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Media Planning,Consumer Trends,

Multi-Tasking: TV's Friend And Foe

TV advertisers have always worked hard to get their messages across during the commercial break, banking on distinctive ads and effective media plans to get noticed.

Smartphones and tablets, however, are changing the rules of the game. These small, sofa-friendly screens can sometimes distract but can also complement ads and programs, creating a new canvas of engagement for marketers and broadcasters alike.

In Hong Kong for example, Coca-Cola targeted iPhone-owning youngsters with an interactive campaign called ‘Chok! Chok! Chok!’, slang for rapid motion among Hong Kong teens.

A branded iPhone app allowed viewers to catch virtual bottle caps tumbling from TV screens with a swing or chok of their phones when special TVCs aired at 10pm each night. These could lead to instant prizes, including discounts, collectibles and virtual games.

Ad agency McCann Worldgroup, who worked on the campaign, called it the most successful promotion and TVC Coke had run in the city in 35 years.

Multi-tasking is becoming more common, especially among younger consumers, placing a premium on genuine engagement – whether it is on the big screen, a small screen or both.

TV can still hold its own with compelling shows though, even among a connected audience. A recent study by research agency Millward Brown, covering 32 countries worldwide, indicated that 16-44 year-olds with a smartphone or tablet are only multi-tasking about a third of the time they spend watching TV.

Furthermore, some simultaneous online activity is triggered by what’s on the big screen – to find out more about a TV program, for instance, or to chat about a show in real-time via social media.

The 16 to 44 year-olds surveyed by Millward Brown – arguably the demographic most likely to pick up new media habits – only ignored the TV for around 20% of the time it was on, killing time during ad breaks for example, or chatting with friends on an unrelated topic.

The picture is similar in APAC, with variations becoming more apparent within specific markets. However, young connected consumers in this part of the world spend less time watching TV: 104 minutes a day on average, according to Millward Brown, compared with 114 minutes worldwide, and 147 minutes in the US. The proportion of time spent multi-tasking is slightly higher too.

multiple approaches

Insights like these could provide another way to evaluate media beyond time spent, rewarding media owners on depth of engagement. There is plenty of interest in this area, both by media owners that see a competitive advantage in their content, as well as advertisers keen to improve ROI. However, mainstream adoption is unlikely in the near term, according to media agency executives.

“Migrating from an audience currency to an engagement currency is not without complexity, hence the lack of agreement and rate of change,” notes Paul Moreton, chief investment officer in Asia-Pacific for Omnicom Media Group. Once advertisers start focusing on engagement, they arrive at different interpretations of what the term means.

“You are moving from a standardized metric to a more customized and individual metric,” Moreton explains. “With that approach, you lose industry-wide economies of scale and the cost/benefit equation starts to inhibit development.”

Studies on multi-tasking can be useful for pre-campaign planning, helping validate anecdotal theories on engagement, observes Rajesh Mahtani, Starcom MediaVest Group’s head of growth and strategy for Southeast Asia. Engagement, however, forms just one part of an increasingly complex picture, as marketers move away from traditional reach-based measures.

“People are behaving dynamically and we need to plan for those dynamic interactions to create experiences that combine different screens, which people can enjoy and share,” Mahtani says. “The challenge is how to get people engaged, and what those post-campaign metrics are, to prove success.”


Savvy advertisers worldwide are taking advantage of social networks to deepen engagement with people watching TV.

Earlier this year, Heineken collaborated with ad agency partners DDB and Tribal Worldwide in Amsterdam to use Twitter to connect with fans during broadcasts of Uefa European football.

The #sharethesofa campaign allowed fans to connect over Twitter during select matches with former players such as Owen Hargreaves and Ruud Gullit, who would respond in real time by tweet, photo or Vine, Twitter’s six-second video platform.

Connected devices are changing the way people watch TV, potentially driving deeper engagement in real time as well as creating more occasions to consume TV shows as well as related content.

Major sponsor Samsung and its media buying firm Starcom MediaVest were said to have negotiated with ABC TV network to have Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone integrated into this year’s Academy Awards.

When Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres handed a Samsung smartphone to actor Bradley Cooper so he could take a selfie shot with other celebrities during this year’s shows, the resulting image ended up with more than 3 million retweets on Twitter. While product placement in TV is nothing new, simultaneous social networking helped make this plant a viral success.


This article also appears in the Q3 2014 edition of Media Business Asia magazine.

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