More than ever before, brands are competing for consumer attention. As a marketer, you might wonder how your brand can stand out in this torrent of information and claim top-of-mind presence. Marketers are expected both to meet near-term performance goals and to balance the need to establish or continue building a strong brand over time.  

The rise in digital advertising is frequently associated with an increase in short-termism. Digital allows for narrow targeting and retargeting and is particularly suitable for rational messages. But is this coming at the expense of brand building? As spending shifts towards digital, coupled with the increasing fragmentation of how media is consumed across channels and devices, it is an increasing challenge for marketers to tell brand stories and provoke an emotional response, risking long-term brand building goals.

Focusing on short-term activation is attractive: business and marketing leaders are pressured by quarterly reporting seasons, and shorter tenures of CMOs are not helping either. And, of course, it is easier to attribute sales spikes to specific activations than measuring the long-term impact of brand building. So, if short-term initiatives, such as hyper-targeted digital media, can deliver on short-term expectations, that strategy might be favoured in today’s world. But where does this lead to in the long-term? One would expect brand erosion over time and an increasing dependence on marketing and promotional incentives.

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some brands have started realizing they might have been out of balance. For instance, MarketingWeek just recently reported how Adidas might have focused too much on short-term performance goals and has started rebalancing towards long-term brand building channels and formats. 

The key question still remains: what is the right balance between long-term focused and short-term focused investments? Marketing effectiveness experts Les Binet and Peter Field propose that, on average, 60% (varying by category) of advertising budgets should be invested in media with mass reach and long-term impact. Their research suggests that reaching as many people as possible – including light users and non-users – is key to long-term brand success. While this builds a strong case for traditional channels, such as TV advertising, research shows that brands can too use digital advertising to successfully drive brand growth. In addition, there is evidence of strong synergies between offline channels like TV with digital media advertising. For instance, a recent Kantar & IAB Australia report The Digital Brand Effect found that digital channels deliver cost-efficient, long-term brand impact and drive strong synergies when working with other offline channels. 

In summary:

  • Have we seen a stronger focus on short-term sales activation over the last few years? Yes.
  • Is this a result of the increasing share of digital in advertising budgets? Maybe, there is strong evidence of a correlation.
  • Is digital killing brands? Not really.

In our opinion, it is not digital advertising that is killing brands, but rather the lack of understanding about digital’s ability to drive the entire funnel.

To leverage the full potential of digital,  marketers need to have the following considerations in mind:

  • What is the right investment balance between brand building and sales activation? Category specific research, past insights and future test and learn can be a guide.
  • How are changing media consumption habits impacting the online and offline channels we use to communicate with our customers? How do these channels contribute to brand building and sales activation? How is this impacting our omni-channel approach?
  • More specifically, how can digital drive brand building and which digital channels, formats and strategies should be employed?
  • Ultimately, how can we increase the accuracy of measurement to get better at estimating the impact of long-term brand building initiatives?


This thought leadership article was written by IAB SEA+India Analytics Committee Members Darryl Choo, Head of Sales, SEA, Inskin Media and Stefan Priemer, APAC Data and Product Lead, Precision, Publicis Media.