10 February 2023

Why we must learn how to build brands in digital media

In this article, Global Head of Analytics Simon Foster, highlights the growing influence of digital media to explore how we can evolve beyond the long and short duopoly and why now is the time for this challenge.

The time is right for this challenge; the original works by Binet and Field, ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ [1] and ‘The Long and the Short of It’ [2] are now a decade old. This work put TV at the heart of brand building, but since then the media consumption landscape has changed dramatically.

In 2013, and taking the US as an example, TV, radio, and print dominated with 53% of media consumption minutes. Within this, TV delivered 4:30 minutes per day (38%). At the same time, digital channels accounted for the 4:50 mins (40%).   But by 2022, US TV, radio, and print consumption had fallen to 34% and US mobile and desktop had grown to around 62% of consumption (although total media consumption minutes have increased by around 15%, likely due to mobile ubiquity) [3]. Most significantly, US mobile consumption has almost doubled from around two hours per day to over four. Patterns for the UK are broadly similar, with 2:26 mins on TV in 2012 failing to 1:42 in 2022 and 24:00 mins per day in Social growing to 1:17 mins by 2022 [4].

Against these tectonic shifts, Binet and Field’s 2013 argument that TV is the prerequisite brand-building channel must be challenged and, as a consequence, we need to ask, how do we build brands in digital media?

Traditionally, TV has been the place where ‘System 1’ messaging has been delivered through  emotional connections, fame and reach.  System 1 messaging is a core ingredient of fame building. This type of communication aims for high mental availability and fast effortless decision making through ubiquity - which is essentially, fame.  At the core of this thinking is reach - reaching as many of your potential audience as possible. Put in a slightly different way by the late Jeremy Bullmore, “if you want to be as famous as BMW, it’s no use being known only by the tiny percentage of the population who can afford to buy your car today”.

Until recently, digital channels have been used primarily to target these “tiny percentages'' with System 2 “buy now” messaging. But this approach severely undervalues the reach potential of digital channels.  According to IPA Touchpoints the post lockdown high reach digital media channels are social media and functional internet (commercially funded websites which are not for media, social media or communication e.g. search, shopping, researching). These channels can deliver 70% to 80% weekly all-adult reach, putting them on a par with commercial TV and way ahead of commercial radio, magazines, newsbrands and cinema.

Of course all this means moving your guardrail KPIs from performance to brand metrics like attitudinal shifts, recall, preference, purchase intent, and incremental brand growth. Measurement and monitoring techniques need to shift uplift experiments, MMM and tracking studies.

The shifts in focus that are required to build brands in digital are summarised in the table below:

By changing the way we plan, activate, measure and benchmark digital channels we unlock their ever-expanding potential to build and reinforce brand attributes and, in doing so, prove it's now  time to move beyond the long and short of it.


  1. Binet and Field, ‘Marketing in the Era of Accountability’ IPA 2007
  2. Binet and Field, ‘The Long and the Short of it: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies’, IPA 2013
  3. ‘Average time spend with media in the US’, eMarketer April 2016 and April 2022
  4. IPA Touchpoints 2023
  5. IPA ‘Making Sense: the Commercial Media Landscape’ 2022