Fitting TV Ads in the Marketing Funnel

The idea of a marketing funnel came long before the days of TV ads. William Townsend gets credited with first proposing the concept of a funnel in 1924. Since then, marketing and advertising gurus have created countless versions of the concept of the funnel, but they all include some variation of these four sections: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase.

Essentially, the funnel’s sections are a human psychology map that shows a typical person’s journey toward purchase. A person won’t be interested in a product unless she’s aware of it. And she won’t consider buying it unless she’s interested in it.

When you apply different types of advertising to the funnel sections, the model becomes more useful. At its widest, the funnel represents a huge audience that needs to be made aware of your offering. As the funnel gets narrower, the idea is that the advertising becomes more tailored to specific target audiences and more focused on conversion. (i.e., persuading someone to buy whatever you’re advertising).

TV ads limited to awareness

TV ads have always been assigned to the widest part of the funnel, which makes sense because TV advertising has historically been a spray and pray approach. Since the very first TV ad — a Bulova commercial in 1941 — television has been a perfect awareness tool. For most of TV’s history, though, the awareness section of the funnel is where its effectiveness stopped. Sure, certain types of TV ads have tried to take viewers through the entire marketing funnel — from awareness to purchase — in one sitting (e.g., infomercials or heavily promotional ads), but most TV ads have focused on its strength, driving awareness and the company’s brand.

TV simply could not offer ad options that were more targeted or dynamic. Advertisers had to used generalized TV data about who was watching what kind of program at what time of day and then put money into advertising on that show at that time. That was as addressable as TV ads got. There was no telling for sure who might see your ad, but there was a guarantee that a big audience would see it. And in that audience, people you were targeting would hopefully be over-indexed in seeing your ad.

TV is still indisputably the best form of awareness advertising. No other platform can put an ad in front of as many eyes at one time as TV can. Even with the growing capabilities of digital advertising options, TV overshadows its reach. Those who say TV is dead or dying are ignoring TV’s power to drive awareness.

TV ads improving their effectiveness down the funnel

As TV technology has advanced, so have the possibilities for TV ads. Thanks to smart TVs and accompanying analytics possibilities, advertisers can better understand viewer demographics so that their ad spend gets used more efficiently. Plus, the internet connectivity of smart TVs now facilitates addressable advertising for linear TV, dynamically delivering targeted ads to those highly specific audiences. In the future it will go even one step further with the ability to coordinate second screen advertising with concurrent TV ads. Audiences can learn about a product on TV and, during that ad, receive a “click-to-buy” ad on their phones.

These advances have taken TV ads beyond just the awareness section of the marketing funnel. Here’s a marketing funnel concept that shows how TV ads can now span the entire funnel:

Imagine a scenario where a company wants to boost sales of a new home AI device. Their target market is 18-30 year-old college-educated women with an income between $40-60k. With the typical tight ad budget and a high sales goal to hit, the company probably wouldn’t even consider TV as an option. With advances in TV ads, however, the company could in fact run an effective TV campaign. Addressable TV options would let the company define and reach their exact target audience. Couple that addressability with second screen dynamic ads, and the company could move their target audience from awareness to purchase all through a TV ad campaign.

So where do TV ads fit in the marketing funnel? While the answer used to be “primarily awareness brand building,” you can now answer, “anywhere you want them to fit.”

Sam Petersen
Sam Petersen
Content Marketing Manager
Sam is a conflicted marketer. He loves being creative, but also thrives on numbers and analytics. Sam has worked in several messaging-focused roles during his career, including journalism, PR, product marketing, and now, content marketing. When he's not stewing over his conflictual identity, he heads to the mountains to hike, ski, run, etc.