What Can Football Teach Us About CTV?

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By Chris Kelly, CEO and Founder of Upwave

Football is back! And while empty stadiums, piped-in crowd noise, and last-minute postponed games are among the many notable differences this season, a positive change is in how many new ways you can tune in to watch your favorite team play. While most of this year’s NFL games continue to air on the traditional linear TV Networks (CBS, FOX, NBC, the NFL Network, ESPN), more games than ever will air on Connected TV (CTV) too. Thanks to a new streaming deal, Thursday Night Football now streams on Amazon Prime, while other games are available to stream on Yahoo Sports, as well as the various cable networks’ own streaming services. For the first time, Amazon will even have the exclusive TV rights to a Saturday NFL game later this season. And, if early trends are any indication, NFL viewership on CTV will be way up this year. According to data marketing company Zeta, August – before the regular season even began – saw a 60% increase in NFL related digital traffic compared with the same month last year.

This is even more fuel on the streaming fire – no wonder the IAB expects CTV ad spend to be up almost 20% year-over-year despite an overall stagnant ad market.

However, I’ve talked to some advertisers who are new to CTV and are, in my opinion, underutilizing its capabilities. They are usually digitally-native, performance-oriented advertisers who demand immediate sales results, like they’ve always expected from digital channels.  CTV, however, blends the best two worlds: the granular targeting of digital with the immersive full-screen attention of linear.  So, why not take advantage of that natural hybrid? Anyone who focuses just on performance misses half of CTV’s value – the all-important brand-building part.

But, wait – isn’t the whole point of advertising to drive sales?

Think about the Marketing Funnel Like a Football Field 

Saying “the goal of advertising is to drive sales” is like saying “the goal of a football team’s offense is to score points.”  It’s a truism but is short-sighted and an oversimplification.

Imagine an NFL’s advanced analytics team announcing they analyzed the likelihood of every play to score a touchdown, while smugly noting they’re focused on performance so have no interest in wasted plays.  The analysis concludes that the QB sneak has, by far, the highest likelihood of scoring a touchdown of everything in their playbook.  Their conclusion is to call the QB sneak on every play, perhaps even 4th & 10th from the 50-yard line.  After all, the performance data is clear.

Of course, even a casual fan sees this is ludicrous.  The QB sneak’s scoring percentage is only high because it’s a play run once an offense gets to the goaline! It’s not effective at driving you down the field.  It then becomes apparent the goal of an offense as a whole is to score points, not the goal of every single play.  Some plays need to drive you down the field.

Our hypothetical advanced analytics friends would find a welcoming home in many marketing analytics departments. Many CTV buyers are still demanding budgets be pushed only to the campaigns, creatives, publishers, and tactics directly driving sales.  Some of these line items are the QB sneaks of advertising – yes, doing the critical work of getting you a conversion, but they all build off the success of the other line items that drove consumers down the funnel – from awareness to favorability to consideration to purchase intent.  To complete the analogy, it should be apparent by now the goal of advertising as a whole is to drive sales, not the goal of every single campaign.  Some campaigns need to drive you down the funnel.

Marketers: Play the Full Funnel to Really Rack Up Points 

So, what should a football-fan marketer do?

Work with your CTV platform partners to ensure you’re leveraging both the brand-building and sales-activation capabilities of CTV.  Don’t cut off campaigns that aren’t driving short-term sales, if you have clear evidence those campaigns are driving brand outcomes – i.e. moving consumers down your funnel.  In the last few years, significant progress has been made in the broader analytics space around incrementality measurement, providing more confidence than ever that you are getting clear wins at top-of-funnel and mid-funnel.

Those are the investments that will get you into the Red Zone – and from there, your CTV performance campaigns can get you into the end zone.

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