24 Jun 2024 17:35

Mobile & Digital

Why marketers need to understand Cross Media Reach

It is a truism that media fragmentation has created a headache for those buying and selling media, and for those companies like us who are responsible for measuring it. Twenty years ago, the world was a far simpler place for brand advertisers: TV was king and digital advertising was a merely a ‘fad’. Fast forward 20 years and we know that digital advertising wasn’t a fad, but TV is still king and although some budgets have migrated, its resilience is broadly steadfast. 

TV advertising remains strong because it’s underpinned by reliable third-party measurement and can be trusted for predicting and delivering audience reach at scale. In short, we trust TV because it’s mature, solid and reliable, and while it may not be as dynamic as digital, it consistently delivers. 

In an evolving digital era, it’s another truism that tried and tested channels are being challenged and brands are finding entirely new ways to reach consumers. Accurate, comparable measurement across TV and digital is key to fully recognising how these platforms can interplay. Understanding the total audience of your advertising – and more specifically how to increase it – is one of the ways in which brands can unlock their growth potential.

Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings and Nielsen Total Ad Ratings identify the relationship between digital and TV advertising (Total Ad Ratings leverages Digital Ad Ratings as well as BARB TV data) by measuring the unique and combined reach of each platform. Since their launch in the UK (in 2012 and 2013 respectively) these solutions have helped numerous advertisers unlock their campaigns’ potential through a better understanding of how reach is delivered across devices. 

Now that we have several years’ experience and scaled adoption, it’s a good a time to re-state some of the key reasons why we should care about measuring reach in the first place and share some insights from our ever expanding data set.


One of the fundamental laws of brand size is that big brands have larger customer bases. Nielsen’s consumer panel data backs this up, showing that brands with the highest market shares have much higher penetration and get purchased more often by their buyers.  Smaller brands tend to be purchased less frequently and suffer from a pattern described in Byron Sharp’s ‘How Brands Grow’, as double jeopardy: getting hit twice with fewer buyers who buy the brand, less often.

The double jeopardy law, as described by Sharp, tells us that market share increase depends on growing the size of your customer base. Rule #1 of his seven rules for marketing is to “continuously reach all buyers of the brand’s service/product category with both physical distribution and marketing communications”. On this basis, mass marketing plans which maximise reach should provide the greatest growth potential.

Mass marketing techniques such as TV are effective at reaching large audiences rapidly but what about digital? Can it build reach as rapidly and as cost effectively as TV? Can digital add significant incremental reach, meaning reaching more potential buyers of your brand? Or can digital replace the reach provided by TV at a lesser expense?

The reality is that all of these scenarios are possible. We can only maximise reach across devices once we understand how the relationship works across devices. Only then can we start pulling the levers that will help unlock greater potential reach, and the potential for more prospective buyers to be exposed.


Based on our findings through three years of measuring cross media campaigns with Nielsen Total Ad Ratings we’ve seen an average of 4.4% digital incremental reach against TV. But in reality, a headline figure for incremental reach is largely meaningless.

Forecasting the incremental reach (of digital over TV) is complex as it depends entirely on the relative media weight of each platform. The chart below depicts a view of expected incremental reach figures based on our Nielsen Total Ad Ratings findings. In this example, a TV campaign accounted for 75% of the overall media weight and reached 90% of its target demographic. Once the TV weight is adjusted to 67.5%, the expected incremental reach is 2.5%. 

This chart illustrates is that at its broadest level, the greatest determiner of incremental reach is the size of TV campaign. What is deemed as ‘good’ incremental reach from digital will differ markedly between campaigns based on media weight and, therefore, it’s important to manage expectations accordingly.

Authored By Phil Sumner, Nielsen Client Business Partner

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