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Media Before The Message


Mark Levit

When planning an advertising campaign, media planning is one of the most important considerations, although other aspects of the process often overshadow it. Spending time and effort on a “creative” ad is a waste of resources if it is not exposed to the right audience. Because the media vehicle is usually an afterthought, the potential marketing return on investment diminishes significantly. There are efficient media vehicles for every target audience.

How does one go about selecting what media vehicle to use? The answer is—it depends. It depends on the target market composition and what your goals are. Demographics and psychographics usually determine that.

Take a look at your goals in terms of demographics. Advertising media are comprised of two categories; mass media and niche media. Media like newspapers, television and radio are considered mass media; the message is widely spread and the audience is anonymous. Niche media, such as direct mail and cable television, reach a narrower audience, with unique demographic characteristics. Is your firm looking to target the average consumer, or an audience with specific needs?

When who you want to target has been established, what next? Should you book a series of radio spots, or buy 2-page spread in magazines? Don’t book anything just yet. Pick a few options and compare them in terms of reach and frequency. Reach and frequency analysis is the most common method of planning media. Reach is defined as the proportion of your target audience that would be exposed to a media schedule. Frequency is the number of times on average an audience member is exposed to a media schedule in a given time period.

Keep in mind that to cover more of your target audience, either the reach has to be broader, meaning you would have to use a nationally distributed magazine as opposed to a regional publication or your frequency must go up. Both scenarios can be costly; there is no point in aiming for a high reach and/or frequency if your firm does not have the resources. Determine the minimum cost of entry for each media category and compare it to available resources.

Which media vehicle reaches your audience best, broadcast or print? Maybe neither, it could be the Internet. It is important to understand the dynamics of each. Advertising in the wrong media can be detrimental to the return on your marketing investment.

An Argument for the Internet

The Internet is a dynamic medium. It can be classified as both mass media and niche media. In addition to being a method of communication, it is the only media that interacts with the prospect via mouse click. In many cases, it is also the means of completing a transaction. On top of all that, the Internet dominates any other medium in the daytime in terms of usage among working adults.

As amazing as the Internet is in terms of communicating with an audience, there is one pitfall: it is extremely difficult to measure reach and frequency with Internet advertising. No established system has emerged with a precise way to record demographic information. Of course you can see how many times a link has been clicked or how many visitors viewed a page, but the users are anonymous. Otherwise, no demographic information is available unless the Internet user provides it.

Does this mean you should invest heavily in your website, search engine marketing and pay-per-click advertising? Not necessarily. Look at the available demographics of the Internet. Do they match those of your target audience? Nielsen ratings suggest that in the online-at-work audience spends 27 hrs, 51 mins and 25 secs online per month on average with the number of web pages viewed at 1,806.

Power of the Press

Print media is best if your copy has a lot of detail, information or if the objective is an immediate response. Newspapers provide a broad reach and precision in terms of demographics. The usage for this media is consistent. Reading the newspaper is a daily habit.

Demographics for this medium according to the National Newspaper Association, include a readership of 48% of the total 18+ populations on average nationally on weekdays. Sunday readership is a bit higher, at 56% of all adults.

On the other hand, newspapers are one-shot deals— they are seldom looked at more than once and are often discarded after use. Retention of the ad or message lies in frequency. Newspapers are dependent on frequency, because of the nature of the medium. If your budget does not allow for a consistent campaign, then newspaper advertising is not for you.

A Matter of Magazines

Magazines are capable of reaching the narrowest audience with precision. In addition, the advertisement is usually related in some way to the editorial content. When your target audience members pick up a magazine, their mindset is relevant to the content.

Magazines are not so time sensitive as newspapers. Magazines for the most part are read over and over. Think of how many times patients in a doctor’s office leaf through the same magazine, once for an overview and then a second time to actually sit with articles of interest to them. A common trend for all magazines is that readers spend more time with magazines than any other print media because they want “the bang for their buck.”

You’re not the only one that knows the power of advertising in a magazine. More likely than not, your competitors are on the bandwagon, especially in trade publications. Having your ad stand out is based on where in the magazine it is placed, in addition to the genius of your art director and copywriter.

Radio for Real?

Contrary to popular belief, radio advertising has not died. Radio advertising is a way to give the brand a personality, or that of a smooth sounding actor. It is easy on marketing budgets and can reach target audiences effectively.

Almost everyone listens to the radio for news, music, talk, etc. Radio can be listened to at home and is a portable media outlet, unlike television. Most businesses have the radio on all day in the background. During the morning commute, the car radio is usually tuned to some news program or radio talk show. Radio stations already have an established audience, hopefully your target audience. Take advantage of it.

According to the Radio Advertising Bureau, radio reaches 96.4% of adults weekly, age 25-54, and 75% of those adults every day. Average listening time of adults age 18+ is 3 hours and 12 minutes. Even more amazing is the fact that radio is the highest ranked medium closest to times of purchase. In any 24-hour period, 63% of adults 25-54 are exposed to radio within one hour of making their largest purchase of the day. Television comes in at 22% in 24 hours.

Television Reigns

Television is the most popular medium overall. Evidence of this is the skyrocketing rates to buy spots. An effective commercial, even if viewed once, can have a lasting effect. Brand awareness is established quickly with television, partly because of the combination of audio and visual aspects.

The reach can be broad or narrow, depending whether you choose network or cable advertising. Media research companies, such as AC Nielsen are highly effective in tracking demographics for this medium. While the Internet comes out on top for usage during the day, television has the highest usage during the evenings. A disadvantage to television advertising is that it is seasonal. During the summer, when major networks air re-runs, viewer ship isn’t stellar.

Another downside is the cost of booking a good spot. Network broadcast expenditure for the second quarter of 2004 alone was $6 billion, while local broadcast TV was $4 billion and syndicated TV was a few thousand shy of $1 billion in expenditure according to the Television Bureau of Advertising.

Dealing with Direct Response

The targetability with direct mail is almost limitless. You can base direct mail campaigns by geography, previous purchases or interest based on purchased lists for personal and business purposes. Reach can range from extremely broad to narrow. With direct mailings, the prospect has as much time to view your advertisement as they want. It is also easy to tailor your ads to your target markets, if targeting more than one segment in the population, since you already know so much about who will be receiving your mail.

The pitfall is in the response rate. According to the Direct Response Association, the response rate for direct mail in 2003 was 2.73%. While it can be costly to provide prospects with an incentive to respond, your company develops a one-on-one relationship, which to some marketers, is priceless.

When you determine which media meets your reach and frequency requirements, consider resources necessary to attain these goals. A competitive analysis for the media selected would also be of benefit. It is good to advertise where there is little or weak competition, but where you advertise should have a target audience of interest to you. Copy for advertisements should be relevant to the audience that the media vehicle reaches.

The truth about media planning is that it depends on your brand’s wants. There are no tricks or secrets in selecting to advertise in one media or another. Every type of media has a segment that can potentially be yours. One important consideration is where do you want to reach them? Do you want to reach your audience online at work, at home watching television or listening to the radio on the go? The bottom line is planning media is the most important decision when laying out an advertising campaign, so choose wisely.

About The Author

Mark Levit is the managing partner of Partners & Levit Advertising/New York and a professor of marketing at New York University. For more information, please visit, call 212.696.1200 or e-mail”



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