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Marketing Strategy

This Cyber Monday showed us how fickle shoppers are, and how TV buyers can woo them

A remote control with rows of viewers soars into a connected TV.

Illustration by Dave Cole / Getty / The Current

Ahead of this year’s post-Thanksgiving sales frenzy, advertisers were trying to get a jump on consumer sentiment. Would people spend heartily or were they in a funk? Well, the numbers are coming in: Shoppers spent a record $12.4 billion on Cyber Monday alone, an uptick of 9.6 percent over last year, according to an Adobe Analytics report. And yet, that same report found skittish shoppers remained budget-conscious while hunting for deals.

If consumers are spending, they’re spending more cautiously. For advertisers, that means being on point in a dynamic — and less predictable — marketplace. The Current spoke with several media buying agencies for more insight. We found agencies are primed and ready to adjust programmatic campaigns at a moment’s notice across channels to find and nudge those potential shoppers, whether they’re browsing for deals or ready to check out.

“We’ve seen a lot more success with clients having more agility and nimbleness with their media dollars when we aren’t locked into a commitment on an annual basis or even if with a non-preemptible [less flexible buy purchased one quarter before airing], especially for TV,” says Skyler McGill, head of programmatic and video at Wpromote.

McGill isn’t the first person to state that “the funnel has collapsed.” But this has strategic implications, especially in this current moment when shoppers are slipping between channels. “We coined the term ‘Brandformance,’ which means that all media should be performing, so we need to make sure upper funnel tactics are dovetailing down nicely to other things that we’re looking to capitalize on, especially around the holiday and for retail clients,” he says.

Advertisers are trying to stay close to their potential audience, wherever they’re shopping. Maybe discovery for those new sneakers starts on TV, continues on a tablet, and ends on a smart phone. It’s a case of reading the tea leaves and the data, says Kevin Telkamp, VP of media operations at Ocean Media. “We need to have a pulse on performance and understand that when there is shrinkage in the audience on linear, we need to make that up on digital,” he says.

Being able to tap into inventory at a moment’s notice can boost a campaign mid-flight, says Telkamp. For this reason, he explains, Ocean Media is deliberate about the mixture of inventory types that they purchase for each of their clients. The agency considers buying pre-emptible inventory — the most flexible, short-term kind of media buy, but with no guarantees — a viable strategy in current times. “It gives us the ability to ensure that we maintain a strong performance. And if we find that there’s not enough clearance in that market, we can always spool up guaranteed rates or we can go and spend it in programmatic inventory,” he says.

“We’re always mindful at the end of the day of not just spending the budget but doing so in a way that’s going to net the best return for the advertiser,” he adds.

When consumers are more price conscious, it’s also an opportunity for marketers and brands to invest more budget into tactics like “competitive conquesting,” according to Nick Lange, media activation director at Pathlabs. For instance, a consumer may opt not to buy Apple headphones, but ones with similar capacity at a cheaper price point. Such moments allow marketers to help drive product awareness to new audiences using omnichannel campaigns, says Lange. “The hypothesis is that we’ll see a more positive ROI, or whatever the business objective is, because these shoppers are being more diligent and critical in the value of the product they’re buying,” he adds.

If the ‘always-on’ marketplace is changing the speed of media buying, it’s also true that the available channels for advertisers are expanding the canvas. For instance, this season inventory for the World Series between the Texas Rangers and the Arizona Diamondbacks was available programmatically for the first time. Another first, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was also served programmatically this year. (It delivered a record audience of 28.5 million for NBC across its network and its streaming sibling Peacock).

“What’s happening is there’s more opportunity,” says Lange. “Having a media execution partner in place can give marketers the ability to take those dynamics, execute quickly, and make sure we reallocate budget or take incremental budget, and spend what we can to serve those impressions to those events.”

Being able to execute quickly was top of mind for Skyler McGill in September this year during the standoff between cable giant Charter Communications and Disney over carriage fees. The dispute left millions of customers without Disney TV channels, including ESPN, FX, and Disney Channel. McGill was able to shift programmatic ad dollars to other streaming partners during the blackout, “to capitalize on inventory that was still available.”

This kind of flexibility has never been more necessary, he says. “It’s our job as an agency to make sure [our clients] have bought into the idea of having more flexibility and ultimately see the payoff at the end of the day.”