Column: Aperture -- Some Are Summering

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, the days of soda and pretzels and beer… Hey, wait a minute — where are you reading this article? We know where we are as we write it: in our office, looking at the sunny day outside our window. Chances are you’re in your office too, or perhaps on your daily commute. Indeed, that’s where we’re likely to find most of the U.S. adult population during the dog days of August.

The days of extended summer vacations are largely enjoyed by the young. And while vacations are often enjoyed throughout the summer weeks, this isn’t Paris. In general, most Americans are limited to a one- or two-week vacation for the entire year. Our European counterparts enjoy a full four weeks, typically in August.

When we think about how to reach American consumers during these summer months, we first need to stop thinking that school’s out and everything is different for the next eight weeks. Let’s take a look at what’s really been going on over the summer for the past few years.

As we know, homes using television (huts) and persons using television (puts) in day parts other than primetime don’t significantly change during the summer, and really never did. The story in primetime is that although overall viewing drops from the cooler months, cable television’s share of viewing far surpasses the broadcast networks. Summer programming is no longer reserved solely for repeats on the broadcast and cable networks. Summer has become the “third season,” as broadcast networks try to stave off the growth of cable in this period.

Since the broadcast networks can’t afford to program scripted shows 52 weeks a year, they bombard summer with reality and game-show fare, some of which has been wildly successful (“Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,” “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars”). These shows became regular season hits as well. Others (“So You Think You Can Dance,” “Big Brother,” “Last Comic Standing,” “Hell’s Kitchen”) are summer-only shows.

Meanwhile, cable counterprograms, saving their original scripted shows for summer. TNT brought back “The Closer” for its second summer run and premiered “Saved.” USA is airing the successful “Dead Zone,” “Monk,” and “The 4400.” FX saves the popular “Rescue Me” for summer, and HBO rolls out new seasons of “Deadwood,” “Entourage,” and “Lucky Louie.” In other words, TV in the summer is still a good place to go to reach your target.

While magazines don’t enjoy the quantifiable data of broadcast and cable, based on behavioral information, we know that consumer magazines have always enjoyed summer readership. There are special summer reading issues of The New Yorker, and the big fall-fashion issues are in the hands of eager readers in early to mid-August, while there’s still plenty of time to plan the fall wardrobe.

Looking across a number of diverse Web sites, from automotive to fashion, we find that Internet audience delivery is fairly flat month-to-month. With WiFi service becoming ubiquitous, we can anticipate that there may never be a time when the Web-enabled consumer will not have access to online communication.

So what about blimps over the ocean or messages in the sand? Can we do anything different to reach consumers who are spending more of their days outside in leisure pursuits? Of course. But the one thing we must keep front and center is this: What’s the right message to the right consumer at the right moment of receptivity?

What the summer months offer in spades is the opportunity for increased contextual relevance through place-based communication. Street teams offer tastes of POM Wonderful or Ben and Jerry’s newest flavor near office buildings and near points of purchase. For moviegoers ducking into the air-conditioned multiplex on a hot day, strategically placed ads at concession stands invite the purchase of refreshments, CDs, and the latest shade of lip gloss.

Great and relevant creative placed in the most opportune environments will lead to effective communication and greater sales. And in the end, that’s the only thing that matters — summer, spring, winter, or fall.

Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are cofounders of TargetCast TCM. (
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