Scratching a Niche With Psychographics

Mar 1, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In an effort to improve advertising sales, ESPN2 is moving beyond traditional demographics to more deeply identify its viewers with what it calls a “psychographic-affinity” sales pitch.
Psychographics aren’t new. Since the 1950s advertisers have used the concept to go beyond determining demographics-for example, men 18 to 49-to also recognizing attitude, psychological makeup and other factors. A psychographic could mean, for example, men in a certain demographic “who like to fish” or who are described as “do-it-yourselfers,” “innovators,” “leaders” or even “trendsetters.”
For the most part, TV networks and program sellers don’t base many decisions or pitches on psychographic information since data aren’t always available or reliable.
“There might be a psychographic difference between the niche cable networks, but even then it becomes difficult to [measure],” said one major network research executive.
Even with these concerns, ESPN2 said its viewer-specific sports programming-hunting, bowling and boxing, for example-give it a good opportunity to sell this way. ESPN said it uses a variety of research companies to gain this viewer information. By using it the network has seen ad gains, said Ed Erhardt, president of ESPN/ABC Sports customer sales and marketing.
For instance, with the launch late last year of ESPN2’s early-morning talk show “Cold Pizza,” a cross between ABC’s “Good Morning America” and ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Sears Roebuck & Co. became a major sponsor, based at least in part on psychographic research that indicated many “Cold Pizza” viewers are young men who like gadgets. The deal included a media buy and placement and integration of Sears products on the show.
“We like the early-morning space and the impact against the male customers-young males who like new gadgets,” said Perianne Grignon, director of media services for Sears.
As part of the deal, an Internet expert talked on the show during the Christmas season about last-minute gifts young men could buy at Sears.com. More recently “Cold Pizza” did fitness product demonstrations. For the spring Sears plans to show off its ultimate lawn-care equipment.
Likewise, late last year Purolator, the oil filter maker and a division of ArvinMeritor, struck a deal with ESPN2 for its weekend fishing show “Bassmasters.”
Identifying consumers on ESPN2 called “automotive DIYs” (do-it-yourselfers who regularly change their own oil and oil filters) helped the network sell ad time to Purolator. Purolator identified 51 percent of its customers as men who fish.
“You could consider it psychographics,” said Shannon Gibson, manager of marketing services for ArvinMeritor.
To help advertisers identify specific viewers, ESPN2, like many cable networks, segments its schedule into programming blocks, such as its Block Party on Friday nights. Chrysler’s Dodge division did a deal for Block Party, which came out of nonsports media budgets that ESPN2 doesn’t normally receive, Mr. Erhardt said.
In a deal with General Motors’ Chevrolet division for ESPN2’s ESPN Outdoors, the network’s Saturday morning block featuring hunting and fishing shows, the carmaker became a major sponsor.
MGM Distribution Co. and Nissan Motor Co. struck separate deals during February’s Black History Month as part of ESPN2’s psychographic-affinity sell. To target black male sports viewers, MGM did special vignettes for its movie “Barbershop 2: Back in Business” and Nissan did special black heritage-themed commercials in its latest “Shift” marketing campaign. For its tennis, golf and yachting programming, ESPN2 identified viewers who are “Club Pros”-upper-income viewers who are active in these sports. ESPN2 reports it has a higher percentage of these viewers than do other networks.
ESPN2 grew to $359 million in advertising revenue in 2003, up from $329 million in 2002, according to Kagan World Media. Mr. Erhardt declined to comment on this revenue data.
Psychographics aren’t the easiest research data to measure. TV research executives say it’s difficult enough just to compile standard run-of-the-mill demographic ratings. For example, Nielsen Media Research and the networks have had a disagreement since last year over the drop in recorded young male viewership. Nielsen said fewer young males are watching TV, while the networks placed blame on Nielsen’s measurement methods. “It would be great to identify the psychological makeup and match those customers to the TV shows,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting Systems. “We do try to understand the viewer and consumer. But it’s tough enough to measure the objective factors such as age and gender. It’s quite another thing to measure these subjective [factors].”
General-interest broadcast networks, cable networks and other TV program suppliers use -on a limited basis-outside research data, known as “syndicated” or custom research. That data generally comes from big research companies, such as Simmons Market Research Bureau or Mediamark Research.
Data gleaned from these special one-time surveys can determine attitude such as whether viewers are strong-willed, insecure or indifferent about products or ideas. If a network determines viewers of specific shows are insecure about the freshness of their breath, Mr. Wakshlag said, the network could pitch a breath mint advertiser.
“Twenty years ago psychographics were very hot,” a broadcast network research executive said. “There were people who said instead of using Nielsen ratings to look at programming, why don’t we look at the psychological profile of the viewers? What they found out was that these [network] shows are so huge [in terms of overall viewers], they tended to wash out these tiny differences. But in this new world, where cable can be very niche, there is a possibility to use psychographics.”