23andMe bucks the linear TV decline with its return to the ad channel

The future of video advertising may be connected video, but some brands aren’t ready to jettison linear television from their media mixes just yet.

Linear’s value is its broad reach and storytelling capabilities, and that’s why 23andMe, a biotechnology company known for its ancestry tests, has returned to broadcast advertising after a brief hiatus last year, according to Tracy Keim, the company’s chief brand officer.

“One of the main reasons was the stories that we keep getting [from customers for the campaign] are so overwhelmingly unbelievable that we felt like getting them out on digital and in social wasn’t enough,” Keim said, referring to the company’s return to storytelling via linear broadcast for its latest campaign.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, 23andMe’s Hero Gene campaign ran on linear broadcast television during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the National Dog Show on NBC, as well as across sporting events on FOX, NBC and ABC. This came after the company took a break — albeit brief — for a little over a year from linear television advertising, opting to focus instead on digital advertising and product development, per Keim. At present, 23andMe maintains a linear television budget. The company did not respond to a request for budget details in time for publication.

23andMe launched its first national television campaign in 2013, and continued to lean into linear with a media buy around the holiday season in 2021 and again on Father’s Day 2022, before running a small pre-holiday TV test from June through September of this year.

“Full transparency, we’ve pulsed linear throughout promotional periods so linear can work harder as well,” said Keim, adding that the brand increases its linear spend during holiday seasons to capture a bigger share of voice. She did not disclose specific spend figures.

From January to September of this year, 23andMe spent more than $10 million on media, according to Vivvix, a Kantar Company, including paid social data from Pathmatics. That figure is slightly down from the $13.5 million the company spent within the same period in 2022.

Like a number of other brands, 23andMe is prioritizing brand awareness marketing tactics as opposed to direct response, especially as Apple’s ATT and Google’s crumbling cookie muddy targeting. There’s also the strikes in Hollywood, which have since ended but put more eyeballs on live sports and live TV, per Keim. Earlier this year, retailer JCPenney had a similar strategy. (Read that story here.)

“That was another strategic and very conscious decision. We’re not going to get this moment in time because usually these eyeballs are in streaming,” Keim said, referring to the uptick in viewership in live sports and live television in light of the strikes. “That’s another reason that we doubled down on linear.”

There’s no doubt that linear television has seen better days both in terms of viewership and ad spend as it’s overshadowed by connected television. As of earlier this year, linear ad spend in the U.S. was expected to decline from $61.31 billion in 2023 to $56.83 billion in 2027, per Insider Intelligence’s forecasting. Meanwhile, CTV will grow from $25.09 billion in 2023 to $40.90 billion in 2027.

But this shouldn’t cause advertisers to throw the baby out with the bathwater, agency executives say.

“Linear broadcast must continue to be an essential component for brands due to the ability to deliver mass awareness and connect with a diverse audience,” Yi Chen, strategy director at Media by Mother, said in an email. “Post the Hollywood strikes and the return of fall and spring dominating sports, we’re likely to see more brands prioritizing TVCs [television commercials].”

Dave Coleman, president of Ocean Media, made a similar comment. “It’s easy for people to forget, but linear television continues to have incredibly high reach in brand safe content,” he said in an email. “For advertisers looking to make an impact in a short time period like Q4 holidays, linear TV still has a big role in any media plan.”

It’s still too early to determine the results of 23andMe’s Hero Gene campaign, including linear’s role in the campaign, but Keim said the 23andMe team has seen early indications of a boost in brand familiarity and web traffic.

Beyond linear television, 23andMe currently has media investments across YouTube, programmatic, Google, Facebook and Instagram. The company’s most recent campaign is also running with spots on CTV, per Keim. The campaign is slated to run through the holiday season of this year and into 2024.

“It’s important to acknowledge while we started with linear and connected, we’ll be working with the customers to figure out the best way to pull new stories through those other channels — TikTok, Instagram,” Keim said.

Last week, 23andMe confirmed that the profiles of 9.6 million people were recently hacked, per reports. The company did not respond to Digiday’s request for comment on the matter in time for publication.

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