The Season’s Shift


The Grinch’s heart grew three times its size at the end of How The Grinch Stole Christmas—one of those redeeming television moments that sticks out in your memory. And like the Grinch, there are certain times of the year when my heart grows three times its normal size. One of those times is the Christmas season, seconded only by May sweeps (I’m a sucker for a cliffhanger season finale). Beyond those, I’m happiest at the start of the new fall television season.

September brings television goodies for all the good boys and girls. In broadcast, there are new fall programs and returning favorites. In the sports world, September is the beginning of a new season, and Major League Baseball teams are making their final pushes toward the playoffs. On cable, there are new original programs and wall-to-wall sports coverage. Plus, September is still technically summer, so the weather is good.
In October, the fall TV season really hits its stride, after one or two new shows get cancelled quickly. Playoffs segue into the World Series, adding to an already ample FOX schedule. The NFL season starts to take shape, and NBC and CBS trade Thursday and Sunday night wins among viewers 18-49. And the weather? Still not too bad.

As a new dad, I haven’t experienced the joy of the back-to-school season just yet. Knowing people who have school-aged children, I see the joy in their faces when the calendar moves beyond Labor Day and the new school year starts. While the summer months brought an influx of back-to-school advertising to the television landscape, September brings with it more readily available inventory. Networks will air promos for new programming, but the airwaves aren’t as cluttered as they are in July and August. It’s times like this that make direct response marketers happy, since they can test new products in preparation for the holiday push.

In October, the trees change from green to yellows, oranges, and reds along the Atlantic seaboard. October also offers up cooler temperatures, apple picking, Halloween, and plenty of opportunities on traditional TV. The biggest draw of the month is NFL coverage on CBS and FOX. Sunday afternoon games usually garner a minimum of 16 million viewers, making them the most watched days of television during the month. Add new programming into the mix, and October is one of the top-viewed months of the year. The new quarter also starts during the month, aiding in cost and availability. All in all, October is a direct marketer’s dream.

The Digital Challenge
There’s a lot of debate about how much money will move from linear television broadcasts to digital this season. More people are cutting the cord and moving to a strict diet of Netflix and Hulu through Apple TVs and Roku boxes. The big networks are airing programs, then streaming them immediately through apps or other platforms, making live viewing a little less necessary. Even the DVR is starting to become obsolete.

For the direct marketer, a move like this is nothing new. We’ve moved from direct mail to email with success. We’ve moved from print ads to display and banner ads seamlessly. Technology has always been DR’s friend, since it speaks directly to customers, and the move from linear to digital should be more of the same.

The question is, how will we be able to link an attribution to sales when there’s so much uncertainty in the data? The days of an exclusive 800 number for each commercial airing are over, and systems for tracking an IP address are easily confused. How will we determine how well individual airings perform?

Attribution models take educated guesses on a spot-by-spot basis, and the overall bottom line is the ultimate measurement. While specific attribution isn’t where it may be in five years, the ebb and flow of a campaign once new media is introduced is one performance measurement. DR marketers know instantly if their dollars are working or not, so if daily spend on a specific platform yields less-than-desirable results, chances are that those dollars aren’t working as well as they should.

Until our attribution and tracking algorithms are tested, retested, and trusted, DR marketers will have to be satisfied with a positive return on their investment, no matter where that return comes from. Linear TV has always been the best way to reach a mass audience. Attribution of individual airings may be murky, but if your return is positive, you can move forward with the plan. It’s the same in the digital era—if your media is returning a positive investment, follow your audience wherever it leads you.

The DR marketer can take heart in the fact that no matter where they put their advertising dollars, the customer is out there. Knowing that is enough to make anyone’s heart (and maybe his or her wallet) grow three sizes.