Fallacy of trusting ad truisms

One of the commonest assumptions marketers make is that young males are a “difficult-to-reach” audience because they spend the bulk of their leisure time either in indulging in sports or playing games. Hence, they tend to miss out most advertising messages beamed at them by brands. But this seems a fallacious premise. The latest Comscore research has found that the time spent by male 18-24-year-olds in playing sports or games is significantly less than the time spent by them on either social media or on various entertainment sites. This is surely an enlightening revelation.

Similar such assumptions that take on the garb of truisms most often end up hurting brands. For example, brands that consider media reach using age as a demographic have to factor in a very important perspective — that assumed differences between generations are more about stage of life than they are about substantial differences in attitude or usage. Search for information for automobiles, hence interest in automotive media tends to go up with age, because the older you get, the higher likelihood you have of having the necessary funds to buy a car. Similarly, those seeking career opportunities are most likely to be not just amongst 25-35-year-olds but, in today’s age of longer life spans, could well extend to those in their forties and fifties, except that the type of jobs these demographics may be seeking would be more senior, also perhaps more well-paying.

Generational misunderstandings tend to proliferate through ill-informed media stories and consequent sharing of those between friends and family. The most common such story is that the rise of ride-sharing will kill car ownership among younger consumers. However, research in both the US and the UK shows that 64 per cent of Millennials who used a ride-sharing app also visited traditional car-related sites and apps that provided news and views on new car purchases. In comparison to a 61 per cent usage rate of ride-sharing apps by Millennials, Generation Z was only a whisker ahead on car co-sharing. One would have presumed that the younger generation cohort would have significantly higher usage of the sharing but actual research shows it is not. Marketers, therefore, need to be very very careful in pre-supposing assumptions based on iterative logic, which otherwise appears both sequential and valid, but in real life repudiates the very basis on which such judgements are made.

Similar logic applies to an oft-used truism that high-income consumers in their fifties are always the best bet for luxury brands. Interestingly, research shows that it is not age but income that has a positive correlation with purchasing luxury goods. So, it is not the consumers in their fifties but those in the age group of 30-34-year-olds that are the most potent customers for luxury brands. Provided of course, that they have the economic muscle and affordability. In fact, the propensity of this age segment to buy luxe stuff starts to decline from age 35 to age 55 before experiencing a kind of hockey stick demand curve. People in the age group 55-64 constitute the second-largest aggregated demand segment for luxury brands and top-of-the-line experiences including holidays, cruises, hotels, and even spas. So, a broad brush targeting of hi-end watches or whiskies to those in their fifties would actually mean missing the real consumers who are a good 15-20 years younger or may be 5-10 years older.

Interestingly, while the size of women fans as a segment may be smaller, media research shows that female viewers are far more engaged. In the FIFA World Cup 2018, female viewers watched 77 per cent more FIFA YouTube videos than males; in the Stanley Cup for ice hockey again female viewers out-watched the males by 79 per cent! In the Super Bowl too, in the US, female fans watched 44 per cent more videos than men.

Becoming data-rich has not necessarily meant that brands and marketers have become data-savvy. Most often, the data is all there in front of us. Waiting to be analysed. Waiting to be massaged. Waiting for someone to sit down and understand how consumers are behaving both individually and in groups. Unfortunately, most times most brands take the easier way out by looking more at macro flows rather than actual data.

Data can be used not just to understand the numerical size of audiences; data can actually be used to transform the connect and engagement between brands and their customers. Data can be used to develop the right messaging in the right context and to place it on the right vehicle in the right time aperture. It is not as difficult or as complex as it sounds or seems. It just needs the right skill sets and the right mindset. If done right, many assumptions that seem like truisms may actually not stand the litmus test.
The writer is an advertising and media veteran

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