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Searching for the Right Route

Dec 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

A number of TelevisionWeek’s Media Planner columns have touched on the fact that consumer insights are emerging as one of the most important elements of media planning.
The supposition is that it’s no longer sufficient for advertisers and agencies to know which media are best at reaching consumers. It has now become essential for them to understand when and why media reach consumers, what consumers are thinking when they are exposed to media and how all that influences what consumers ultimately think and do about the brand messages they are exposed to.
In short, the ad industry has put a new premium on understanding how consumers relate to media. In response, the major media shops have begun acting like their account planning counterparts at brand agencies. They’re conducting original consumer research. They’re buying the type of syndicated consumer research normally used by account planners and brand managers. And they’re beginning to recruit account planners and brand managers to function as “communications planners,” a new title used to describe a new class of media account planners.
Despite all this activity, there so far has been relatively little change in the mix of media-or even the mix of communications options-used by the ad industry. And while it is likely that individual marketers and agencies have gleaned new insights that have led to advantageous planning and buying, it remains unclear whether Madison Avenue truly understands how consumers relate to media.
Today, just as in days of old, network TV remains at the top of the heap and media agency executives still tend to obsess over options, such as consumer magazines, that actually represent relatively little of the time consumers are involved with media. At the same time, media shops seem to relegate relatively important consumer media, such as newspapers and radio, to a second-class status. What’s going on here?
To find out, Media Magazine, a trade publication I edit, conducted a unique study that asked a panel of about 500 media planners and buyers how they thought consumers related to various media. We then asked a comparable panel of consumers the same questions.
The study, which was conducted online in November via InsightExpress, found that when it comes to understanding the role media play in the lives of consumers-especially with regard to advertising-in many cases consumers and the trade could not be further apart.
Among the big surprises:
* Consumers have a much higher regard for cable TV, newspapers and radio than do media planners and buyers.
* Media planners and buyers give much more weight to network TV and consumer magazines than do consumers.
* Consumers say they are much more aware of how they receive TV (broadcast vs. cable/ satellite) than Madison Avenue gives them credit for.
* Media planners and buyers generally recognize that they are still doing a poor job of understanding how consumers relate to media.
Indeed, when we asked the two panels to rank which media they deemed to be the “favorite” of consumers, the industry executives overwhelmingly cited network TV. Nearly half (47.3 percent) of the panel of media planners and buyers said they believed network TV was the medium consumers would pick as their “favorite,” followed by cable TV. Among consumers, that ranking was flipped, with network TV ranking a distant second and only 19.6 percent of consumers deeming it their favorite medium.
In fact, nearly as many consumers (13.6 percent) considered radio their favorite medium, even though only 2.6 percent of industry executives guessed that. Similarly, consumers have much more of a rapport with newspapers and online media-by a margin of 2 -to 1-than media planners and buyers give them credit for.
Since the term “favorite” can be somewhat interpretive, we asked both panels a more literal question to determine which media they considered most indispensable. Asked which medium they would want to have if they could choose only one, the consumer vs. trade biases were equally strong.
The trade once again cited network TV, while consumers chose cable TV. Consumers’ perceived indispensability of radio and newspapers was also out of whack with the industry pros, though the media executives did get the relative importance of online media right on this question.
Overall, the survey findings reinforce existing industry perceptions that media planners and buyers have a disproportionate bias favoring network TV-and in many cases, consumer magazines-in a way that is completely out of touch with consumers’ perceptions of these media.
On the flip side, Madison Avenue appears to misunderstand the relative importance that cable TV and online media play in the lives of the average Joe. But for the most part, they tend to minimize the value of radio, newspapers and to a lesser degree, outdoor media, especially when it comes to advertising.
To understand the differences between consumer and trade perceptions about how media impact advertising, we asked both groups a series of questions derived from the Advertising Research Foundation’s new model for measuring advertising effectiveness.
We asked the two panels to describe which media were most effective at attaining four essential pillars of that model: exposure, attentiveness, persuasion and response.
Asked which medium is most effective at “exposing” them to ad messages, only 29.5 percent of consumers cited network TV vs. 43.8 percent of media planners and buyers. Just as significantly, virtually as many consumers (28.3 percent) deemed cable TV just as effective as network TV, while only 8.4 percent of the industry executives cited cable TV.
The findings indicate that a wide gap continues to exist between how consumers perceive the role of media and how industry professions understand those consumer perceptions. And the trade apparently recognizes its own shortcomings.
In a final question, we asked planners and buyers how well they understood “how consumers relate to media and how it impacts the effectiveness of advertising.” To our surprise, 45 percent said their understanding of such matters was only “poor” or “fair.” Only 19 percent said it was “excellent” or “very good.”