The dark side of media: going dark and its impact on brand health

Kantar insights on maintaining brand health during times of drastic budget cuts while avoiding inadvertent long-term consequences
12 December 2023
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Solution Delivery Insights, North America

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Brands face vulnerability when marketing efforts are not supported with TV advertising. Marketing budgets are under more pressure than ever, and as marketers strategize for more cost-effective planning, companies may be tempted to cut TV advertising. Although we know brands can go dark for a brief time without causing too much harm, longer periods off-air can be damaging and once decline sets in it becomes harder to reverse.

Kantar Global Tracking Data illustrates the decay in key brand measurements, including Total Brand Communication Awareness, after a six-month period without TV advertising.

Deterioration of Total Brand Communication Awareness six months after TV advertising goes dark


Total Brand Communication Awareness (TBCA) is anywhere that advertising has been seen for the brand.

Our analysis shows the difference in brand health measures after a six-month period without TV advertising and highlights the detrimental impact of key brand metrics including Trial (if consumers have ever tried the brand), Total Brand Awareness (if consumers have ever heard of the brand), Key Image, First Mention, Buy Most often, Buy now-a-days, and Total mentions.

This trend analysis study examines brands where TBCA (total brand communication awareness) decreased between two 8-week periods of time. The first 8-weeks measured performance before a period of no activity, ‘going dark’, and the second 8-weeks was measured six months after the start of no advertising activity. Results show considerable declines across measures for brands that had no GRPs (Gross Rating Point) between the two tested time periods.

By assessing the difference in TBCA for brands with no TV advertising, we’re able to illustrate the net change across all the other measures. If communication awareness levels (TBCA) are maintained when TV advertising has stopped then brand health measures are also more likely to sustain. Brands that stopped TV advertising yet moved some budget to other channels show less decline with some modest positive net change (green), whereas those that didn’t (red) suffered much larger declines across all brand health measures. These results demonstrate the dependency across all key brand health measures on maintaining some levels of communication awareness.

We know that advertising in one media channel can activate memories of advertising in others, so moving spend to more cost-effective channels can be a way to maintain brand equity and can extend the life of a TV campaign by triggering memories.

Reducing investment by 50% when compared to going off-air completely


Consumers’ Branded Memories may also be influenced by media going dark. Our Kantar learnings show that opting for reducing advertising investment by 50% (dotted line) rather than eliminating budgets completely by 100% (solid line) can better preserve viewers memories of the brand.

  • Branded Memories - consist of long-term memories built over many years on top of the short-term memories mainly brought on by recent advertising
  • Total Branded Memories- mainly bought by recent advertising (short-term)
  • Long-term Branded Memories- built over many years on top of short-term memories

This case study of a leading telecommunication brand in Germany that was under pressure to reduce or eliminate all media investments by mid-2022 exemplifies how brands could be sacrificing years of advertising effort by going dark.

Using a time series regression model, we simulated the likely impact of going dark for 6-months, reflected by the no investment period at the center of the chart. The decline for brands using this zero-budget approach is strong for both short- and long-term memories and while recovery is possible it would require substantial additional investment over several months. We also simulated a budget cut of 50% and found that decline in Branded Memories is reduced significantly for short-term memories and almost non-existent for long-term memories.

When assessing Branded Memories of media investment to understand efficiency of advertising spend brands should consider that recovery requires a greater investment in media than was originally cut to repair the damage done by advertising disruption to long-term memories, and thus to long-term sales.

Going dark can devastate a brand's future profitability


Another case study examining a leading beverage brand in the UK (United Kingdom) with a stable market share illustrates the importance of making well-informed media decisions to mitigate unwittingly choosing a more expensive course of action during a time for the brand when it’s vital to conserve spend.

This brand decided to go dark for a year (Year 2) in one region (Region B) while continuing to invest in another (Region A). The brand’s market share declined by 2 percentage points in the region where no investment was made, while it remained stable in the other region.

In practice, the main effect of most media investments is to maintain market share rather than increase it. The resumption of marketing investment the following year (Year 3) was not successful at recovering the lost market share. The long-term impact of going dark in region B for the brand was crippling.

Short-term losses and gains have a long-lasting effect, and their cumulative impact can be devastating for the brand's future profitability. Eliminating all media investments is a more costly approach in the long run as reestablishing losses requires extensive efforts. Reversing large declines in brand health could be more costly than the initial savings of cutting spending so consider reduced media mixes rather than going completely dark. Advertising in one media channel can trigger memories of advertising in others so moving spend to less expensive media can help maintain brand equity. Finally, engaging in media effectiveness solutions through times of financial strain will provide a better understanding of how marketing decisions are impacting the brand during economic difficulties and support well-informed advertising strategies.

To learn more about how Kantar can help you maximize your media strategy, reach out to us at Campaign Effectiveness and ROI

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