Advertising Effectiveness Versus Online Media Coverage: the Evidence Part 1

In 2020, Les Binet, Group Head of Effectiveness at adam&eveDDB, made an important announcement about the use of Share of Search as a metric to help track the health and potential wealth of brands and advertising.  One of the claims made by Binet – and published on the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) website – was that: “Sustained advertising drives the growth of Share of Search with 60% of searches coming from the long-term effects and 40% from short-term effects”.

Metricomm’s research reveals that the audience generated by online media coverage plays a similarly significant role in driving search, which has not been considered when assessing the effectiveness of advertising.  The research also reveals the significant effect that online media coverage has on sales.

Metricomm is challenging the advertising industry to take online media coverage into account when measuring advertising effectiveness.

In this first of a series of posts we will be looking into the effectiveness of online media coverage on consumer reaction and behaviour driving search and sales for the UK car market.  As well as having one of the highest advertising budgets of all market sectors, this also enables us to study the impact of online media coverage on Tesla, a brand that has never advertised.

Metricomm specialises in the use of big data to understand the impact of media coverage on business outcomes.  We know from our work and research that while hard copy media remain useful for building long-term reputation, print publications have very little impact on audience reaction and behaviour.  We also know that while broadcast media, especially national television, has a strong impact on audiences, this is short-term and decays very rapidly.

Online media coverage has the greatest effect on audience reaction and behaviour, first, because it has wide audience reach, second, because it typically stays on the web for long periods of time, third, because it plays a key role in search algorithms; and, fourth, because it is inherently just a phone-tap or mouse-click away from further action.

Crucial to Metricomm’s ability to measure and track the impact of online media coverage on business outcomes are the company’s proprietary algorithm and search-based approach to capturing media coverage.  The search-based system captures coverage most likely to have been seen by an audience while the algorithm, developed and rigorously tested over several years, determines the size of audience most likely to engage with it.  Every single piece of coverage is analysed, with robust statistical techniques applied to the resulting data at a minimum significance level of 98%.

This approach enables Metricomm to investigate entire sectors, with brands, topics, themes and issues analysed against any number of variables according to business objectives.  The results are then integrated with data ranging from Google searches to Google Analytics, sales, TV viewing audiences or any other data that might be required.  Artificial intelligence, machine learning and other techniques can be applied according to business objectives, while a minimum statistical significance of 98% is again used, with much of the analysis carried out at levels of 99% and above.

Figure 1 shows the results of such an analysis carried out for audiences generated by online media coverage versus UK Google searches for car brands from January, 2014, to May, 2022.  There is a strong relationship, with a correlation coefficient of 0.85 at a significance level of 99.999%.  Of particular importance is the inclusion of Tesla, a brand that has never advertised.

As with any analysis we must be careful when interpreting results because correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but there are some simple tests we can apply to understand this.  For instance, is it possible that journalists write more about brands having themselves been influenced by advertising and marketing?  If that were so we would expect to see a stronger relationship between Google searches and volume of coverage than we see with audiences generated by coverage but, in fact, we see the opposite.  Volume of coverage is actually a very poor measure of performance compared to audience and this is a subject to which we will return in more detail in part 2 of this series.

Fig 1. Share of UK Google searches for car brands versus share of audience generated by online media coverage between 2015 and 2022

In summary, we can be extremely confident that online media coverage is having a very significant effect on Google searches for UK car brands.  But what about car sales?  Figure 2 shows audiences generated by online media coverage versus UK market share for brands based on SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) new registrations.

The sales data used in figure 2 has been taken from 2019 to 2022 specifically so that Tesla can be included.  Again, there is a strong relationship, with a correlation coefficient of 0.85 at a significance level of 99.999%.  The effect of online media coverage audience on Tesla has clearly been considerable, despite this being a relatively new brand that has never advertised in this country or anywhere else.

Looking at the evidence – and we will be presenting more in part 2 of this series – it is clear that online media coverage plays a very significant role in brand awareness and sales, which must be having an impact on advertising effectiveness.  In light of this evidence Metricomm believes the IPA needs to revisit work carried out on advertising effectiveness so that full account can be taken of the impact of online media coverage.

Fig 2. Share of new registrations for car brands versus share of audience generated by online media coverage between 2019 and 2022