Media needs better regional advertising: ITV’s Geo-X should only be the start

Media needs better regional advertising: ITV’s Geo-X should only be the start

By David Price, Managing Director, The Grove Media

ITV’s new data-measuring service enables advertisers to assess the effectiveness of their regional campaigns. Its significance is potentially greater than meets the eye.

Regional media has historically been considered difficult to plan and track and, for some, just simply time consuming. It’s arguably resulted in under-investment across regional media platforms and a lack of specialists in the market. But regional media has many loved and trusted brands and an ability to drive high engagement with audiences.

So, ITV’s Geo-X, announced at the end of May, could be the important boost the sector needs. And if other key media owners invest in similar initiatives — while making necessary moves in digitisation — it could help to drive significant growth in regional media.

Created by ITV AdLabs, Geo-X measures key metrics across both regional and national campaigns. The free service provides advertisers with tools, analysis and data to run geographical experiments to demonstrate campaign effectiveness against a variety of outcomes.

The new service also analyses multiple KPIs including sales, visits, sources of web traffic, search, demographic response and brand tracking metrics. ITV says the Geo-X tests are likely to be twice as sensitive at revealing the value of TV ads.

Growth opportunity

All of this stacks up to be a good move from ITV. Clearly, the broadcaster is looking at ways to drive revenue in a tough market and is apparently keen to get this introduced properly to agencies so they can start generating new revenue.

And, let’s face it, Geo-X plays to ITV’s strengths. It has always been the most flexible regional TV advertising option due to the origins of its franchise set-up and its multiple transmission areas. Geo-X is a smart, packaged offering that could really help to quantify the benefits of regional TV and help entice new-to-air brands.

And there is real growth potential in regional media. While there are no definitive sources for total regional adspend, The Grove Media estimates the market to be worth £1.5bn to £2bn per annum. That’s about 6% of total UK adspend. GroupM has recently forecast a bullish 4.8% increase in UK adspend for 2023 and we believe that regional advertising growth will be in line or greater than this.

When you look at the Government statistics, SMEs have driven the increase in the number of UK private businesses over the past 20 years. And, while London and the South East account for 34% of the UK business population, there’s still a majority of business in the regions, which, arguably, is still a largely untapped market from a regional advertising perspective.

Agencies need more help

And with such untapped potential there is an opportunity for other media owners to follow ITV’s lead, making regional media more accountable — and attractive — in terms of ROI and attribution. Historically, regional media has been considered expensive and difficult to plan and track. Many of the national and international agencies fail to see the value in having regional specialists, and to a certain extent this has shaped advertiser attitudes towards the sector.

So, for agencies that can really see the value in regional media, we need more help with results attribution and campaign effectiveness solutions so that TV can demonstrate its value and prove its place on the schedule. And it’s not just TV. Tracking and accountability is still lacking in offline regional media. Unfortunately, the sector has been slow to evolve in a digital world, not helped by fragmentation and legacy ownership and structural issues.

Regional newsbrands have traditionally been the vanguard of the sector, but if they’re to remain relevant, further investment is most definitely required. And it’s not just investment in attribution and measurement solutions, some of the regional news brands have been slow to provide their transitioning online readers with content that’s of a quality befitting their brands. This must be addressed as advertisers need to be confident of buying into a product that delivers large volumes of engaged readers in a quality, high visibility environment, and that delivers truly measurable results.

Part of the reason why regional media is not fulfilling its potential is down to fragmentation and complexity. To drive spend in regional media, we need to find ways to simplify planning and buying. Cross-sell packages and bringing inventory together from different media owners could be a way forward.

Pooling cross-channel inventory at competitive rates could be a way of enticing more business and reducing planning and execution time. I would argue for the creation of regional or local hubs where media owners come together to promote ‘all things regional’ — maybe even a Regional Advertising Bureau! This could provide the ideal forum for establishing better campaign attribution technology and cross-channel reporting.

Such initiatives will require a change of mindset, with media owners rising above competitive rivalries for collective gain. And package selling must be done by expert people, on the ground, with real regional and local market knowledge. Global could be the catalyst for this, with their strong regional radio and outdoor capability.

Test and learn in the regions

And there is also an opportunity for regional media to play a more important role at a national level. Regional testing was once quite prevalent, as it was the definitive way for brands to test the launch of new products. In addition, national advertisers would use regional media to upweight areas where national media penetration was below par. The pressure to deliver instant results through online channels appears to have changed this with advertisers opting for short-term performance and ROI at cheaper cost-per-thousands (CPTs) rather than longer term brand response strategies.

However, as national media becomes more affordable at a regional level, there’s opportunity once again for advertisers to product test regionally and to assess the effectiveness of a channel without breaking the bank. This could be particularly beneficial for categories such as healthcare, FMCG and finance where discrete targeting and testing is necessary. Beyond broadcast, testing and regional up-weighting could see effective use of news brands, direct mail, mobile and digital out-of-home.

Regional advertising boasts some of the most trusted and loved media brands in the UK. And, with the right planning and buying, you can minimise audience wastage and achieve higher conversions. But the sector needs to do more to improve both its image and offer for advertisers.

ITV’s Geo-X is a clear demonstration of what the industry needs. It’s now up to other media owners to follow suit and to work collaboratively for the collective good of the sector.

This article appeared in The Media Leader, link below.