This fourth installment in WARC’s “Marketing Truths” podcast series looks at how crucial it is where marketing messages show up and reach consumers.

Podcast episode

Marketing Truth #4: Maximize reach to achieve the greatest impact
with Ilana Wiles, director of strategic media planning, Ally Financial

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The first episode, “Effectiveness is as important as efficiency,” looked at why it is imperative that CMOs help their organizations understand how effectiveness needs to be evaluated to understand marketing investment. The second truth, “Strong brands have an effectiveness advantage,” dove into how organizations that put the work into brand-building can reap the benefits, and improve both short- and long-term outcomes. The third marketing truth, “Creativity supercharges marketing’s impact,” lays out how a strong creative campaign can make a media investment go further. This week, we are looking at how media plans are a key aspect of effective marketing with Ilana Wiles, director of strategic media planning for Ally Financial.

Where, and how, campaigns show up is a crucial aspect of marketing effectiveness, with research firm NCSolutions having estimated that targeting, reach and recency collectively account for 30% of advertising's contribution to incremental sales. (Creative and brand, the respective subjects of two previous Marketing Truths episodes, are the top two contributors.)

But with a fragmented media landscape, a splintering of traditional channels and new touchpoints emerging by the day, planning an effective media campaign that accounts for crucial brand-building work and necessary activation is an ongoing challenge.

According to some researchers, led by the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, it’s also important to ensure brands aren’t just talking to their current customers, but are reaching as wide a group of light and infrequent buyers as possible in order to grow. But how can such a goal be achieved in practice?

The dynamic role of media

Luckily, a slew of research explores how each media channel performs, how they work together to increase effectiveness, and why showing up in a lot of places to increase reach does work.

Another superpower brands can use is to ensure that the creative message matches the channel, and that the brand message fits with the context of what audiences expect when they are viewing or enjoying that media channel.

For example, a study by Jasper Snyder and Manuel Garcia-Garcia for the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), found that investing in cross-platform campaigns delivers a significantly higher return on investment (ROI) and that increasing the number of channels a brand uses can create a multiplier effect.

Touchpoints, so many touchpoints

Even with all these best practices, it can be hard to determine precisely which media channels to use.

“The media marketplace has just reached this extreme point of fragmentation that we've never seen before. There are so many touchpoints. And it's a real challenge for marketers,” said Ilana Wiles, director of strategic media planning for Ally Financial. “You want your brand to be in as many places as possible and all the time, but you just can't be everywhere all at once.”

For each brand, the mix and number of media channels need to be tailored to further the organization’s goals and growth agenda. There is no one-size-fits-all media plan, and each individual media plan needs to be constantly evaluated and redrawn.

Ally Financial’s media planning is based on getting its brand messages into many, many channels, and has been savvy about getting the context right.

To reach Gen Z, for example, the digital financial services company set up an Ally Arena in the popular Fortnite Creative to offer an immersive experience that matches the actions that players are engaged in while taking the game. Users who play Fortnite in Creative mode are able to set up Player Islands, a creative space of favorite things and people, that is automatically saved and allows users to share with other players.

Similarly, when the bank wanted to be part of the “FinTok” conversation on TikTok – based around content seeking to educate users about managing their money – it partnered with creators who were already customers of Ally, to ensure that the voices were authentic and those creators could talk truthfully about their experiences using Ally’s services.

With streaming service Roku, Ally has also launched a series, “Side Hustlers,” that follows a group of female entrepreneurs. Getting the context right in each of those spaces will make space for the brand to go through.

Creating media opportunities

Another way Ally thinks about its media plan is to put people first and figure out the media channels where they are, which is likely how most brands go to market. But Ally has also figured out how to grow the media inventory where it was most needed.

After seeing record-breaking viewership numbers for women’s sports, Ally decided in May 2022 that it would reach equal spending in its paid sports advertising investment 50/50 between men’s and women’s sports over the next five years.

The reason for the five-year goal is that women’s sports only accounted for 10% of media coverage of sports. Ally is thus using its media influence to increase the amount of media inventory around women’s sports, working with Walt Disney Co. and ESPN to create a recurring segment during SportsCenter, a flagship ESPN show, called the “Ally Moment Worth Saving”, which highlights that week's most badass moment in women's sports.

Ally also sponsored episodes of SportsCenter with all-female anchors and a special segment called “Flip the Script Starring Sue Bird.”

“That program with Disney is really integral to launching our 50/50 media strategy,” Wiles said. “And, since then, we've found new ways to diversify our mix so that we can extend our reach.”

Ally now has sponsorship deals with the WNBA, the women’s basketball league, the US Women’s Open golf tournament, and soccer team Wrexham AFC Women’s US summer tour. It is also working with media investment company GroupM to launch a women's sports marketplace that will be ready for the 2024/25 upfront market, and that will help find even more support for media that include women’s league coverage.

“The only constant in our industry at this point is change. There's always going to be updates to the media landscape. Fragmentation is going to keep happening. There's going to be more mergers, more acquisitions, more new channels. But those strategic planning fundamentals are always going to remain,” Wiles said.

“You want to have your key visibility premium moments to break through, but then you have to lean on your efficiency drivers to help you build that scale, help with the continuity and round out your mix.”

Want to dive deeper?

Anatomy of Effectiveness: How do I integrate media most effectively?

Anatomy of Effectiveness: How do I build incremental reach?

Report: The WARC Guide to Cross-Media Effects

Case Study: Hershey