Rethinking a necessary evil: Three things digital marketers can learn from the NBA Playoffs

If you’re a basketball fan, maybe you’ve noticed feeling less compelled to flip channels during the game in recent months. Or maybe you’re finding the ubiquitous “TV timeout” (an opportunity you once used to abandon the game for an expedition to the fridge) a little more absorbing than it was in years past.

Well, there’s a very good reason for that.

Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, recently gave a fascinating interview about the analytics behind viewer behavior and some strategic changes to the way the NBA places ads within the game to keep the attention of the viewer.

Silver and his team are passionately devoted to continually examining the analytics of viewer behavior to understand how long the average user stays engaged and where viewer levels drop-off. “Not surprisingly, we lose the highest number of fans when we move off live-action, especially at halftime,” Silver noted. “And we lose fans at every commercial break. So we’re experimenting, with Turner and ESPN, with not leaving the arena completely during commercial breaks, and instead having a split-screen, where we stay with the huddle at the same time we show an ad. It’s a trade-off for our marketing partners. On the one hand, they’d like the full attention of a viewer. On the other hand, they might prefer to keep all of the viewers and find ways to create connections with their products and engage directly with the game.”

The NBA’s willingness to rethink the “necessary evil” of TV advertising has resulted in a more engaged viewer who is less apt to flip channels or abandon the game for other distractions. The viewer still sees the marketing materials and product advertisements, but it’s within the context of an in-game experience, thus resulting in an audience that’s a little more engaged as the products are being pitched. Silver also outlined other ways his team has shifted the TV experience to increase engagement such as incorporating player mics, alternate camera angles, and other data fields for users to understand the metrics behind the game.

So what can a digital marketer learn from watching the NBA Playoffs?

  1. Necessary evils in advertising may not be as necessary as you think. Putting an ad in front of your audience may be a channel of marketing you choose to take, but it doesn’t have to be flashy and assertive. Advertising can also convey content that is creative, compelling and useful to consumers, even though it may result in a more indirect path (read: more clicks) to conversion. It’s true that subtlety in marketing & advertising can result in a longer sales cycle, but it can also create lasting relationships with your customers that a more direct “in-your-face” approach may not produce.
  2. You can’t create a better user experience without understanding the places where engagement is lagging or users are dropping off. Creating a visual funnel in your data can be a great method of determining where engagement is slowing or where users are abandoning the conversion path altogether. Don’t be afraid to engage with actual consumers in order to understand how they experience your website. Oftentimes our clients are surprised in what they learn when they stop making assumptions and start talking with real, live users of their product or website.
  3. Don’t be afraid to invite your users deeper into the experience. Conveying a personality that’s consistent and feels authentic is often a road-block for many of our clients. It can be difficult to find a voice for your brand and pinpoint the fine line of just how much to share with the general public. But inviting users into a “behind-the-scenes” look at your team in action or your product being made gives an authenticity to your company and an opportunity for your audience to feel actively engaged and invested in your brand.

The bottom line is this –the key to the future of digital advertising is a better understanding of your users and a willingness to find ways to creatively convey engaging content to them. Taking an opportunity to rethink your ad content and how your ads are delivered is a good first step toward the future success of your brand.