Adland’s screwed up view of media habits

"The advertising industry is hopeless at assessing the media habits of the rest of the UK." This is the damning finding from research by IPSOS for Thinkbox, as reported here. "We’re generally educated, upmarket, London-centric and time-poor and this shows through in our lifestyles – particularly media." The problem is that ad agency folk tend to project their own behaviour onto the general public, including a massive over-estimation of the importance of social and digital media. 

Below I look at the fascinating findings from the study and the implications for marketing.

1. Ad people are social and digital media addicts

Ad people are at "hopeless social media and subscription VoD (video on demand) addicts", according to the study. Past 3 months consumption of social and digital media is much higher than the general population:

  • 2 x more likely to use Netflix 
  • 3 x more likely to use Pinterest
  • 4 x more likely to use Twitter
  • 7 x more likely to use LinkedIn

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2. Ad people have a distorted view of real peoples' habits

One apparent results of addend's love of social and digital media is that they have a totally screwed up view of how normal folk consume media. Ad people estimate that ‘normal’ people spend a whopping 37% of their viewing time watching TV on a device other than a TV (e.g. on a phone or iPad). Guess what the real number is, based on a mix of BARB and broadcaster data?


Ad people are wrong by a factor of 18!

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"Yes, but my teenage son/daughter NEVER watches TV!", I hear you protest. "They ONLY watch TV on their iPad". Well, if that's the case, they are different from most young people. Over 80% of 15-24's still use a TV to watch programmes. And whilst thier use of other devices is, as expected, relatively high, it still lags behind using a TV set.

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Ad people also massively overestimate the time per day spent watching the following digital media:

  • YouTube (62 minutes vs actual 16 minutes)
  • Broadcaster on demand, such as BBC player (81 minutes vs. actual 8 minutes) 
  • Subscription on demand, such as Netflix (84 minutes, vs. actual 11 minutes)

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The risk of having such a distorted view of media habits is that the importance of digital and social media is over-played. As Mark Ritson recently commented here, these results help explain why "Marketers are so obsessed with digital communications and so down on what they refer to as 'traditional' media like TV and Radio.

3. TV's impact advantage

TV advertising remains by a long shot the most impactful form of media, according to the study. It sticks in our brains better to 'create memory structure', being 6 x more memorable than the next best competitor And it is more effective at creating 'brand fame'. It is also the medium most likely to drive emotion, make people laugh and drive conversation. And this pattern is mirrored for 15-24 year olds.

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Interestingly, the importance of live TV is increasing over time. According to the report, "The public appreciate watching TV on the same day as it is broadcast feels like more of an event. There is a real sense of anticipation around their most-watched programmes."

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In conclusion, the Thinkbox report should be a real wake-up call for brand and agency teams, especially the younger, urban 'digital natives'. Most people live very different lives and have very different media habits, which need taking into account when planning marketing and communication. The solution is not about digital marketing replacing 'conventional' marketing, but rather complementing and amplifying it.