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Reach is disappearing.

June 13, 2012

Oh.  Look who’s blogging again.

Networks are starting to report the results of their upfront sales.  The fact that most networks held back a bit more inventory than normal notwithstanding, upfront commitments have been, by and large, flat from last year.  (See Deadline’s reporting about ABC here and CBS here.) The main talking points are of continued CPM increases and of digital continuing to play a more integral part of the offering.

But for me, there is a larger issue here that nobody is talking about.  I haven’t done 4th grade math in decades.  But if the total investments are flat, but the prices have risen, doesn’t that mean the amount of goods purchased has decreased?  Add to this the fact that more and more digital inventory is being bundled into upfront deals, and you can’t escape the fact that reach is disappearing right before our eyes.

If true, this has important implications.  Several generations worth of marketing strategy have been built around the concept of reach: reach enough people with a message enough times, and you will affect consumer behavior and your bottom line.  The reason this was so central to marketing strategies is because, in the era of broadcast is king and cable his queen, reach was a commodity that was widely available and easily acquired.  As reach becomes more expensive to buy and harder to create, marketers must begin to evolve their strategies.

So the question is, what do you replace reach with?  Engagement is a term people throw around a lot.  Brands are starting to focus on earned media and owned media to try to make up the shortfall in paid media.  There is a lot of experimentation and content’s role in all this is yet to be determined (and will probably vary advertiser by advertiser).  One thing is certain however.  We are in the midst of a shift in how advertisers market their brands that is much more foundational and generational than anyone realizes.

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