Sizing Up Audiences by Body Type

Sep 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

It has long been known that the way marketers target consumers doesn’t always fit neatly with the way media sell them. Advertisers and agencies invest great time and resources to understand who their customers are only to see their discrete consumer profiles lost in the translation of the media marketplace, where relatively crude demographic breaks continue to be the basis of advertising deals and audience guarantees.

The process is not only infuriating, but is believed to create a tremendous amount of waste in ad budgets spent against the wrong media targets. A recent analysis by well-known ad researcher Erwin Ephron, for example, found the demographics used to target TV buys for prescription drug marketers could be off from their actual consumer targets by as much as 25 percent.

It’s research like that that has convinced some to explore new and creative ways of targeting media. One promising method mathematically fuses consumer databases with media audience data like Nielsen’s TV ratings to create pseudo-consumer profiles of media targets. That was the process Mr. Ephron used to come up with his drug-targeting bombshell.

Fusion is but one of an array of new data-integration approaches being used by marketers and agencies to fine-tune how they target their media buys. Another promising approach is methods being used to segment existing media research data in more refined ways. So far, major media research players including Nielsen and Mediamark Research Inc. (MRI)-the official currency of magazine ad buys-have been reluctant to adopt these schemes. But another enterprising media researcher, Simmons Market Research Bureau, has been remarkably aggressive.

Among Simmons’ new methods is one that enables marketers to target media and product users based on a consumer’s waistband. Armed with three simple data points-the age, height and weight of its survey respondents-Simmons segmented its database based on the Body Mass Index developed by national health organizations to address weight-related health issues.

The result is Simmons’ new “Waistband Segments” report, which divides consumer product and media usage patterns into four body types: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. The data provides a new way of looking at media targets that goes well beyond conventional age/sex/income demographic breaks.

For example, a nutritional supplement marketer looking to target underweight Americans might do well to buy time on Fox’s “American Idol,” which indexes 58 percent higher than the average show in terms of underweight viewers. Conversely, a diet-oriented marketer seeking to reach obese viewers would want to choose NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which indexes 30 percent above the average show in composition of obese viewers.

“At first glance it might sound like a dumb idea to think you could target people based on their body weight, but for products like pharmaceutical drugs, obesity is a huge factor for some diseases,” said Joanne Burke, executive VP and managing director of Carat Insight. “Until now, we didn’t really have any way of getting at that except for one question in MRI’s survey that asked, `Are you on a diet to lose weight?”’

But Ms. Burke says that question never really addressed “passively fat people, who don’t realize they have a problem. We’ve never been able to get at that before.”

While the implications of such data for media planning might seem obvious for certain product categories, Susan Nathan, senior VP and director of media knowledge at Universal McCann, says it could have a profound impact in even more subtler ways.

“It’s not that we’re necessarily going to run ads for skinny people on shows that skinny people watch,” she explains. “It’s more about understanding what the marketing implications are for people of different weight classes and then building a media strategy around that.”

For example, she says it would have huge implications for food marketers-particularly fast-food chains-if regulators were to move forward with plans to regulate certain types of food advertising, much the way they did with alcohol and tobacco ads.

Under tobacco marketing rules, tobacco brands are not allowed to purchase ads in magazines that have a significant composition of underage readers. “Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far, but if it does, we may not be allowed to advertise certain food products on shows that reach a high composition of overweight people,” Nathan predicts.