Linli Xu

Assistant Professor Linli Xu Examines Effectiveness of TV Advertisements

Friday, August 16, 2019

For decades, it’s been difficult for television advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their advertisements each time they ran. But now, with seemingly everyone watching TV with a second screen in their hand, advertisers can see the immediate response to one of their ads.

New research from Carlson School Assistant Professor Linli Xu and her coauthors examine the types of online searches people made immediately following an ad, as well as the ad’s placement, time it ran, and whether it was national or local ad. 

“The reason we got involved in this research is because the second screen experience is such a phenomenon,” Xu says. “Everybody has a second screen in their hand while they’re watching TV. Traditionally, it’s very hard for TV advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their ads down to that one appearance on TV. But thanks to that second screen experience, TV advertisers can measure immediate post-ad spikes in online activities.”

Tracking Online Searches, Minute By Minute

Recently published in the Journal of Marketing, the study merged minute-by-minute brand search and price search data with spot-level TV advertisement data for three leading pickup truck brands—Chevy Silverado, Ford F-Series, and Ram Trucks—over an 11-month period.  

Xu focused on two different types of online searches people make after seeing an ad—brand searches and price searches. For brand searches, curious customers are searching for brand names on Google. For price searches, however, people searched on websites like Kelley Blue Book. 

What the researchers found was that, for both brand search and price search, search spikes happened within five minutes of the ad, after which searches dropped back down to baseline levels. What is interesting though is that the temporal pattern of the five-minute spike window is different between brand search and price search. More specifically, brand search response peaks in the minute after the ad is aired and then dissipates quickly, whereas price search response is spread out more evenly over the five minutes. 

Another finding of the research showed that there was positive spillover in the searches responding to national TV ads, meaning if a person saw a national ad for a Ford truck, they’re also likely to search for a competitor, such as Chevy or Dodge.

“The category leader receives larger positive competitive spillovers than its rivals,” Xu says. “But for price search, we saw little competitive spillovers, probably due to the fact that, as car shoppers near purchasing a car, they are less likely to do comparison shopping between brands and more likely to comparison shop between local dealerships of the same brand for the best price.”

Local Ads Inspire Searches For Big Brands

Consumers were also likely to do a price search if they saw an advertisement from local dealer associations. In general, that matches closely to prior research conducted by Xu, with local advertisements often focused on price information and national ads building brand awareness.

“We found that, relatively speaking, national spots appear to be more cost effective in generating immediate brand search response, whereas local spots appear to be more cost effective in generating immediate price search response,” Xu says.

Developing Insights From The Data

Borrowing from digital advertising, television now can see meaningful, measurable effects at the spot level and they can optimize their ads based on digital responses online through online search, website traffic, and eventually, online purchase. But her message to TV advertisers is that they should be careful with all this new data.

“There’s no one single online response metric that can measure the effectiveness of all ads because we see a difference in brand search and price search,” she says. “It has to depend on the goal of TV advertisers and then you decide which measure and metric you want to use to evaluate your TV advertisement performance.”