Advertisers love online. In the two decades since the birth of the internet global spending on online ads has swelled to £180bn, or 30% of global ad spend. Curiously though, for all the hue and cry about e-commerce, 94% of consumer spending remains right where it’s always been: in shops. In 2014, according to eMarketer, global online spending amounted to just 5.9% of total consumer spend.

Why the disparity of ad spend and consumer spend? A common argument is that online ads influence offline purchase behaviour. This is clearly true for many product categories which consumers research online before buying in store. High value purchases like cars and holidays are good examples, and Google itself has published compelling analysis of online’s influence on the path to purchase.

But this argument cuts both ways. The ‘path to purchase’ is indeed a convoluted one, and the power of online ads relative to other influencing factors, such as word of mouth, is brilliantly challenged by new research by Ogilvy, Google and TNS. Over six months and 2,500 consumer interviews, they measured the relative influence on decision of a range of online (URL) and real-world (IRL) factors. What they found was perhaps surprising.

Online resources, such as YouTube “how-to” clips, and company websites feature prominently. But the top two most powerful influences are very much real world: store visits and word of mouth. The importance of the retail/store influence is further underlined by McKinsey, which reckons 40% of all buying decisions are made in store. Ogilvy puts the figure as high as 70%.

Why then, aren’t more ad dollars devoted closer to the point of sale? The reasons is that it’s hard. Really close to the point of sale, good media is scarce, and, worse, attention is hard to get.

So it’s clear that advertisers need to put as much effort into understanding the crucial final stage at point of sale and producing the right offer at that point as they do into creating strategy, developing new products and services or analysing the market. One of the most elusive audiences to reach are young males; 18-34 millennials, or Gen Y. This group watch 30% less linear TV than a decade ago, consume practically no press media and filter broadcast and online messages as never before.

They are, however, out and about 30% more than their parents were at the same age, a trend which is fueling the growth of out-of-home media – and in particular ‘destination’ media which can reach consumers while they’re actually spending in venues. They want more than simple messages, no matter how powerful and dynamic. Brands have to recognise this context and mindset and so give them something in return: a reward, something sharable and engaging they will enjoy, ideally as a group.

Captive Media developed in-bar digital screens that run irreverent, branded video games filling one of the increasingly rare periods when male consumers have genuine dwell time. For example, Captain Morgan Rum ran a four-week branded game in which punters could play in an on-screen digital penalty shoot-out challenge. In three test venues average weekly sales of Captain Morgan were more than 12% higher than in the previous three weeks, and up by 25% on the same period the previous year.

Clearly brands can get through to young men in the real world, if they can reach them in the right environment, realise when they are in a receptive mood and deliver communications that challenge, entertain and engage.

This article was written by Captive Media CEO, Gordon MacSween, and originally appeared on the Wall blog

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