TV advertising has driven consumer conversations for years, but evidence suggests younger viewers' growing preference for digital channels and streaming is making it harder for brands to engage with them.

That is according to Engagement Labs, a data and analytics firm, whose TotalSocial platform measured the number of times people talked about brands and product categories each week since 2013.

The study, entitled Cutting the Cord That Engages Us, found a modest overall decline in the average number of weekly consumer conversations per person (from 76 in 2013 to 73 in 2018), but also a “dramatic” decline in conversation frequency among young people.

The data revealed that the number of consumer conversations among teens dropped from 115 per person per week in 2013 to 95 in 2018, while the decline among consumers in their twenties fell from 102 to 93 over the same period.

“There is reason to believe that the culprit is declining exposure to television commercials, as millennials are cutting their cable cords in favour of streaming services – or never getting a cord in the first place,” the report said.

According to CG42 Management Consulting, 38% of US millennials receive TV services via streaming services rather than cable, and half are considering the move, the report added.

Engagement Labs said this trend matters because TV ads have always been an important driver of consumer conversations, yet there has been a “large shift” away from TV and other traditional channels to digital.

Its analysis of the last five years found that digital (31.8%) was the leading channel for ad-inspired conversations in 2018, up from just 16.6% in 2013, and slightly ahead of TV on 31.6%.

“The golden era of television made it relatively easy for brands to engage consumers, by inducing them to watch commercials with full motion and sound,” said Ed Keller, CEO of Engagement Labs.

“To succeed in this new era, advertisers will need to be more creative, more relevant and more interesting if they are going to engage consumers and earn a return on their marketing investment,” he added.

“This is a wake-up call for advertisers. There’s no stronger measure of brand engagement than consumer conversation. When brands have trouble provoking conversation and recommendation, they need to rethink marketing strategies.”

Sourced from Engagement Labs; additional content by WARC staff