Busting The Time Spent Myth
Analysts and researchers look forward to the annual data-rich report on Internet trends from Mary Meeker, technology expert of longstanding. Meeker, now with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has been one of the premier digital-watchers since producing The Internet Report for Morgan Stanley in 1995. Graphs from the 164-page report released last month will be cherry-picked, screen-shot and otherwise sliced apart by many and repurposed to reappear in presentations throughout the year.
Meeker argues that there must be an equalization, a balancing of these ratios at some point in the future, and on that basis there is a $30 billion upside potential for mobile advertising.
Questions about the methodology of “time spent” estimates aside, the expectation that these ratios must be equalized are commonplace in some highly placed circles. Notably, Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of global advertising agency behemoth WPP, advocated slashing print spending to rebalance the ratios to fit time spent.
Yet pursuing a rebalancing effort as if it were some well-tested Iron Law of Equalization, deserving of near-theological devotion, is lunacy of a peculiar sort. The fact that the argument is made by intelligent, respected persons is especially unsettling. It seems unlikely that crude levelling lines of reasoning in areas other than media and advertising would be persuasive.
Each medium has its own advantages and disadvantages, and media planners and buyers seek to maximize the strengths of each in their expenditures. The rudimentary “time spent” cudgel ignores the plethora of other metrics that attempt to gauge consumer engagement with media and the particulars of advertisements appearing in them.
Brian Wieser, research analyst at Pivotal Research Group, an equity research company, writing about Google recently, commented on the time spent issue with reference to what he termed the “mobile fallacy.” Wieser stated that, “notions that time spent on mobile devices should somehow eventually equate to ad spending on mobile remain utterly fallacious.” Further, he noted, “it’s more likely that time and money will stay mismatched for most media.” In part the reason that the mismatch will continue is because the actual spending “depends on the ad products developed by media owners” and “the degree to which certain segments of marketers find different ad inventory uniquely impactful.”
No doubt other aspects of media planning and buying make ratio equalization unlikely. A survey by the advertising firm Domus Inc. of senior marketing executives showed nearly two-thirds thought their companies suffered from “digital dysfunction,” which included uncertainty about how to integrate into their marketing an effective digital strategy.
Catching consumers’ eyes for attention and engagement is more challenging than ever, requiring a variety of methods and approaches for marketers and media to be successful. It is unlikely that levelling strategies will serve either.
Jim Conaghan, a regular CrowdCheck contributor, is VP of research and industry analysis at the Newspaper Association of America.