Early in 2018, an apology ad from KFC became one of the most widely shared ads of the year. But while the hilarious apology rightly gained maximum plaudits at Cannes, it’s worth pointing out that one of the most notable ads of 2018 started life as a humble print ad. The initial mass exposure (via freesheet newspapers) meant that the ad was picked up and shared across social media. In other words, FCK is a perfect example of how both digital and traditional media tools are vital to the success of a modern media campaign.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it though.

For the last decade, digital-first experts have consistently downplayed any benefits of traditional media. Instead they’ll happily tell you that old media are “inefficient” “old hat” or even “dead.” Clients too, are often keen to go all in on digital media to avoid appearing out of touch or to be lagging behind their competitors. But for all the hype, there hasn’t ever been a way to truly assess the effectiveness of these digital tools in a like for like, apples to apples way.

But now that has all changed. A recent report by Radio Centre has lifted the lid on the true effectiveness of different media types. And more importantly the research shows us the difference between what advertisers think is the most effective and what actually is the most effective.

Radio Centre

Radio Centre took an interesting approach to their latest report. First. they commissioned Ebiquity to do the survey on their behalf. And, crucially, they allowed them to work on the survey in such a way that no-one knew that the study was commissioned by a radio client.

I’d encourage you to read the full report, but here are a handful of the key findings:

  • Agencies tend to believe that online media outperform most traditional media types (except TV.) As it turns out, the truth is almost exactly the opposite. With the exception of cinema, traditional media actually outperforms all forms of digital media in the overall rankings.
  • Digital media of all kinds score lowest when it comes to generating emotional response. This matters, because emotional response is critical to any brand building campaign, so if you want big impact – traditional media is always likely to be the winner.
  • The focus on digital has made both clients and agencies prioritise efficiency rather than effectiveness. Optimization of your ad spend is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of effectiveness.

What, so digital sucks now?

No, no and no. Digital skills and expertise are a key part of any marketing campaign. As this report shows, digital is particularity useful for direct marketing campaigns where reaching an individual at the right time is crucial. It’s also one of the cheapest media buys, and it’s a key tool for granular targeted aimed at a niche audience.

But clearly digital can’t do everything well. This shouldn’t even be slightly controversial. But as crazy as it sounds, in modern marketing the quickest way to get yourself dismissed as a luddite or a dinosaur is to suggest that digital might not be the answer to all your marketing prayers.

There is a serious point here. If agencies are serious about being truly accountable to clients, there has to be an acceptance that digital has its downsides. Thus far, the evidence suggests that traditional media gives the best bang for your buck if you want to grow or promote a brand. If you need convincing of that, just ask yourself who invests the most in traditional advertising?

This isn’t about saying traditional media is somehow superior to digital. But it is about recognising their relative strengths and weaknesses so you can make a more informed choice.

What are the lessons for marketers and clients?

At the very least, this report should give business owners and marketers pause for thought. While everyone else argues about whether traditional or digital is “best,” we’re now at a stage where both have clear advantages and disadvantages. The smart money is on brands who know this, and who use each media to best effect. Social for granular targeting. Mass media for big emotional campaigns.

I’m not holding my breath, but my hope is that we quickly move to a point where the debate about whether digital or traditional media “works best” is over. As KFC and other brands have proved, a fully functioning campaign in 2018 is about integration.

Your business might do that by going mostly digital. But equally, you might be wise to do plenty of traditional advertising. In all likelihood, you’ll probably do a bit of both. The key here is to stay open to all the possibilities and working out what will get the job done.

This report has proved once and for all, the future of marketing isn’t digital or traditional. It’s both.

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