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Why the biggest E-commerce companies advertise on tv

I recently heard a well-known marketer comment that TV advertising is dead, they just haven’t buried the body yet. He was, pardon the pun, dead wrong. In fact, TV commercials including DRTV commercials are enjoying a rather unexpected renaissance. What’s even more surprising is that one of the driving forces behind the TV advertising resurgence is the industry you would least expect: e-commerce companies. That’s right. And we’re not talking about the odd outlier here and there. Virtually all of the big e-commerce companies (including titans like Amazon, Google, Netflix, Expedia, Ancestry and eBay, among many others) are heavily invested in TV advertising.

What gives? Well, there are three reasons behind the sudden migration of e-commerce companies to TV.


In the past, TV, especially brand TV — was difficult to measure and understandably, that was difficult for marketing executives, used to measuring everything, to stomach. But hey, times change. Now companies can track, measure, attribute and optimize TV, especially DRTV — almost as precisely as their digital advertising. Using a combination of platforms, new data and attribution technologies, e-commerce companies can see the impact TV has, not just on clicks, but also on conversions, enabling them to apply the same rigorous ROI approach to TV as they do online.

The fog has lifted and it appears that e-commerce companies, who eat data and analytics for dinner with an attribution chaser, like what they see. Which brings us to the next point.

TV Advertising Works

E-Commerce marketers have learned just how effective TV is at driving qualified customers into their online sales channels. E-Commerce companies are discovering what many traditional companies already know: nothing comes close to TV’s uncanny power to raise awareness and build brand quickly and cost-effectively — especially DRTV, which is both a brand enhancer and a sales super-charger. This really shouldn’t be that surprising because TV is, after all, the most mass of all mass mediums.

The Medium is the Message

When I first heard Marshall McLuhan’s now iconic quip, I had no idea what it meant. 40 years later, I still don’t. But I know this: DRTV commercials are more impactful, memorable (and more nuanced) than any banner ad, Facebook ad, YouTube video, tweet or Instagram post. The reason is simple. TV viewers are in a much more receptive psychological state than people who are online. When we are searching for something online, we despise anything that slows down our hunting expedition. Conversely, when we watch TV, we listen more attentively and remember more details, all while jumping continuously from TV commercial to website and back again.

Never ones to dispute the data, the big e-commerce companies have learned how effective TV is, and as a result, have embraced TV advertising wholeheartedly. By example, Google has discovered TV is a great way to promote their new phone and Amazon has learned that TV is the ideal medium to communicate the humanity behind the behemoth.

What does all this mean?

Well it doesn’t mean TV is a superior medium to digital, and it certainly doesn’t mean you should run out and create a DRTV commercial. It does mean that we live in a big, beautiful, multi-channel world. And as the e-commerce companies have discovered, sometimes the old technology has a very valuable role to play in the New World — “ROI or die” performance-based marketing.

About the author

Ian French, Head of Strategy

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