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Why digital campaigns don't match up to TVCs

I have been a strong advocate of digital marketing. Even after reading this piece by Bob Hoffman, I still am a digital marketing evangelist. Bob makes a strong claim that if you walk down the aisles of a supermarket, there is not a single brand among the hundreds on offer that was built up solely through digital marketing efforts.

Bob's right when he says that it is nearly impossible to build a brand online unless the brand's product is inherently online, like Flipkart or Youtube. Before dismissing online marketing efforts as unnecessary distractions, we must understand why TV has been so successful in building brands, and why digital marketing efforts can never hope to replicate that, except for video ads on Youtube and (yet to commence) Facebook.

First, all brands have the same starting point when it comes to TVCs. I'm not talking about being able to afford the 30-second spot to air a commercial. But, among the brands that do buy those 30-second spots, there is a level playing field. They all have the same audience to target, who are all in the same frame of mind. Since a whopping majority of the people watch TV for entertainment, they are in a fairly relaxed mood while watching TVCs. So, if an advertisement is clutter-breaking in terms of its narrative or style of direction, it will catch attention of the audience irrespective of the brand's previous association with the audience. As the audience comes across these advertisements over and over, in a few months, a new brand can hold its own in the mind space of the target audience.

This is not the case online. 

Today, every brand wants to engage its customers through content and what-not. An average person interacts with (purchases/considers purchasing) about a hundred brands every month. Now, this person might have certain websites that she will frequent, certain kinds of content that she reads regularly, and there can never be more than a handful of brands whose content matches these interests.

Unlike TVCs, a brand cannot put out content that doesn't fall under the umbrella of interest of the target audience, and still hope that it makes the desired impact. If there aren't real-world brands like Tide, Lays and Coca Cola that have been built entirely through digital efforts, it is because digital is a different ball game. It needs to be approached in a way that can leverage its strengths.

What are its strengths?

If brands focus on the few people whose online activity involves engaging with content similar to what the brand has expertise in, and gains their trust and appreciation, they will spread the word to others whose online activity doesn't fall under this category.

It is unfair to compare the effects of a digital campaign and a TVC simply because they don't work the same way. 

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