Re-evaluating Reach Strategies for Better National TV Ad Campaigns

Submitted by Lee Singletary
October 11, 2018 / 04:50 PM

By Heather Coghill

National advertisers are accustomed to broad reach strategies to promote their brands, new products, or services to audiences everywhere. But are they effectively reaching those audiences? It's a question marketers ask themselves regularly in order to justify budget and determine ROI.

The 2018 Q1 Nielsen Total Audience Report found that TV accounts for 93 percent of all video usage; there's no doubt that it is a powerful platform for marketers, and advertising on the largest screen in the living room reaches emotionally engaged audiences everywhere. This video content is always changing, and the evolution of TV buying strategies for national marketers can now be enhanced significantly by understanding how campaigns reach audiences at the national and the local level. A national campaign strategy that fails to evaluate and incorporate local geographic targeting could miss out on reaching valuable audiences and incremental reach.

Targeting capabilities for reaching audiences consuming television content has evolved. The digital targeting tactics marketers have come to love and trust can now be used to target audiences watching premium video content airing on TV. These advancements are largely due to the availability of insights based on rich viewership data. Marketers are no longer limited to using age and gender to define audiences. Viewing behavior among automotive, political, lifestyle, and other audience segments can now be understood at the local level. With sample sizes in the tens of millions, marketers can be very specific about the audiences they are trying to reach. With the emergence of viewership data, viewing patterns of these niche audiences can be analyzed for planning purposes on the front end of a campaign. At the conclusion of the campaign, reach can be measured among these very specific target audiences not only at the national level, but within local markets.

As data grants advertisers' insight into the viewership habits of specific target audiences, the analysis is becoming easier, giving advertisers new opportunities to take a local, strategized approach to their media planning. While the amount of time watching TV doesn't vary substantially market to market, viewing behavior in each market is unique. For example, in Sacramento the brand-coveted demo of adults ages 18 to 34 watches 21 percent more TruTV and 38 percent more NBC Sports than the national average.

Fragmentation is a very real thing. The top five networks (based on Comcast viewing data) only account for 14 percent of household viewing, and the average household watches an average of 17 networks per month, according to 2018 Q2 Comcast viewership data. The most-viewed networks differ market to market. TV audiences are like snowflakes — no two are the same. To achieve campaign success some local-market attention and geographic-insights attention need to be considered to avoid missing a significant portion of the campaign's intended audience.

Consider the cautionary tale of a quick service restaurant (QSR) brand's national cable TV campaign that targeted men ages 18 to 34 earlier this year. Comcast viewership data was matched to the brand's national ad schedule to determine the campaign's reach.

A total of 604 spots aired nationally across 10 cable networks for one month. Across the footprint, the campaign reached 41 percent of all Comcast households in the target demographic, meaning that 59 percent of the target audience was not reached. Just as viewing differs market to market, reach varied market to market.

In Miami, the campaign only reached 34 percent of men ages 18 to 34, missing 66 percent. And, in San Francisco, only 37 percent of the target audience was reached, missing 63 percent. (See figure 1.) These two markets happen to be more important to this particular advertiser due to the number of its restaurant locations, yet nearly two-thirds of target households in these markets were not exposed to the campaign.

FIGURE 1 click to enlarge

The top networks among a particular target nationally may not even be in the top 10 in a particular market. In this QSR campaign example, History and Discovery were top networks among the target across the full Comcast footprint, but did not show up in the top 15 in Miami or San Francisco. (See figure 2.) AMC is the second most-watched network in Miami among households with men ages 18 to 34, but AMC is not even in the top 15 networks in San Francisco. Similarly, Comedy Central is a top network in San Francisco but not in Miami.
FIGURE 2 click to enlarge


Simply adding more national networks overlooks the unique viewership of each market. Investing in the local market would fill in these missed reach gaps and ultimately drive increased reach to the national campaign. TV markets vary in shape and size. This variance is creating an opportunity for advertisers to take a local, strategized approach to their media planning. Harnessing data to gain market-level insights can help advertisers find real opportunities to supplement their national campaigns at the local level and drive success.

Heather Coghill is the senior director of audience insights Comcast Spotlight. You can email her at

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