Is Anyone's Media Consumption 'Typical' Anymore?

Many ad agency training programs teach their fledgling media planners to engage in a particular exercise when they're authoring a media plan. Said exercise is known across the industry as "A Day in the Life," and it is designed to immerse the planner in a typical day in the typical life of a typical member of the media plan's target audience. As an exercise, sometimes it demonstrates its usefulness by illuminating some heretofore undiscovered opportunity to reach members of the target. But most of the time, it is placed into a client presentation to show the client that the agency understands its target audience, what they do and how they operate.

But in an era of hyperpersonalization, how relevant is A Day in the Life?

When media choices were greatly simplified decades ago, it was a no-brainer that many people who belonged to the same demographic also watched many of the same television programs, read the same magazines and newspapers, and listened to the same radio stations. But media choices are anything but simple these days. You'd be lucky to have a fraction of any given demographic consuming the same medium at the same time, much less picking the same channel.



Instead of the Day in the Life exercise, consider trying the following. Have folks at your organization keep a diary of the media they consume, and make some comparisons after a couple days or a week. You'll likely find some consumption commonalities between people, but you'll almost certainly find a wide range of habits that span all over the media map.

Each media diary entry should also detail the content provider, the medium and whether or not the content was live or prerecorded. You might find that even people who wrote down that they watched the same television show might have consumed it in totally different ways--one person might have watched it live, another might have TiVoed it, or watched it on a portable device. Similarly, you might find two fans of the same Web publisher, but one surfs the site while another reads the RSS feed or a newsletter.

In short, the choices are staggering enough, but add in the variables of time-shifting, place-shifting and alternative delivery mechanisms, and two people who might appear on the surface to have similar media consumption habits might be totally different.

This begs the question: Does "typical" have any significant meaning anymore when it comes to describing an advertiser's target audience? I doubt it.

To me, this supports the argument that the broadcast model of marketing is continuing to break down. To some, it might mean another few years of trying to cling to a model that delivers less for more every year. But for me, it means that one-size-fits-all broadcast messages are done. Without personalization, chances to engage potential customers are just happy accidents--ones that will occur with less and less frequency over time. We can't waste opportunities to engage, because they're becoming more and more precious as time goes by.

I'm convinced that if marketers spent more time on the quality of engagement rather than on the one-size-fits-all approach, they would be more closely aligned with how the media landscape is changing.

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