Advertising Effectiveness Versus Online Media Coverage: the Evidence Part 3

In the final, part 3, of this series comparing the impact of online media coverage with advertising, we are going to look at individual brands.  This follows part 1 and part 2 where we provided hard evidence of the strong relationship between audiences generated by online media coverage and consideration, in the form of Google searches, as well as sales, for both cars and supermarkets, respectively.  In part 2 we also addressed the importance of audience data and the role this has played in explaining why these strong relationships are only now coming to light.

So far we have considered brands in the context of entire sectors, but how does the effectiveness of online media coverage compare with advertising on a brand-by-brand basis?  Before looking at brands that do advertise, there is one major business that has never advertised and therefore provides an ideal control for understanding the role of online media coverage in building success.  That business is Tesla and the car we are going to look at is the Tesla Model 3.  Now the best-selling electric vehicle of all time, the Tesla Model 3 competes in a market that is highly competitive, with billions spent on advertising by competing brands.

Figure 1 shows the relationship between the audience generated by online media coverage for the Tesla Model 3 in the UK over the past three years and UK Google searches for it over the same period.  Great care must always be taken when analysing and interpreting data because correlation does not automatically mean causation, but however you look at it – and we have carried out test upon test – figure 1 reveals truly remarkable results.  Statistically, the correlation coefficient for the relationship is 0.92 at a significance level of 99.999999999% (recurring), which in plain English means the probability this has happened by chance alone is less than one in a billion.  Here, indeed, is yet more definitive proof of the power of online media coverage.

 Fig 1. Audience generated by online media coverage for the Tesla Model 3 and UK Google searches for the car over the past three years

It should also be remembered that not only has the Tesla Model 3 achieved fantastic sales results, but it has done this despite carrying out zero advertising; and while we must emphasise that this does not mean advertising is unnecessary, it confirms our strongly held belief that the advertising industry must take the impact of online media coverage into account when analysing effectiveness.

Having now looked at the impact of online media coverage on a brand that has done no advertising, we should also consider what happens when online media coverage and advertising work together.  It is important to stress that we are not talking here about advertising deliberately used to generate a story for PR purposes, a typical example of which would be the annual John Lewis Christmas advertisement.  Rather, we are talking about what might be termed the ‘day-to-day’ use of advertising to support a brand, for instance when launching a new product or updated version of a brand at any period in the course of a year.

The Ford Mustang Mach-E advertising campaign called ‘Watch Me’ was named YouGov’s Automotive Advertisement of the Month for June, 2021, after increasing the company’s Ad Awareness scores by 2.2 points in a month.  The campaign also generated strong interest among consumers, especially the use of legendary American singer James Brown’s track Super Bad as backing music.  This was a popular advertisement that generated a lot of consumer interest.

Metricomm’s attribution modelling system enables us to understand the effectiveness of online media coverage versus other marketing activities at varying degrees of significance over different periods of time.  In this instance our analysis looked at the impact of online media coverage and advertising on consumer interest tracked using UK Google search – a method championed by advertising effectiveness expert, Les Binet.  Initial findings suggested that while advertising for the Ford Mustang Mach-E had a greater short-term impact on UK Google searches, online media coverage was more effective over much longer periods and resulted in generating more searches overall.  A more studied analysis, however, revealed how the online media coverage and advertising worked together, each amplifying the effect of the other to generate greater overall results and ROI.

Turning our attention to another electric vehicle, the Vauxhall Mokka-e advertising campaign ran during early spring, 2021, and was designed to encourage drivers to ‘unbox themselves’.  Initial findings from our analysis of this campaign suggested the advertising generated around three times more UK Google searches than online media coverage.  So, a big win for advertising?  Well, not necessarily, as a more studied analysis revealed how Vauxhall might have missed out on significant sales potential by failing to capitalise on the power of online media coverage.

Fig 2. Cumulative audience generated by online media coverage for the Vauxhall Mokka-e and Ford Mustang Mach-E (normalised).  Major advertising ran during early spring and June, 2021, respectively

A major benefit of Metricomm’s big data approach is that we can look at entire sectors and when we do this for electric cars we immediately see a very big difference between the audience generated by online media coverage for the Ford Mustang-E and the Vauxhall Mokka-e.  As figure 2 reveals, the Mustang Mach-E consistently achieved much greater audience reach through online media coverage than the Mokka-e.  What the evidence presented here and in the previous two posts in the series strongly suggests is that consumer interest in the Mokka-e, measured using Google searches but also extending to potential sales, would have been significantly greater had Vauxhall achieved greater audience reach through online media coverage.

One question that springs to mind given the indisputable evidence presented in this series, is why online media coverage is as powerful as our findings have revealed?  There are a number of practical reasons for this, from the fact that online media coverage stays on the web for a long time to it inherently being just a mouse-click or finger-tap away from further action.  But just as important is how the consumer purchasing journey has changed – and continues to change – in the 21st century.

It might seem absurd, but the purchase of a new car is now surprisingly similar to the purchase of a packet of soap powder, except of course when it comes to the final cost.  Someone buying a new car will nearly always do a significant amount of research before purchase, which in today’s world means carrying out online searches.  Search engine algorithms are designed in such a way that online media coverage will nearly always be at or close to the top of search results.  The consumer will also look at online reviews and search for expert opinion, which is why the automotive media play such a key role in car sales.  Finally, the consumer will make the purchase, which increasingly for cars is also happening online.

Now consider washing powder.  20 years or so ago the purchasing decision would have been driven primarily by brand loyalty, built largely on the back of advertising, POS display, packaging and price.  Today, however, consumers are far more aware of the impact their purchases can have on the world, especially the environment. Washing powders might clean ‘whiter than white’ but are they also likely to poison the planet in the process?  While it would not have been easy for a consumer to check this 20 years ago, the advent of smartphones means they can now do so from pretty much anywhere, even at the point of sale.  Once again, their search for information will almost certainly involve online media coverage; and while the cost-of-living crisis will undoubtedly have a major impact on pricing, many consumers will still need to be reassured that their purchases are sound.

In summary, what we are witnessing is a sea change to which advertisers and marketers must respond if they are to continue to drive business success.  In part 1 of this series, Metricomm challenged the advertising industry to take online media coverage into account when measuring advertising effectiveness.  This is not to denigrate advertising in any way because we know it remains hugely powerful.  What we now know, however, is that online media coverage is also very powerful and far more effective than has previously been recognised or understood.

Brands that take online media coverage fully into account when planning and measuring their campaigns will reap the rewards with greater ROI and a stronger bottom-line while those that do not will miss out.  The evidence for this is clear and indisputable.