Back to a Fragmented Future


I remember 1985 like the back of my hand. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Grain, my baseball number was 21, and my favorite baseball player was Don Mattingly. That summer, two movies were released that had a distinct impact on my young life: Back to the Future and Follow That Bird. Being a huge Muppet fan at the time, I begged my mom repeatedly to take my brother and me to see Big Bird cross the country in what I thought was sure to be a classic.

One bright August afternoon, my mom finally gave in and took us to the theater, but the movie gods weren’t kind to us. A summer camp had rented the entire theater that day for the afternoon showing of Follow That Bird. Not wanting to waste the trip, we saddled up in a smaller theater to watch Michael J. Fox travel through time. My life would never be never the same.

Looking back, I’m happy Follow That Bird was sold out. Not only was the movie not as good as it should have been, but that day introduced me to the national treasures that are Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and a DeLorean time machine. It made traveling back in time feel so real, and the entire future was just ahead.

My household didn’t have cable television back in 1985, only ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and a few independents. But the future was coming, and it was in the shape of widespread cable television, and soon enough, pay-per-view. As we moved into the 2000s, we got the ability to TiVo and DVR, and now we have over-the-top (OTT) content at our fingertips via internet. I can watch Follow That Bird whenever I like.

The future of television and advertising is constantly changing, whether it’s the promise of programmatic or the allure of addressable. Fifteen years ago, clients starting adding “www.” in front of their products, and added thousands of orders to their telesales volume; 10 years ago, direct response marketers started directing customers to the local CVS and Walgreens. And we are still trying to tie individual orders to individual airings based on consumer behavior and web volume.

All this time, traditional television as we know it has changed, as well. Gone are the days when primetime shows were next-day watercooler talk. Now, we binge on Netflix on Apple TV, catch up on Hulu during our lunch breaks, and view originals with an Amazon Prime account as we sit in the park. Technology has changed the way we absorb the programming available to us.

As platforms evolve, the industry has to keep up with new developments and make the necessary adjustments to ensure proper allocation. So far, we’re still waiting for someone to attribute orders accurately, and we’ll continue to wait. But as marketers, we must follow the trends and update our methodologies to keep up with the ways consumers view content. Moving ad dollars from medium to medium helps keep up with these changes.

The beginning of the year is always filled with new opportunities, and the television landscape is no exception. January and February offer some of the most flexible inventory the entire year has to offer. From the daytime hours to the primetime shows, inventory and value are at their peak.

Not only do everyday shows offer opportunities, but there are also plenty of special events occurring in the first two months of the year. Even though the NFL ratings were down in 2016, games were still among the most-viewed programming week in and week out. January playoffs offer a better selection of matchups, and the do-or-die aspect brings in even the casual NFL viewer. Live sports garner a bigger audience, and this year’s playoff schedule should provide marketers with some breathing room. The Super Bowl isn’t always a DR marketers’ best bet, but negotiating spots within the wall-to-wall coverage on the many sports networks offers an opportunity to be adjacent to the most-watched program of the year.

Keeping in the tradition of live events, the presidential inauguration promises to be a highly viewed event in January. No matter on which side of the fence you sat, the election was a ratings doozy. News networks saw spikes in viewership as we drew close to Nov. 8, and what followed kept people tuning in. With a new president set to take over the Oval Office, viewers from all over the country will tune in for this historic event.

Traditionally, the beginning of the year provides the direct marketer with some of the highest response rates the industry sees during the year. These are the times when testing new products is advantageous, since the rates are most favorable. This perfect storm only lasts so long, however, and being first to market can only help.

Back to the Future showed us how much life had changed since 1955. Marty McFly met his teenage parents and caused a rift in the past he had to mend. As we move into the future with a new president and new ways to watch this and other classic movies, remind yourselves that you can never know what the future will bring. All I know is that I’m buckling in for a heck of a ride.

Eddie Wilders is senior vice president of research and analytics of Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. “Like” Lockard & Wechsler on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @lwdirect.