Sex May Sell, But Age/Sex Cells Do Not: CBS, General Mills Call For The End Of Demos

In a major push to shift the ad industry’s focus from the traditional age- and sex-based demographics that have been the foundation of media planning and buying for nearly 50 years, CBS and General Mills Monday unveiled results of some extensive research demonstrating what a poor surrogate conventional demographics are for the actual consumers that marketers and agencies are trying to reach. The studies, which are the culmination of more than a year of research conducted with a powerful new partnership between Nielsen and Catalina Marketing that integrates actual TV viewing from digital set-top devices with actual consumer product purchasing from grocery store scanner data, show that other lifestyle segments are far more precise for targeting consumers with media.

“We knew we couldn’t just look at consumers by their demographics anymore -- we needed to look at them in terms of their lifestyles,” Gayle Fuguitt, vice president of global insights at General Mills, said Monday afternoon during a presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation’s annual conference in New York. Fuguitt used the presentation as a platform to encourage other marketers, agencies, media, research providers -- even “competitors” -- to collaborate on accelerating new forms of consumer targeting that will make advertising much more efficient and effective.

She said General Mills had already been working on its initiative internally when she saw a similar rallying cry made by CBS research chief David Poltrack during a presentation at last year’s ARF conference, in which he provided some preliminary data from Nielsen Catalina Solutions, and was inspired to join CBS in a collaboration for more in-depth research, which CBS helped fund.

CBS’ Poltrack has been on a long campaign to shift the industry away from demographics, and started championing the move back in the 1970s, not long after the industry began utilizing age and sex segmentation as its primary way of targeting consumers with media. He was a big supporter of previous “single-source” measurement initiatives, such as Arbitron’s ill-fated ScanAmerica or Arbitron’s and Nielsen’s more recent but equally ill-fated Project Apollo, both of which failed because the industry declined to support the huge expense associated with research systems that simultaneously measured consumer media and purchase behavior. Nielsen Catalina Solutions isn’t pure single-source, but its approach is a pragmatic and increasingly well-accepted alternative that integrates data from disparate databases to produce similar results and insights.

In one “experimental” example shown by Poltrack Monday, CBS was able to measure the “most profitable” consumers for an anonymous advertiser in a consumer packaged goods category in one of CBS’ shows, “The Good Wife.” Poltrack said “The Good Wife” case study shows that using the brand’s “most profitable” consumers as a media buying target improved the ROI for the brand three times over the conventional demographic audience break it had been using to buy the show, adults 18-49.

Poltrack said CBS will release its data to agencies and advertisers prior to this year’s upfront advertising marketplace as part of an effort to get them thinking beyond conventional demographics, and to start thinking about the underlying value of buying shows based on actual consumer targets. He said the industry is likely to continue buying and networks are likely to continue guaranteeing their advertising deals based on demos for some time to come, but that shifting their planning and program selection based on the new data could greatly influence how much money they budget into higher-value shows not reflected by demographic data.

Tags: demographics, tv
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9 comments about "Sex May Sell, But Age/Sex Cells Do Not: CBS, General Mills Call For The End Of Demos".
  1. Joel Snyder from Valpak of San Francisco , March 27, 2012 at 11:38 a.m.
    Unless that data, including all variables, is shared (the “most profitable” consumers for an anonymous advertiser in a consumer packaged goods category) how is most profitable defined to a new prospective buyer? Trying to match "most profitable" data for one large budget multi-line client to a single line start-up offers other challenges. The extent of the buy is also a factor.
  2. John Grono from GAP Research , March 27, 2012 at 6:52 p.m.
    We need to be careful here. Underlying the ratings system will always be age/gender (and location, household characteristics etc.). The simple reason is when you a determinants of viewing analysis guess what always comes out as key drivers ... age, gender etc. rather than "intend to take an overseas holiday in the next 12 months" or "regular buyer of Crest". We need to differentiate between the demographics essential for conducting robust research and the reporting demographics that are over-layed on the research is a post-hoc manner. I'm all for more usable demographic segmentation but not at the expense of the bedrock of determinants of usage. Further, we need to consider how many of these 'reporting demographics' do we burden our respondents with huge questionnaires in order to collect them, as well as ensuring that they are harmonised across all media (one can dream!). At least we know that age, gender and geography are present and harmonised.
  3. Walter Sabo from SABO media , March 28, 2012 at 2:55 a.m.
    It's called psychographics. The article doesn't say if General Mills is going to buy this way or when
  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , March 28, 2012 at 9:37 a.m.
    Meanwhile, many viewers use their DVRs to skip most commercials. The ad buyers continue to whistle in the dark.
  5. Lon Bason from Harper House , March 28, 2012 at 11:07 a.m.
    1700 years is all it took to prove that the world was not flat. Poltrack's only been working on this since the 70's. Kudos to explorers and innovators for trying to find a more direct route to the destination, or, in this case, a better mousetrap.
  6. Sunil Soman from NCM Media Networks , March 28, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.
    This is clearly the direction things need to be heading, but the additional filter of effectiveness is something that also needs to be addressed. The key will be the ability to reach the right people in via the most impactful channels
  7. Tim Orr from Barnett Orr Marketing Group, Inc. , March 28, 2012 at 6:05 p.m.
    Douglas Ferguson says, "Meanwhile, many viewers use their DVRs to skip most commercials." Data, please.
  8. Jimmy Bogroff from Emerge Interactive , March 29, 2012 at 4:08 p.m.
    Ironically,Style has roadblocked this page and wants to make sure that I'm aware of their position as the fastest growing cable network among women 18-49.
  9. Leslie Nolen from The Radial Group , March 30, 2012 at 10:32 a.m.
    Poltrack said they "improved the ROI for the brand three times over the conventional demographic audience break it had been using to buy the show, adults 18-49." Well, just about anything including a dartboard would improve results over targeting "adults 18-49." A 3X improvement over THAT doesn't impress me. I mean, this is nothing more than a requirement that the audience consist of people who are not dead.