Media effectiveness :Radiocentre and ebiquity’s new report forensically lays bare marketers’ perceptions about which channels perform best, and the extent to which they are divorced from reality.

Being sent new research or industry reports is a common experience for columnists. I’ve been writing for Marketing Week for a long time and rarely does a fortnight pass without an approach from an entirely delightful PR person or corporate marketer wanting to share the results of the latest wah-wah about blah-blah arriving at my door.

I always have a little sniff: who knows what has been uncovered and even if the sample is too small or the method highly incredulous, it always gives you an idea of the current marketing context to see who is researching what.

So, a few weeks ago when a contact from the radio industry told me she had some “research she wanted to send my way” I told her to do just that and promptly forgot all about it until the report, ‘Re-Evaluating Media’, arrived in my inbox.

I opened it. And I am not sure when my mood went from the usual polite suspicion to the state of mind I like to describe as ‘fuck me’, but it happened so fast I was emailing questions to my contact who had sent me the report within five minutes of opening it for the first time.

It’s hard to explain just why this is such an important report. Hard because the world of marketing is so cynical and tribal these days that every piece of research has an almost immediate rejection factor before it has even been viewed. It’s also hard because this report fits with my worldview, which makes it look like that is the reason I love it.

In truth, it’s nice to see empirical evidence of your own hunches but the real value of this new report is the rigour that has gone into it. That, and the simple elegance of what it tells marketers to do as a result of the findings. I have no doubt this will be a signature source of data – quoted and debated for many months to come.


Radiocentre – the group charged with promoting the use of radio as a commercial medium in the UK – hired communications consulting firm Ebiquity to review the state of marketing media in 2018. The media examined in the study are the 10 major channels that account for the vast majority of advertising in this country: direct mail, magazines, newspapers, online display, online video, out-of-home, radio, social media and TV.

For the perceptions part, Ebiquity interviewed 68 marketers working in companies that spent £2m or more on advertising last year. There are not that many companies spending that much on advertising so this is a big sample.

Ebiquity also interviewed executives from 48 different advertising agencies (covering the gamut of media and creative shops). This must be, by some measure, one of the most robust samples of British advertising people in quite some time.

To assess the actual performance of each channel, the Ebiquity team used secondary data from a wide variety of places. Fifty different sources and more than 75 published reports – all conducted since 2010 – were used to build a picture of how each channel performs against the others.

Ebiquity combined this data with its own proprietary benchmarks from working with a multitude of global clients and linked this information to third-party evidence such as the IPA’s influential touchpoints data. It’s a huge effort and one that provides an up-to-date and highly detailed view of the current British media environment.

The results

It is clear that there are four main drivers for media selection in 2018. Marketers are looking for clear targeting cut-through, the ability to show strong ROI, a positive emotional response to the message and increased brand salience at the same time. If you put Byron Sharp, Peter Field, Les Binet and the IPA in a big industrial blender this is probably the juice that the concoction would produce. So, no real surprises.

In contrast, many of the industry’s other obsessions appear to be far less important to marketers. The push for transparent third-party measurement and brand safety might be hot topics for most marketing conferences but they are not on the radar for the average advertiser. Low cost does not appear to be much of an attraction either.

If I could be critical of the sample’s responses just once it would be the relative weak performance of ‘gets your ad noticed’. There is a ton of evidence to suggest that most advertising simply does not even break into the consciousness of the target market and I would have expected marketers to push this issue higher up the agenda.

But the interesting part of the report is examining how marketers think the various media perform against these dozen demands and then looking at what the hard evidence says their actual performance is. For reasons of focus and length I will keep my assessment to the top four main drivers for this column but interested readers are encouraged to download the full report here.

Even before we get to the actual performance versus perception data for the various media channels, this data provides a fascinating snapshot of what marketers want from their media in 2018. Participants were asked to rate the importance of the dozen different criteria for media using a MaxDiff trade-off method (identifying the most and least important options from multiple lists), which avoids the usual criticisms of simple verbatim answers or ranking data.


It’s perhaps no surprise that direct mail (the legacy medium for micro-targeting) and social media (the digital entrant most famous for its ability to reach very specific audiences on a personal level), feature at the very top of the perception chart for targeting. It has been drummed into every marketer that the personalisation of LinkedIn or Facebook makes for dramatically different marketing opportunities.

And yet, when the data is crunched, at the top of the evidence-based ranking is radio – thanks to its ability to reach consumers by geography, demographics, context, time of day, day of week and even addressability with the new connected listening revolution that is taking place.

It might look like a dubious result – and it is the only category that radio triumphs in – but the big insight is that if you use multiple stations and distinct program context combined with time of day, the ability to slice and dice your audience and reach a tight segment of the market is not only possible but readily advantageous.

You do have to feel for the executives at the Radiocentre and begin to get a glimpse into why they have ploughed so much money into this research. There is radio, top of the performance charts for targeting according to the data, and yet it sits at the bottom of the perception charts, joint-last in the mind of clients. Radio has a marketing problem; that is for sure.

Return on investment

For return on investment (ROI) there is, at least, a much closer correlation between perception and performance. Echoing other research from other independent sources, it is clear that digital media in general gets far too much credit for delivering an ROI versus its actual performance.

In contrast, one again must feel some sympathy for news media, which are perceived as having little to any impact on ROI. In reality, they offer some of the most significant campaign lifts for those clients that can look beyond the bullshit of the ‘death’ of news media and see both the continued potential of print advertising – the campaign of the year so far, KFC’s FCK ad, was a newspaper ad, lest we forget – and the growing potential of premium digital news media ads.

For the team at Thinkbox, there should be genuine celebration that their concerted and extraordinarily data-driven campaign to push the ROI of TV has worked brilliantly. Similarly, the Radiocentre campaigns to push the return on radio advertising appear to have worked. This is not the attribute they need to focus on any more – many other perceptual shortfalls must be corrected.

Emotional response

Again, it is impressive to see that marketers are very much aware of the power of both cinema and TV in driving emotional response. As we learn more and more about the longer-range, mass-targeted power of brand-building campaigns, we are also becoming increasingly keen on media that can deliver brand messages with an emotional charge. TV and cinema win out here and the evidence and perceptions of the country’s marketers are aligned.

The interesting disparity comes with online video. Clearly, those investing in the medium believe it vies with the big traditional screens for emotional depth and engagement but, as the ebiquity research shows, the small screen, fleeting attention and often distracting context for consumption lead to it performing dead-last in terms of generating an emotional response.

It’s worth pointing out that all the digital media perform worst on this dimension, meaning that those looking for broad engagement and a more effective advertising impact need to consider investing their money elsewhere.

The grand prix

The story continues for the other eight attributes in the ebiquity report. But with all the data compiled and analysed there is one last tantalising league table to show – a grand prix if you will – weighting the 12 attributes to reveal the overall best advertising media.

And here it is. The perceptual table looks very familiar: the idea that TV, online video and social media represent the three leading advertising channels in 2018 would surprise few people. Even the presence of out of home in fourth spot fits with that media’s current renaissance, thanks to the growth in digital screens.

But it’s the evidence-based performance table that should stun marketers. TV retains its dominant position; it’s worth underlining that point given we continue to face dreary marketers getting on stages in their hoodies predicting the end is nigh for TV. But then look at the next top performers according to the actual performance data.

Radio and news media offer significant superiority over social media and online video on the issues that matter most to marketers. And yet radio can only hope for a flat line in terms of advertising spend this year and news media would be happy, I’ll bet, to lose 10% of its share of the advertising pie in 2018.

Meanwhile the digital revolution continues in this country. Marketers and agencies continue to move more and more of their ad spend across to social media and online video despite all the evidence to the contrary.

With thanks to Marketing Week