Why Digital-Only Media Plans Leave Brand Growth on the Table


(Note: See my other post on Why Traditional-Only Media Plans Leave Growth on the Table)

Do you like your CEO? He or she may not be happy with you if you are only using digital media to grow your brand. Why? Metadata proves that digital only media plans are not as effective or efficient as media plans that include traditional media. 

Why is it that (some) marketers still insist on having a 100% “Digital” media plan? If I was their CEO I would be asking them this question every single day. Massive data sets and studies ( Binet & Fields, WARC ) prove that brands who diversify their media mix have more efficient ROI and grow their brands faster. While there are certainly cases where a fully Digital media plan makes sense, for most growing brands your sales are better off with a mix of media. 

The effects of this are more pronounced over the long-term. Take the example of Monster.com, who ten years after leaving TV to focus on “performance media,” found that they no longer have much of a brand. They are back on TV in the multi millions, but how much will it take to reestablish them as the #1 job search site in America?

With the world shifting to digital media consumption every single day, the reason why a broader media mix still works is simple: traditional media builds trust, works quickly and adds reach to digital media. In almost every case, consumers who experience a brand over multiple media channels are far more likely to buy your brand, even at the exact same total advertising budget. This is what we call a “kicker effect” from combining media types, especially digital media with “real world” or traditional media. 

“But TV ratings are declining and people skip the commercials. Whomp whomp.”

TV ratings are undoubtedly going down, but TV’s effectiveness as a media channel is steady and strong. It is still the best way to get impactful reach and quickly. It is still the strongest ROI media channel for many brands. And it is still primarily consumed live. That’s why Upfront rates in 2019 were up as much as 15% at initial estimates - Digital struggles to compete with the reach, speed and trust factor of TV.


“But Facebook and Google have the highest reach of any media partner!. Whomp whomp .“

Maybe, but what is the number one media channel for reach in the United States today? It’s actually Radio. 

The number one channel for ROI? Magazine. (Not that any of the brands I work with want to spend there, but that’s a different story.)

Look no further than the world’s most successful digital brands: Facebook, Google and Apple. All three have invested nine-figures in TV and traditional media in the year before this was written. Apple became famous from a combination of Digital, TV and Outdoor media. 

“What if my media budgets are small, is a Digital-only media plan better than no media plan?”

Absolutely. But there are still ways to leverage the digitization of traditional media like Outdoor to complement your media plan. Run tests with Digital Outdoor in your top market(s), and if there is enough scale to measure, analyze their impact on sales. Consider Digital Radio integrations with a national partner like iHeartRadio. Whatever you do, don’t just run one channel to death and hope it can keep scaling. 

What Growth Oriented Brands Should Do:

  1. Digital remains wonderful/the future and can still be the foundation of your growth media plan. For all of the reasons you already love Digital media, don’t stop loving it now.

  2. You need something more than Digital, yes, but not necessarily TV. Outdoor, Radio and Magazine are all viable ways to expand your brand’s reach over a pure Digital media plan.

  3. The line between Digital and Not Digital is almost eroded - consumers don’t really think that way anymore, nor should you. Most media can be digitally bought and served (think Digital Outdoor billboards that can be bought in five clicks). Be efficient with your buying strategies to leverage the power of multiple media channels.

So should the CEO have deep reservations about a Digital-only media plan? The higher the spend, the more concerned they should be. For brands looking to grow and “cross the chasm,” keep the blinders off and go beyond Digital.


  1. https://www.warc.com/content/article/esomar/breaking_the_walls_between_traditional_and_digital_marketing_challenging_how_marketing_as_we_know_it_drives_brand_sales_androi/125981

  2. https://www.warc.com/content/article/event-reports/les_binet_examines_how_digital_affects_brand_building_activation_model/126281

  3. https://digiday.com/marketing/monster-com-going-back-tv-advertising-decade/

  4. https://www.marketingcharts.com/charts/us-adults-traditional-tv-viewing-figures-trends-age-q3-2018/attachment/nielsen-traditional-tv-viewing-in-q3-2018-apr2019

  5. https://www.thevab.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Doubling-Down-FAANG-Spend-On-TV.pdf