What Consumers Really Think About Media? It's Not Necessarily What Madison Avenue Thinks

Ask a top media agency executive what the most important new development in media planning and buying is and chances are you'll hear, "It's the consumer, stupid." Instead of talking CPMs and GRPs, media shops are talking about consumer "engagement," attentiveness," and the newest buzzword of all, "context." They're conducting primary consumer research studies and they're purchasing the types of syndicated research data that previously were used mainly by marketers and strategic branding agencies. They're also hiring experts on consumer behavior - sociologists, psychologists, and behavioral scientists - all in the pursuit of one goal: understanding better how consumers relate to media.

MEDIA Magazine, the sister print publication of MediaDailyNews wasn't so sure. To find out, we asked InsightExpress to conduct a survey among a few hundred planners and buyers as well as a corresponding panel of consumers. What we learned was that when it comes to understanding the role that various media play in the lives of consumers, especially with regard to advertising, in many cases consumers and the trade couldn't be farther apart.



For example, 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, with only 19.6 percent of consumers deeming it their favorite medium. In fact, nearly as many consumers (13.6 percent) considered radio to be 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 two to one - 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. In answers to the question of which medium they would want to have if they could choose only one, the consumer-versus-trade biases were equally strong. The trade once again cited network TV, while consumers chose cable TV. Consumers' perception of the indispensability of radio and newspapers was also out of whack with that of 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 the perceptions consumers have of these media. On the flip side, Madison Avenue appears to misunderstand the relative importance that cable TV and online media play in the life of the average Joe. But for the most part, it tends 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. Specifically, 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. Not surprisingly, we found a similar pattern of disconnect among consumers and the trade.

Asked which medium is most effective at "exposing" them to advertising messages, only 29.5 percent of consumers cited network TV, versus 43.8 percent of media planners and buyers. Just as significantly, virtually as many consumers (28.3 percent) deemed cable TV to be just as effective as network TV, while only 8.4 percent of the industry executives cited cable TV. As far as other media were concerned, a much greater percentage of consumers cited magazines and newspapers, while planners and buyers gave a disproportionate emphasis to online and magazines.

"More options, more channels," said one of the consumer respondents regarding their preference for cable TV. "It has the widest range of things on and has a better chance of having something on that would match what I want to watch at any given time," said another.

In general, consumers said they felt TV advertising was the most effective at exposing them to advertising, because of its sound, sight, and motion, and because ads on the medium were deemed to be more entertaining and to have high production values. But when it came to what form of TV served them best, consumers consistently cited cable, not broadcast network TV.

The surveys generated one other surprise. In an attempt to understand how cognizant consumers actually are of the differences between broadcast and cable TV, we asked them how often they actually think about how TV is transmitted to them while watching the medium. Surprisingly, 27 percent of consumers said they "always" or "often" think about the source of their TV transmissions. That was nearly four times the percentage of media planners and buyers that thought the same.

The findings indicate that a wide gap continues to exist between how consumers perceive the role of media and how industry professionals 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."

Click here to see complete results of the survey.

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