‘Who Cares?’ Online May Overtake Offline Spending in 2018

I found it quaint when my server at a hotel restaurant came up to me and said this morning, “Would you like to see today’s paper with your breakfast?”

“waiter,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by faungg’s photos

I found it quaint when my server at a hotel restaurant came up to me and said this morning, “Would you like to see today’s paper with your breakfast?”

“No, thank you,” I said. I actually had had this week’s print issue of The Economist with me, and opened that to read, instead. As I looked around the room however, most everyone who was reading anything was doing so on their smartphones.

While my youthful eyes (that’s a joke) still prefer print for reading, and I still prefer print for pictures, the truth is that even my own preferences for print in many instances have fallen away to smartphone, tablet, and PC demands and consumption habits. It’s as if print media has emerged as a quiet luxury — a respite from digital content and its potential many distractions.

Two weeks ago, Bruce Biegel of The Winterberry Group provided his annual “Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing for 2018,” along with a recap for 2017, at the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Two excellent summaries of the presentation are here and here, and the presentation is available for a download at the Winterberry Group site, currently. Scroll down on the home page.

During the presentation, I tweeted out the fact that online ad spend (display, search, email, mobile, affiliate, lead gen and social) he predicts will overtake offline ad spend (direct mail, teleservices, shopper and event marketing) for the first time in 2018 — with measured media, traditional media (broadcast TV, radio, outdoor, magazine, newspapers and cinema), still holding onto the largest slice. One of my industry colleagues tweeted back, “Who cares?”

Winterberry Gorup report
Credit: “Outlook for Data-Driven Marketing – 2018″ by The Winterberry Group

I suppose meeting a milestone such as this truly is inevitable, and matters only inasmuch as a historical marker of changing patterns of media consumption — and a growing comfort level for data-driven marketing. Advertisers are only chasing consumers where they are, after all. Bruce even remarked how Winterberry Group even underestimated the rapidity of the offline-to-online shift in 2017, with direct mail spend falling faster than anticipated. (It is not without note that Bruce characterized direct mail as perhaps the most “measurable, accountable” of all media.)

The next “Who cares?” moment may be if and when traditional media spend is overtaken by either offline or online media spend (or both of them), as advertisers seek out such “measurable, accountable” ad spend over the straightforward brand spend that tends to dominate traditional media categories. As chief marketing officers become more data-conversant, will they seek out more direct customer engagement over impressions? Will cost-per-thousand be supplanted by cost-per-action, even within traditional media categories? With spending on data set to grow in 2018 by 5.7 percent, offline ad spend by 3.8 percent, and digital ad spend including mobile by 15.2 percent — while traditional media is projected to decline by 0.8 percent (quite remarkable for a year with the Winter Olympics and mid-term Elections) — one might expect the “Who cares?” moment for traditional media may be coming soon.

But who cares? There will always be a role for branding — even as consumer interaction as an objective rises. Omnichannel marketing, single data views of the customer, and “right place, right offer, right moment” are largely directional and aspirational, and are well-worth pursuing. But 100 percent efficient ad spending will always be elusive.

I’m not even certain the consumer wants to be all that much engaged. Consumers don’t always consume — they sometimes sleep, eat, relax and recharge, too. And it’s time for me to finish my breakfast.