Television has held the title of the largest mass medium used for advertising for more than 60 years, and that designation has not been overtaken even with the growth of the internet. Television is an important component of a media plan because of its pervasiveness, impact and targeting abilities.
We live in a culture bombarded with promotional messages. Studies differ on the number of ads seen by the average American, but researchers cite from 850 to 3,000 ad messages experienced daily. These messages come from traditional sources like TV and newspapers but also on coffee cups, bill inserts, catalogs, T-shirts and the like. The competition for the eyes and ears of the American consumer is fierce. Getting attention fosters the awareness that is the first rung of the advertising action hierarchy. It is so very critical to creating sales of an advertised product.
Television has the properties of sight, sound and motion that traditionally set it apart from other media such as radio (sound only) or print (sight only). With its three-pronged assault on its viewer’s senses, TV is able to create broad awareness for a product. Television is considered a mass medium because of the numbers of people it reaches.
National broadcasters like CBS, NBC, ABC and now FOX reach more than 115 million households with 290 million viewers. Television reaches more than 94% of the country’s population, a huge potential audience for a television commercial. But even TV’s mass audience gets segmented as viewers fragment along age, gender and racial groups to watch particular networks, channels and programs.
The actual impact of an individual television ad depends on the kind of product being advertised. Some product categories are just naturally more interesting than others. More important is the creativity of the message itself.
This is where specialists in television advertising truly earn their paychecks as it is their job to create ads that break through the clutter of television advertising, get attention, communicate its unique selling proposition and so position the product for a sale. Television advertising has established a pantheon of highly regarded brands and brand icons like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Michelin Tire Man and Tony the Tiger.
All national broadcasters have affiliated local stations. Local broadcast stations have some autonomy in program lineup, especially during the daytime and late-night periods. Local news is the bread and butter of local TV. Local stations have their own inventories of local ad units for sale and are given a share of some time slots available in prime-time programming for local ad sales. Buying local ads might provide a savings over national ad prices in the same TV program.
Cable television advertising brings a new level of audience targeting and cheaper advertising costs. Cable TV practically invented the long-format commercial known as Infomercials, which even national broadcasters use to sell available time inventories, especially late night.