Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist | James Arnold, Chief Digital Officer | Ted Haller, Senior Media Strategist | Chandler Bruns, Social Media Manager

If you’ve been in a marketing role for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard of the ‘Rule of Seven,” the historic adage that says a potential customer needs to see or hear your message at least seven times before they’re ready to buy. This old chestnut, while serving honorably for nearly 100 years, assumes that all messages – print ads, TV spots, roadside billboard signs, etc. – are all equal, and all count as “one message.”

But what about the new media? Is a tweet that same as a print ad? Is a YouTube commercial the same as a TV spot? Is an online billboard the same as a roadside billboard?

No. All messages are not created equal.

Inherently we know this, which is why many marketing professionals struggle to create the right media mix. They know it’s important to “spread the wealth,” in the same way that amateur investors put money in different stocks and bonds; nobody wants to put all their eggs in a single basket.

Unfortunately, the marketing landscape and the options available today can be just as overwhelming as the financial world. And without a solid marketing plan that tells you where to deploy your assets, your chances of getting a message through to your target audience seven times – or even once – are pretty slim.

The reason? Consumers are overwhelmed. Again, inherently we know this, but when you look at the numbers, it’s frightening. Adults today spend more than 11 hours on average consuming media, most of it via smart phones, television, and laptops. They’re exposed to as many as 10,000 ads per day, far more than a normal person can handle, so the brain begins to subconsciously filter and screen for relevant information, ignoring everything else. Still, marketers continue to pile on. According to eMarketer, digital spending will exceed $375 billion next year – $75 billion more than in 2020.

Knowing the strengths and weakness of a particular medium can help you assess its place in your mix. To that end, we looked at the most common criteria for evaluating media and ranked the most-used media (print, TV, radio, digital, social) accordingly. If all messages are not created equal, it pays to know the winners and losers.

1. Cost: Social Media is free, right? Contrary to what many non-marketing executives believe, there is a cost to social media – but it’s considerably less than other media, which is why it wins this category.

Cost is one of the easier metrics to evaluate because we have a common measure, CPM, the cost to reach 1,000 (hopefully relevant) people. Paid social campaigns are measured in pennies or dollars, although agricultural advertisers are limited to some degree by the lists available – see targeting, below. Digital advertising is a close second with costs ranging from as low as $50 to around $3000 CPM (5 cents to $3 per qualified visitor).

Traditional media costs range from inexpensive to downright obscene, but for the purposes of this article we looked at local farm networks and boomer stations, state magazines, and spot TV in rural areas. Radio was the least expensive of the three for a single spot but that is not always the case, and you have to look at radio on a weekly basis for cost which drives the absolute cost higher. Print will usually always win on a CPM basis with a page equaling the cost of 2 to 5 radio spots covering a state. Spot TV is a different animal, and a TV spot can often cost less than an Ag radio spot in the same market, particularly in early morning. With TV, as with radio, you have to look at the weekly rate to get a true picture. If you’re looking at national buys, the costs increase geometrically, with National Ag TV rivaling print for efficiency. National satellite ag radio is very efficient but doesn’t come close to the coverage of local radio.

2. Quality metrics: Social and Digital help you track success. When you run campaigns using Google AdWords, on Facebook, with YouTube, or on any number of digital or social properties, the number of real-time metrics you can look at is staggering. For that reason, Social and Digital display take this category as a tie.

Traditional media? Not so much. With TV in Nielsen-metered markets you can see next-day results of how many people viewed the program where your spot ran. Some print magazines do follow-up calls to measure how many readers saw or read your ad. But true metrics are hard to come by and real-time measures don’t exist. As streaming radio and connected television continue to evolve this will change, but for today, traditional media is at a considerable disadvantage to online offerings when it comes to available metrics.

3. Audience targeting: Digital display makes it easy to shoot where the fish are. According to the Pew Research team, the number of Americans who are online right now is in the 90-plus-percent range. And for advertisers, there is an almost unlimited number of ways to target them. For this reason, Digital display takes the category, followed closely by Social Media, which is closing fast. A recent Farm Market ID study found that 66 percent of rural Americans use Facebook, and several studies show that while the percentage of farmers who use Twitter is less than 60 percent, the ones who use it are using it a lot.

Among the traditional media, print is still the best way to reach farmers. Radio and TV offer some demographic targeting options to reach farmers — local weather, for instance, or mid-day news – but you’re obviously paying to reach a long list of non-farmers, as well.

4. Time spent with medium: Must-See TV. Is network television a dying medium? Maybe. According to Nielsen, Millennials and teens watch 40-percent less traditional TV than they did five years ago, but their parents and grandparents are still tuning in; 96-percent of adults 65-plus watch 30 minutes or more each week. Radio is a close second, according to Nielsen, and terrestrial radio is still viable; only 21-percent of adults surveyed by the ratings group listen to internet radio or through an app, although the gap between digital and traditional is narrowing quickly. Print remains popular, despite the number of experts predicting its demise. According to eMarketer, 72-percent of Americans read at least one magazine per month and 45 percent still read printed newspapers. When people read, they tend to be more focused, with less multi-tasking, and you always have the option of pulling a page or ad out and save it to read or use again.

Digital display and social rank last in this category, and it’s not because consumers are getting tired of their computers and mobile phones. On the contrary, 96-percent of adults 18-24 go online regularly; more than half of adults 65-plus are online, as well, and the numbers are growing. But where consumers are happy to watch a 30-minute TV program or listen to news broadcasts or radio programs while commuting, the time spent at a single online page or tool is measured in seconds.

5. Proximity to Purchase: Digital and Social close the deal. Thanks to the proliferation of online shopping, new media has a clear advantage here – just one click away from purchase. On top of this, 37 percent of consumers say they use social media for “purchase inspiration.” We’re not sure this is the case in agricultural advertising, but reviews and online testimonials are important.

On the traditional side, print has the edge over broadcast here because consumers can cut out coupons or articles. However, none of these media are particularly low in the purchase funnel.

And the winner is …

  1. Digital. Granted, it’s hard to cut through the clutter sometimes, but the sheer number of online users, the hours they spend surfing, the immediacy of messaging, and the granularity of targeting combine to make this the first place we’d recommend spending media dollars.
  2. Print. In most other industries traditional print would be the least-best option, but farmers still read magazines and farm newspapers; electronic versions of publications had a head-start and more adoption to date than internet radio or connected television.
  3. Social Media. As more and more farmers migrate to social channels, expect this medium to leapfrog print and challenge digital. You get the best of digital’s targeting and immediacy, plus more intimate, two-way communication.
  4. Radio. Buying space around farm reports, weather, and news programming on local stations is still a cost-effective way to reach a farm audience.
  5. TV still has tremendous reach, but it comes at a premium and with costly inefficiencies. Interactive television is interesting, but still in its infancy.

We’re sure you’ve already noted this, but we’d be remiss in not telling you that there are myriad caveats, exceptions, and contingencies to these rankings. What, where, when, and why you’re advertising can make a huge difference on which medium to choose. But in general, we’d put more weight on effective digital that can be measured than other media, for the reasons stated above. And if you’re still confused and want a second or third or fourth pair of eyes on your media plan, we’d love to start a conversation.