The Demo: Not Dead, But Different

by , Apr 12, 2012, 7:10 PM
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This upfront season, the demo — long said to be on the death row of media metrics — shows a surprising amount of life

For years, media execs have predicted the death of the demo, as new devices took bigger and bigger chunks out of smaller and smaller TV viewing audiences. Those pundits, quick to point out that advertisers ought to be just as eager to reach 61-year-old tablet-using skydivers as 33-year-old BlackBerry-wielding accountants, have been a little right and a little wrong. Instead of croaking, the demo — industry slang for demographic, or the age range of a show’s key viewing audience — is more like Queen Elizabeth II or Prince Albert of Monaco: It may be only a figurehead, but its symbolic clout is as meaningful as ever.

But it’s not in charge, and it is ruled by more refined tools to do the TV buying job. Increasingly, media planners are finding innovative ways to work around the demo and reach new audiences via social buzz, shopper data, set-top box information and other audience measurement tools.

Yet the demo is still the public face and common language of the TV buying business. And reports of its demise have been exaggerated, even as advertisers do everything they can internally to avoid the too-blunt instrument of the age-and-gender cookie-cutter cutouts of the American viewing public.

With the TV upfront about to kick off in May, the demo will be front and center because nearly all the ad deals struck will use the currency of the familiar age-sex demographics. Behind the veil, though, all the smart and savvy media buyers will be buying audiences.

Behind the Demo’s Back

“Most of the currency is still in the demo, but most of the accountability to the clients is on the audience, so we have do internal translations,” says Pam Zucker, president of marketplace ignition and innovation at MediaVest. That’s the job of an agency and of a media planner — to be the interpreter between the marketer and the media placement.

For years, TV media buying and selling has been sliced and diced by segments — adults 18 to 49, men 18 to 34, women 25 to 54, and so on — but those silos are hardly reflective of the way consumers watch TV today. While the bulk of viewing still occurs on the TV set, media buyers are remiss to discount new ways of viewing — bingeing on libraries of TV shows, watching on tablets, viewing online and increasingly, on cell phones.

It’s the job of the buyer, and the job of the best buyers, to optimize the differences between all the other ways of measuring an audience and the currency of the demo to deliver the best results for their clients. “We are trying to think about moving away from demo buying because our greater vision is about igniting communities and people by shared passions, so we think about buying audiences, following content and creating a social or cultural impact,” Zucker says. “If you just buy the demo, you are creating big gaps.”

New Ways of Buying

When marketers enter a TV transaction with a media vendor, they’re coming to an agreement to buy a certain amount of eyeballs in a particular age or gender range. “But to think that’s all the buy is being based on would be naive. There is a lot of data we are using to better target our customers for our clients,” says Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for GroupM. That includes sources such as MRI, set-top box data, and even shopper data from Kantar Media, which along with GroupM, is a division of parent holding company WPP, which analyzes and monitors audiences across mediums.

“A lot of the decisions on which program and networks to target come through more sophisticated means and data analysis,” Scanzoni says. The amount of data emerging from set-top boxes and Kantar Media is exponentially better than it was five years ago, he says. Kantar’s shopper data, as an example, gives GroupM a more refined look at how purchase decisions are influenced by ads.
But just as buying primarily by demo leads to oversimplification, there are risks with a plethora of data, too. “You have to make sure you don’t get data paralysis because there is so much of this stuff, and you have to siphon through it and see what is really going to make a difference in the realities of the TV market,” Scanzoni says.

Tools for Social Buzz, Addressability in TV Buying

Increasingly, marketers are eager to pinpoint the impact of social buzz on a show. That’s why social media measurement start-up Bluefin Labs is catching the eye of many agencies. Bluefin pairs social buzz for a show and the commercials in it on a per-episode basis, so networks know which airing of a show is generating chatter, rather than just the aggregate buzz for a certain week. That kind of a breakdown goes much further to understanding and quantifying the social engagement of particular shows at particular times, MediaVest’s Zucker says.

Digitas is another agency betting on Bluefin Labs and is considering including Bluefin’s tools into its internal audience measurement tools, Digitas has said.

In fact, internal tools are vital for agencies to work around the demo problem. MediaVest, for one, depends on proprietary tools it has cobbled together in-house. That includes a program that lets buyers fuse a variety of databases to understand viewing patterns. The result is a holistic view of audience habits for use in TV buying, Zucker says.

On the TV front, the promise of addressability (targeting diaper ads to new parents, for instance) still exists as a way to move beyond demo buying. This can be achieved by matching set-top box data with third-party consumer insight from Experian and Acxiom to better pair households with consumer profiles, especially in satellite homes, Scanzoni says. Cablers, too, are making strides with addressability.

Paid, Earned, Owned

At Digitas, media strategists search for ways to fine tune audiences across TV, online and other mediums to understand how they fit into the new paradigm of “Paid, Earned and Owned” media. Earned media — social buzz, press coverage, Twitter and Facebook chatter — has skyrocketed in importance to marketers. In order to be successful in earned media, marketers need to ensure the content they create is getting in front of the audiences who are mostly likely to engage with it.

“We focus on audience delivery rather than impression delivery, so it’s about finding those audiences first and using sophisticated data to locate them,” says Dave Marsey, senior vice president and media practice lead at Digitas, one of the digital agencies under the VivaKi umbrella. That’s where VivaKi’s in-house “Audience on Demand” suite of buying tools comes into play. Included in Audience on Demand is the “trading desk” that crunches data on audience composition to deliver the most relevant ads to the most interested audiences.

“We can say we are trying to reach travelers who skew at the affluent end of a luxury vacation in this geographic area, and we can feed Audience on Demand with a whole set of audience markers as they assemble audiences and add impressions for us,” Marsey says. With the suite in use since 2008, VivaKi recently added video buying to Audience on Demand. In time, this sort of audience buying can be built into TV transactions, Marsey says.

“Our vision is to make this the norm across all our buys. The clients that we are actively doing this for are clients that are more into driving direct business outcomes, such as travel, financial services or telecom,” he said. Marketers that still need tonnage, such as those selling consumer products, are more reliant on demos. However, Digitas used the tool for Kraft’s “Real Women of Philadelphia” campaign in 2010 to segment out specific consumers who were passionate about baking with cream cheese. Then, the marketer was able to deliver content with related recipes to them, which led to a 5 percent increase in sales.

Next Up: KPIs on TV

Demos have been the easiest way to buy media, and for a long time they were all that was available, explains Mark Grether, chief operating officer of Xaxis, an audience buying company that’s part of WPP. But just as agencies have moved internally to buying audiences, soon they’ll be able to buy TV on key performance indicators, or KPIs, he says. Some media is already bought that way online, and it provides a method of building the audience after the marketer knows exactly who will respond to the message. Essentially, KPI buying assembles the audience profile from the desired result. “We will define a KPI for a campaign, then test it for a subsegment of the population, then find out who is reacting to the KPI, then deliver only to that subsegment,” Grether says. “I won’t need to define a target group or demo, but rather a KPI.”

This sort of buying is happening online where more targeted criteria is available. As marketers buy online in this fashion, they’ll be able to graft that data across other mediums. Grether believes this type of audience insight can work on TV. “More clients will run a video campaign online before they run a TV campaign, not only to see how the creative performs, but which user segments react to the campaign the way the marketer wants them to react,” he says, adding that Xaxis has tested this tactic in a few countries with the most advanced TV buyers. “Then they can define their audiences based on the video performance and use that to do media planning on TV.”

Better Audience Understanding, Better Results

Much of the push to layer in new ways of buying has grown out of the more refined and targeted buying made possible online. That thinking is now carrying over to TV.
“Consumers today can no longer be defined solely by traditional media consumption patterns, and advertisers aren’t limited to targeting broad buckets like the 18-49 age groups,” says Patrick Dolan, IAB’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, and data lead.

“The increase in the number of channels through which data can be collected and distributed — from outdoor advertising, to complex CRM databases, relationships with the community through social media and email, as well as anonymized Web activity and digitally driven products and services provided by brands — greatly enhances the quality of the consumer picture that advertisers have insight into. Advertisers can see consumer preference almost immediately, and they can quickly compare and relate it to larger demographic and historical patterns.” But for now, the demo still reigns. It’s the king of TV buying, for good or for ill, and it remains a top priority on many new-media buys as well.

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