How start-ups can crack TV advertising first time and on budget

Getting your brand on TV remains a game changer beyond compare when it comes to advertising. But how can you nail it without betting the farm?

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TV advertising? Too expensive! For sole traders, freelancers, and small lifestyle businesses you’re probably right.

But reassuringly, it’s not as costly as you might think. And for impact and scale it’s likely to be the advertising medium you need to make that step-change.

Nielsen Research recently published 2015 TV spend figures showing the medium’s continued strength versus the naysayers’ ongoing prediction of a dotcom Armageddon takeover. A 7.5% year-on-year increase to c.£5.3bn in the UK was heralded as the year even Facebook and Google embraced the medium for their own self-publicity.

There has been a glut of totally new-to-TV advertisers exploiting the opportunity at significantly lower budgets than the £10.8m reportedly spent by Facebook in the UK.

For an outlay of around £30,000-50,000 you could run a full-scale national ad campaign. Not loose change, but almost certainly less than the figure you had in mind. This contrasts with the notion still peddled by many agencies where Mad Men-style TV launch strategies are formed around the notion of reaching 70% of adults at least three times over the campaign duration at an huge cost of £300,000 just to ‘get going’.

We spoke to Colin Gillespie from the customer acquisition specialist media agency, All Response Media, which has worked with brands such as food delivery service Hello Fresh, language learning platform Babbel, and mobile phone network Giffgaff. We recently ran a competition with All Response Media to win a fully-funded TV advertising campaign worth £50,000.

Here, he provides answers to key questions so you can crack TV advertising first time.

Is TV still a ‘game changer’? Don’t consumers skip the ads now?

It remains the game changer. Surprisingly perhaps, linear TV – TV watched live rather than on-demand – still represents 80% of viewing figures.Hello Fresh TV Creative Screegrabs resize

The ROI – cost per visit, cost per acquisition, and other metrics are a lot less than people would think. As an example, people would think you need hundreds of thousands of pounds, but you can test with £30,000 to see if it works for you over three to four weeks and gauge what does and doesn’t work.

Quite often the creative work will already have begun for a start-up looking to scale fast. Brands will now typically test creatives on Facebook and elsewhere using video formats, filleting out the ones that don’t work or resonate or crucially are not delivering ROI.

How do you know if a TV advertising campaign is right for your business?

If you’re growing your business, TV advertising is a great way to scale. Often, perceived barriers and misconceptions about cost will put a business off. As significantly, the question of measurement and the ability to optimise is even more frightening.

A key driver for your business would be the point at which you have fully utilised digital marketing channels. If you have a good sense of how much AdWords and retargeting – where ads shown around the sites customers browse match their recent visits – will generate each day, week, or month you may need to reach a new audience.

Another way is to consider the cost per visit or phone call generated via incumbent / existing channels versus the potential that TV offers. The point at which a TV test can be modelled to deliver an equivalent or lower cost per visit or call, than current channels, is the moment you know you’re ready for TV.

How does it compare to AdWords and social media channel advertising?

Consider the £25-plus per click via Google for the term “credit card” versus the potential cost per visit generated via TV of less than £5 and the accompanying brand awareness benefit.

Most start-ups will seek to build a social presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms from the start – an easy and low-cost way to test different messaging and ideas when you’re seeking to get the brand across to the target audience.

Generally speaking, the benefits and return-on-investment (ROI) tend to be low from these channels.


What do you need to have ready before you launch a TV campaign?

To embark on a TV campaign, it’s critical you have the infrastructure in place to support a bigger marketing push and a rapid increase in sales, enquiries and other calls to action. It’s easy to be surprised by the near-instant impact and some businesses don’t have the fundamentals in place to support a TV campaign, which include:

  • A robust website – stress tested and split tested for optimum customer journey
  • Customer service – a call centre trained and ready to take inbound enquiries

The difference with digital campaigns is that if there is a surge in demand and the business is struggling to cope, it’s easy to switch it off without wasting much ad spend in the process.

We advise against TV if we don’t feel it’s right for companies. The transition to adding TV to your mix should be in tandem with consideration of scaling other media options like inserts, product despatch, out of home, letter box marketing and so on.Tripadvisor TV Creative Screegrabs resize

How do you run a successful TV advertising campaign?

A TV strategy is largely the same as a digital marketing strategy. You build your campaign around programme schedules, the time of day your target audience is most likely to be viewing, different creatives, and other levers that you can pull and tweak once underway to increase efficiencies. The ability to measure and execute at speed is the key to success here.

Providing you work with an agile agency, the idea should be to trim wastage and stretch the ad spend of a TV campaign during the period that the campaign is live and not after the event. This is imperative for start-ups as they don’t have the capacity to take the hit or indeed the luxury of time to understand if the medium can assume a permanent role in their customer acquisition media repertoire.

How long does it take to plan and then get a campaign live?

This is something that’s becoming a lot more flexible. A lot of agencies can get a client on TV in eight weeks. We can do it in four weeks. We’re very nimble in that respect, providing you have a creative that’s clear to go (all adverts have to be cleared by Clearcast, which is the TV ad clearing service).

The creative process before that is as long as a piece of string – it comes down to whether your creative agency gets messaging right and you’re happy with the final ad. This could take weeks or months. There are some clear Direct Response TV ‘rules’ that we’re clear on too, involving call to action, pace and urgency in the voice-over, use of offers / incentives and indeed duration of which the web address is displayed. This is where art meets science and can spell the difference between one execution being at least 30% better than another.

Within the planning process we’d also consider what your competitors have done or are doing. All insights can be used to your advantage.


How long does the typical campaign run for?

A campaign can be always-on, so there’s not really a typical overall period. The test phase might be four to eight weeks usually. Depending on your ability for real time measurement there need not be a requirement to pause in order to assess.

Our raison d’etre is to drive the optimisation and roll-out process, from which we believe every advertiser has an ‘always on’ optimal schedule that can be then flexed in line with seasonality of the business or indeed market forces around the cost of media itself. Buying the right airtime as cheaply as possible is paramount.

What should you watch out for?

You need to demand transparency in the partnership; know what you’re spending and the rationale for the media deployment. Make sure you have the ability to optimise the campaign whilst it is still live.

Babbel TV Creative Screegrabs resizeNot all agencies have knowledge, the tools and the technology at their disposal, and not all will want to devote much time to moving things around once the campaign is underway.

Start-ups tend to be small spenders and lot of the bigger agencies might ‘dump the spend’ – a scattergun approach where they throw it at any old programme with hope more than precision.

Also, agency fees should be linked to campaign performance.

How do you select the programming to advertise alongside?

Programme selection tweaking comes after we get first sight of the schedule booked, which is typically five days before the first spot is aired.

The schedule being reviewed should reflect the desired day and indeed demographic profile of the target customer too. Remember, TV is a broadcast medium so be prepared for the unexpected ‘diamond in the rough’ and don’t optimise the schedule too aggressively before going live unless those insights are driven by empirical data and / or competitor insight.

Where are you likely to get the best value for money?

Very simply, you get the most value during the day – the off-peak. Digital channels (eg Sky Atlantic, Dave etc.) with smaller audiences and the right audience profile are the most likely to work. Don’t be concerned by the daytime social demographic profile either. Daytime doesn’t equal mass market or down market. We have as much success delivering ROI for advertisers targeting young, working upmarket demographics as we do financial service advertisers looking for mature, financially secure prospects.

Sponsorship is another option if you’re ready to take advantage of last-minute deals. Otherwise there can be quite a premium on it. Even with the limitation on ‘break bumper’ (the mini-ads that lead in and out of the ad breaks) length, sponsorship can be used in a direct response way and don’t forget that the effective cost per thousand reach of prime-time sponsorship properties is less than half the equivalent cost per thousand for the equivalent 30-second spot. There is tremendous value to be had.


How do you measure the response to a TV advertising campaign?

Response analysis and insight is vital and you can almost see the data in real-time. We employ a system where the client can log on and look at a real-time graphic, matching the number of web visits as ads go out and the incremental benefit thereof.

Seeing individual advertising spots by station, time of day, day of week, creative version and by spot length are just a few of the variables your agency should be playing with to maximise ROI.

We place a tag on clients’ sites to track the volume and user behaviour of web visits to all pages. Traffic that you can directly attribute to the TV campaign is fused with ongoing activity to help work out where it is having an impact and which levers can be tweaked to optimise returns.

How quickly would you expect to be able to tell if a TV advertising campaign is working?

After two weeks you can see which days are working best. The art of best managed and executed TV campaigns is to think of it as you do your Google search activity – be vigilant, understand the numbers and react at speed.

Measuring TV success in microscopic detail is vital for optimisation but one should also be cognisant of the wider channel influence on other parts of the media mix and indeed the potential upside benefits seen through other business management information (MI) like churn reduction, average order value and social media impact etc.

Being integrated with your digital advertising is crucial too. Making sure your search engine paid-for strategy is aligned and not budget restricted is vital as is the opportunity to harvest traffic from your competitors who may also be live on TV.giffgaff TV Creative Screegrabs resize

How do you measure ROI? What would count as ‘success’?

Every client has different KPIs but the key approach for assessing success should be the same as for other media channels. If they’ve run a digital campaign before they’ll come to us with target cost per visit or cost per call, registration, or appointment as typical top of funnel metrics. Through the funnel metrics to ultimate conversion are factors we model at the outset too so that we don’t lose sight of quantity and quality.

Marketing spend ‘ROI’ is a job visualised through our bespoke analytics platform, ARMalytics, which itself is powered by a team of econometricians and data scientists. They constantly run and refine unique regression analysis models, which is a way of using statistics to identify patterns and relationships among many variables.

Where Dragons’ Den can sometimes be found lacking, All Response Media has delivered. A number of our clients have all successfully pitched in the Den, including the likes of Lost My Name, Flavourly and Minicabit – occasionally not getting over the line post-shoot – but it’s taken an introduction to All Response Media to put them on the path to exponential growth through the medium of TV.

How much will a TV campaign cost, all-in? How does that break down?

There are two key elements, creative and media. Looking at them in turn it typically breaks down something like this.

Creative: You’ll probably spend around £10-15,000 for the creative if it’s animated or £15-20,000 if you want live action. Celebrity endorsement, high-tech sets, computer graphics, overseas shoots, studio time and other more elaborate creative projects will obviously escalate those costs. Our role in this process, if required, is only to facilitate as there are numerous creative agencies and production companies that can put the ad together. Remember, creative cost development should be amortised over a year, so the cumulative investment proposition is less prohibitive.

Media: This is likely to cost £30-50,000 for a four-week test. We would consider the most appropriate genres and stations and look accordingly at the programming schedule. Our role includes offering the technology to provide in-depth measuring, analysis and complete transparency of the media buy.

Rather than a business like yours paying us we actually make our money from the agency commission from the media owner (e.g. BSkyB, Channel 4). They rebate up to 15% of the business’ ad spend after we’ve allocated it for you.

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