Why Digitally Native Brands like Wisp and Earnin Are Turning to CTV

As social platforms lose their luster, performance advertisers find success in streaming.

By Adweek’s platforms reporter Catherine Perlogg.

Sexual health care company Wisp has, for years, relied on digital channels like paid search, social and affiliate marketing to get the word out about its telemedicine services, which expedite access to sexual and reproductive health care. By last June, Wisp was ready to diversify its media mix, especially as the Supreme court was slated to overturn Roe v. Wade, meaning more people would need access to the emergency contraceptive and soon-to-launch abortion medication the company provides. 

So it chose to invest in connected television, and the results were startling. “We looked to CTV to ultimately reach new audiences at scale,” Wisp CMO Monica Cepack said. “The timing of Roe v. Wade being overturned further accelerated the timing of this decision, as we felt it was more important than ever to bring women’s health care to the forefront of popular media.”

A media plan that prioritizes CTV is becoming increasingly common for digitally native brands like Wisp. A generation of direct-to-consumer companies built their businesses on social platforms, taking advantage of their ability to target the right consumers at a low cost. Now, as those platforms have been challenged by privacy changes and grow more expensive, scrappier upstarts are turning to CTV, sending ad spend soaring. It’s expected to grow by 27% in 2023, per Insider Intelligence, compared to 21% for social network video ad spend.

DTC brands have been increasing their presence in streaming in recent years as inventory has expanded and prices have come down, with the gap between CTV and social ad prices narrowing, said Erin Yasgar, marketer and agency strategy consultant at adtech firm Prohaska Consulting.

Reaching new audiences

CTV has been so effective for Wisp that, in a matter of months, the platform became the second largest recipient of ad spend for the company, ahead of Facebook, TikTok and Snap -- and behind only paid search.

Plus, CTV works, not just as an awareness play, but to actually drive conversations. Return on ad spend for CTV ads is double that for Facebook and Instagram, and even more than double for TikTok, Cepak said.

CTV performance marketing platform MNTN has more than 324 active DTC brands, and when looking at investment trends on its platform, it saw those brands increase total ad spend by 384% from Q1 to Q3 2022.
Cepak also said CTV was much more effective at reaching Hispanic and African American audiences, who make up 60% of patients in Wisp’s top ZIP codes, by leaning into networks like Univision, Televisa and BET.

“Compare this to Facebook, for example, where it’s become more difficult to target outside of broad audiences that are mostly interest and behavior based, and in order to keep up performance, we ultimately target very broadly,” she said.

Big CTV boosts

Ad-tech firm Adjust, which helps mobile apps measure ad spend, measured 250 million CTV impressions from mobile advertisers in October 2022, a nearly 1000% increase from the 23 million impressions measured in October 2021, said Gijsbert Pols, director of connected TV and new channels.

“Up to 25% of the installs generated via . . . channels [such as Google] are assisted by CTV campaigns, and growth is incremental,” Pols said.

Wisp has also found that CTV boosted performance for the brand’s paid search ads. Wisp’s average branded weekly search revenue - the money it makes when people type Wisp into Google - is up 30% since before the company launched on CTV in June 2022.

Wisp isn’t the only brand to see a dramatic difference after turning to CTV. Earnin, a personal finance mobile app, had been investing in digital advertising for nearly nice years.

Several months ago, the company experimented with a CTV campaign, via tScientific, which helps companies create performance campaigns on CTV. The campaign performed so well because it was likely reaching new audiences that Earnin quickly ran through its test budget.

“We were off [CTV] for a couple of days and saw a real change,” said Earnin CMO Brittanie Williams. The company now devotes 18% of its media spend to television, of which connected TV makes up 13%.

A better buying experience?

Still, CTV has growing pains. Its ad-tech capabilities are “not nearly as robust as Facebook and Google,” said Aayush Sakya, head of user acquisition at Earnin.

Measurement in CTV is also notoriously opaque, with advertisers often not knowing how many people viewed their ads or even which shows their ads aired against.

Despite these issues, buyers can purchase audiences across most streamers and use the same kind of creative asset, a process that is tricker on walled gardens like Instagram and TikTok, said Andrea Palmer, president of Publicis Health Media. “It’s a simpler pickup for a planner.”

This story first appeared in December 12, 2022 issue of Adweek magazine.

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