-9 TVRs from only about 200 x kids’ ratings (yes, that’s half the cost), while a 10-15s girls range will demand rather more than 400 x Kids. So why are they both treated the same?

What this highlights above all else is that the issue of media support is complex and fraught with potential pitfalls if you don’t actually know all that much about it.

When listing and stock level decisions are being based upon generalisation and supposition, this is perhaps not ideal, and this also extends to the issue of using other media.

In a former role I wrote on the importance of recognising that TV should be viewed as part of a mix of media opportunities that can provide impact and engagement. The use of TV on its own is something of an anachronism in an age when so much emphasis is being placed upon “new media” activities by all audience groups, not least our children.

Let’s not forget that today’s kids have grown up in an age where there has always been an internet, instant messaging is easily accessible while a Post Office is increasingly not, and texting is cool on mobile phones that are smaller than the house bricks that I remember. They aren’t fazed by any of it, so why are we?

Yet despite all this, the communication possibilities that are presented by these newer applications are still often not classed as “proper media” by commercial partners. This is despite the fact that they, ironically, are increasingly reliant upon these channels for their own communication, product sales and customer retention. Perhaps they are less well understood than traditional media, and the 400 TVRs example is something of a comfort blanket. Whatever the truth, it’s time that we started talking about campaigns in terms of overall audience GRPs and their effects on cover, reach and frequency performance, rather than just TVRs. In addition, we must weigh the value and merits of media engagement against the dry numbers that campaign delivery often represents.

I have often been told that much of the sector’s current reluctance to commit to more significant activity in the online arena is that any expenditure allocated to it is largely invisible in trade buying decisions – money diverted from TV doesn’t count, as it’s not “proper media”. This is at a time when the only significant growth outside the kids’ market is in online advertising. Other advertisers are attracted to the flexibility of ad formats, high levels of interactivity, enriched media experiences and absolute accountability of what online activity delivers. Whilst TV performance data is modelled on overall viewing by a sample of just over 5,000 individuals on the BARB panel, of which only a tiny fraction are Children aged 4-15, online activity can track individual users’ behaviour and how they respond to commercial messages delivered to them. Does this not count for something?

Traditional media owners have recognised both the opportunities that web-based activities create, and the absolute requirement to provide an outlet for their own viewers online. They are trying to steer media strategies that develop a greater understanding of online activity amongst advertisers, whilst developing bespoke media properties through which kids can actively connect with their advertisers’ brands. The ability to drive brand contact through online game play offers huge audience engagement for advertisers, as personal levels of involvement with the game are far deeper than traditional TV spots, and kids’ appetite for online games is voracious. Some sort of game mechanic is often integral to the advertiser offerings devised by the TV contractors, but it’s not just existing contractors that can do this.

During my time at Media Vest, I invested much of my time is finding alternative, accountable methods for generating product and brand awareness for my clients outside TV. Recently an ex-Toy Marketing Director and now MD at GameJacket presented his ideas for a real-alternative to TV for the toy market and I thought it worth sharing.

Simon Jones (ex-marketing director at JAKKS Pacific and Toy:Lobster) showed me the concept. I was startled to learn that 47 per cent of the world online audience passes through an online games site every month, that’s over 400 Million people and an overwhelming chunk of that audience are our holy grail – kids.

Finding media that kids consume isn’t that hard, there are many TV channels, magazines and websites but just how do you engage them in such a noise of conflicting brand messages?

It occurred to me that this evil enemy of the toy industry, the video game might just be our knight in white armour.

You see, playing a game just can’t be done half-baked. You can talk or play whilst watching TV, listen to music whilst reading and bash your brother over the head whilst listening to the radio – you can’t do any of that whilst playing a game – it requires your total undivided attention.

GameJacket, Jones tells me, delivers ads of any length (30-second TV spots anyone?) as a pre-roll to a free-to-play online game while it loads, so the user (kid) simply can’t miss it and they provide the most-impressive accountability that I’ve seen even in a web environment, ensuring that you only pay for the ads that you deliver.

This is in stark contrast to broadcast methods that are based on historical extrapolated data.

Sure, it isn’t just GameJacket that is out there, and perhaps my attention was gained because it was an Ex-Toy marketer presenting a compelling alternative but we must get the message out there to the toy industry, marketing doesn’t just equal TV and web marketing doesn’t comprise a few pages on your website.

It’s time that ad agencies properly educated the industry manufacturers should stand up to retail. It isn’t just about TV. Nuggets like GameJacket and the splendid properties that TV contractors’ are developing themselves point to significant audience volumes and experiences away from the TV spot.

If the toys and games industry is to be able to exploit and develop these possibilities, retail partners need to learn how to evaluate media campaigns properly and attach realistic values to each component, not just a one-size-fits-all number of TVRs.

A good media specialist will be willing and able to help – you just have to ask!


What’s this GameJacket all about?

It provides games to 4500 (and counting) free game portals around the world and serves an advert directly to a target consumer while the game is loading.

Who plays these games?

A broad audience which is dominated by under 18’s. Flash games are seen as safe by parents (because they usually are) and they can be played in a web browser, while pretending to do Biology homework.

Does it run TV ads?

Yes, it can run any creative a customer has, the difference is independently audited reports prove how many ads it delivers this while the campaign is running, not six months after. TV, eat your heart out.

To see some games for, erm, research visit (choose Game Directory)

For more information, email Simon at: or call: 0161 832 6607.

Online gaming – the numbers

405 Million unique users passed through a gaming site in April 2008 (Comscore)

47% of the world’s internet users pass through a gaming site every month (Comscore)

66% of user sessions typically last 1 hour (Casual Game Association, June 2007)

33% of games audience is under 18, compared to 20% of the entire web.

There are over 300,000 gaming portals around the world.



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