Answer by Laurence Shanet, Director of Commercials, on Quora:
Why do big companies still advertise on TV instead of social media?
There’s a saying used by a number of us here on Quora: Before you ask why, you must ask if. And in this case, I also think you must ask “instead of or in addition to?” Very few large public-facing companies these days advertise only in one medium. Chances are that any large company you’re thinking of also advertises in some form on social media in addition to any television advertising that it is doing. You just may not have noticed it. There are a number of other possible reasons for your perception that “big companies still advertise on TV instead of social media”:
- It works. In some ways, your question may answer itself. I can think of no better proof of effectiveness than the fact that you’re aware of their TV advertising and not of their social media advertising.
- It’s part of a larger, so-called 360 campaign. Often television advertising is part of an overall advertising and marketing plan. And television’s role in that is very specific. Television is still an excellent way to generate large numbers in terms of reach (see next item) and brand awareness, while social media is often used in different strategic ways. They are both specific tools with specific applications and benefits in a much wider arsenal.
- TV has greater reach. Reach is the measure of how many different people a communication is seen by. It is complemented by frequency, which is the number of times the average person sees the message. As of 2018, the US had 304.5 million television viewers, which represents a 0.9% increase over 2017. And in 2017, the 301.7 million television viewers was an increase of 1.6% over 2016. So despite rumors to the contrary, TV viewership isn’t dying. It’s still growing. And the the percentage of U.S. homes with televisions receiving traditional TV signals on a TV set is currently at a whopping 96.5%. That was also an increase of 0.5% over 2018. US social media users were estimated at roughly 209 million, and they estimate about 70–77% of the population accessed the internet at all, only some of which was for social media. So while social media penetration is huge, TV is quite a bit bigger. So more people can see the message.
- People watch TV primarily at home or during leisure time. This means that they can focus on the message and take it in, rather than having to divide their attention with their work at the same time. While 70+% of people in the US can access the internet, as stated above, a significant percentage of this is based on access at work. That is much less of a factor in television viewing.
- Television advertisers provide an immediate benefit/reward for viewing. Paid advertising supports the programs that it is surrounded by. This means not only that the viewer is likely to stick around through the ad or come back to the station afterward, but that they are aware of getting something they want (a show) in return for watching the ad. While viewers complain that they don’t like commercials, research shows that many people actually choose to watch them and enjoy them. And at the very least they understand the deal they are making for getting the programming they want for free in return. Although some social media advertising also provides entertainment or a benefit, it is not part of the “covenant” and the viewer really has less reason to stay and watch or return. Social media advertising therefore doesn’t promise to provide anything in return for viewing and really only benefits the advertiser.
- Television advertising confers legitimacy and prestige. Because of its higher cost and visibility, television immediately confers an element of prestige and legitimacy on the advertiser. It’s an unspoken endorsement for the company just to be there. By contrast, social media advertising can be done at a smaller/cheaper scale and with lower investments in production costs. This is the same reason that some companies have been known to blow their entire advertising budget on one Super Bowl ad.
- There’s less noise. While there seems to be a lot of advertising on TV, in reality there are usually only 1–3 other ads running in a given commercial break alongside a company’s TV commercial. Meanwhile, on social media, there is a constant slew of ads populating most people’s feeds, numbering in the dozens every few minutes.
- It’s a captive/passive audience. If a viewer is watching a show, there’s only one thing going on at any given moment on the TV. It’s either the show or the ad. On social media, a user’s feed is a collection of dozens of items that the user can engage with or ignore. The social media user has to choose to engage with your ad, while the TV viewer just sits there and sees it in isolation without having to opt in.
- They have different demographics (and the television audience can be older/richer). While social media is renowned for its ability to target the younger target, television has the best penetration with older, wealthier targets, many of whom are very desirable to big companies as potential customers.
- Effectiveness means cost-effectiveness. Many large advertisers were lured into moving large amounts of their advertising budgets into social media based on fear of not being there. And also based on the misperception that it would cost them less. A lot of this was based on exciting presentations made by ad agencies and media sales organizations. But in the end, television advertising has a very good rate of converting viewers to users. In many cases, more so than social media does. So they get more for their dollars even if they’re higher.
- They can tell the story they want to. For some kinds of products and messages, the freedom of making a short film (which is what commercials really are) about the product or service is a better way to convey the message and meaning a company wants to. In many cases, on social media, the advertiser either has to use a more static print-style format or find some way to ensure that the user actually clicks through to see their video. While a television advertiser can just be promotional to their captive audience, social media advertisers have to entertain users first and convince them to select the ad for viewing if they want to show an actual filmed piece.
- Television and social media have different rules and restrictions. Depending on what is being advertised, and what the rules are for that particular category or genre, advertisers may be able to say things on television that they can’t on social media. The message sometimes determines the medium.
- Television is a one way street. While the interactive aspect of social media can be very useful and powerful, it can also be risky. Many advertisers want to be able to say their message without having to deal with every comment that any random user wants to make about it. On social media, they can’t always control acts of anger, vandalism, or random irrelevance that social media can generate. Often they don’t want their message to appear alongside other messages they can’t control. Just because companies sometimes want to hear from you doesn’t mean they always do. Nor do they want to hand over control of their brand’s image to the general public.
Bottom line: It’s actually fairly unlikely that the large companies you’re thinking of are actually advertising on TV instead of social media. They are probably doing it in addition to social media. And the reason they are doing that is that it is very effective for them, and works much better than social media alone for all of the reasons stated above. So much so that you have noticed their television advertising more than their other forms.