The Stop-Start Journey Between TV and Online

When the presents are put away and the Christmas tree begins to shed its needles, most people enjoy the restful period before work starts up again with the occasional snooze in front of the telly. I tried to do the same, but as soon as the ad breaks kicked in, my work mind began to ask awkward questions. Such as ‘how many ads have a call to action these days?’ and ‘where do they take you if you respond?’

You can see why my wife is keen for me to get back to work as soon as possible after the Christmas break.

I used my post-Christmas leisure time to attempt to answer these questions, as scientifically as possible.

First of all, I listed every TV commercial I saw over three very different programmes; ‘Come Dine With Me’, The Simpsons’ and the new series of ‘Got To Dance’ (two of which were my wife’s choice of viewing, which is probably why I was bored enough to list TV commercials). Altogether, that produced a list of 40 commercials.

These commercials featured a range of advertisers; retailers, automotive, beauty products, food & drink, finance, entertainment, technology and travel brands all competing for our custom. But the largest category of all, by quite some margin, was online-only businesses.

Altogether, more than a quarter of the ads (11 out of 40) were for online-only brands –, comparethemarket, musicmagpie and zoopla amongst them. Add in all of the technology-based products, including mobile, broadband and digital entertainment, and the total goes up to 15 out of 40.

People are often so blind to the battle for supremacy between online – and technology in general – and television, they have failed to notice the boost these sectors have brought to TV advertising revenues. A couple of years ago, when I was at Thinkbox, we looked at the overall % of TV ad revenues that online-only businesses accounted for; it was over 7%, rising by 40%+ a year. I’m sure the overall figure today is less than the 27.5% my limited sample reported, but I bet it’s not by much.

But that is not what really interested me.

Overall, more than half the ads (56%) contained a URL and/or a call to action. This is in line with recent analyses suggesting 60%-70% of TV commercials contain a URL. Indeed, why shouldn’t they? The link between TV and online has been well documented and this is an example of the increasing integration of campaigns.

Except it’s not!

If I had been interested enough in any of the ads and typed in the suggested URL, in almost every case I would have been taken to a totally disconnected place. The two experiences – TV ad and web experience – would have felt like anything but linked staging posts along the purchase path; they would have been more like two destinations selected at random, by a blind man throwing darts at a spinning atlas.

There were a couple of notable exceptions. Premier Inns reference their ads, and their association with Lenny Henry, pretty well. Saga also reflected the advertising on their home page a little. But that was about it for the offline brands.

I have always thought we had moved on from the days when integration meant sticking a web address on the final frame of the TV commercial or the bottom of the press ad. It appears I’m mistaken.

It’s fair to say that the online brands were slightly more adept at linking the two experiences, but then their online presence is the brand, so it would be surprising were they not. Still, comparethemarket featured the ubiquitous Alexandr Orlov and the others presented me with the webpage I would have expected to see from the TV commercial.

It’s also fair to say that companies with a strong offline presence seem to treat ‘digital’ as a totally separate stream. OK, I recognise that confectionery brands and beers might not have a hugely relevant destination to signpost, but it does make the URL seem like an afterthought rather than part of a carefully integrated campaign.

I am also a little confused when a number of the offline brands eschew providing a URL altogether. When your main business is strongly influenced by online review, research and transactions (airlines, cars, retailers, mobile phone manufacturers), why not stick a relevant destination on screen? At least until we all have connected TVs and synchronised second screens, and URLs and search strings become irrelevant.

Two examples really stuck out. One was an ad for a major broadband provider – maybe they thought they were well-known enough not to place any destination details on the ad, but it still seemed counter-intuitive. Similarly, a new Hollywood film release had no URL to take their potential audience straight to the trailer or other relevant information.

My overall insight from my small investigation is that the ‘journey’ between TV and online is, in most cases, nothing of the sort. It is more like visiting two totally different holiday destinations with nothing to link them apart from the fact you have spent some time there. I’m sure the rise of connected televisions and app-based side content will begin to make inroads, but, for now, this feels like a wasted opportunity.