Market Focus: Battle of the Bulge

The expanding field of waistband demos might blow up but it won't go pop

Battle of the BulgeWhen a carmaker designs a new car, one of the factors to consider is the weight and body size of the driver and passengers. At first blush, that might seem like a small component of the overall design of a new vehicle. But body mass index is becoming an increasingly important factor when it comes to marketing, design and advertising.

So research firm Simmons, a part of Experian Research Services, set out to measure height, weight and body mass index and then to look at those three elements of a person's makeup as they relate to the media people consume. That study, called "Waistband Segments" and based on responses from just under 25,000 Americans ages 18 and up, has been used by a number of Simmons' clients. The research company can't disclose the specific clients who have used the study or how they use the data. However, Simmons' clients include major broadcast networks, cable companies, media companies, advertising and media buying agencies and advertisers.

But broadly speaking, those clients are using the findings to better understand how height and weight impact other decisions consumers make. This type of psychographic research is becoming increasingly important to advertisers and marketers as they look for every advantage they can find in a competitive world.

While ratings and audience measurement data from companies like Nielsen, comScore and Omniture are the first line of defense of TV and Internet marketers alike, many are increasingly leaning on psychographic and demographic data to make more precise media buys. Understanding the market segments and how
different consumers respond to ads can help a marketer fine-tune the message to achieve a better return on investment and a more effective buy.

"This is another example of marketers using other types of information to make more strategic and engaged media buys," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media. "While, for the near future at least, guarantees will still be based upon demographics, this type of information overlayed upon demos will hopefully make smarter and better targeted media buys."

Weight Watchers, for instance, could use the data regarding body mass index in conjunction with other attitudes about food and lifestyle, such as where people eat, what kind of food they buy for their homes and whether they are actively trying to lose weight, to design a program that resonates with consumers, says John Fetto, product manager for Experian Consumer Research.

That information can be combined with other data from Simmons' larger studies on consumer habits and behavior. "You can cross that height and weight information with the other data we provide, such as people who drive pickup trucks. Or how tall is the average person who is a president or CEO versus someone who says he is vice president or below? The options are limitless to cross reference the information," Fetto says. "You can include that information in your ad campaigns and [use] people who represent the type of consumers you are targeting. Advertisers often try to make sure their ads feature people of every race and ethnicity and you can include body types, too."

The study's author, Max Kilger, says the goal of the study was to take a closer look at attitudes about body size and weight because of the increase in obesity in recent years. Market research in this area has focused almost exclusively on weight control, but little had been known about how body image impacts media consumption and consumers' buying habits, says Kilger, chief behavioral scientist with Simmons.

Broadly speaking, the study found that women over-index in the underweight and normal BMI category while men over-index for the heavier category, Kilger says. He also learned that as household income rises, weight tends to the normal level. But after that, the data becomes more complicated and nuanced.

For instance, underweight individuals tend to consume the least amount of media, with the exception being the Internet, he says. The underweight group uses the Internet more than other weight groups.

Another unexpected finding was that underweight individuals also over-index for using instant messaging services on the Web. "I wasn't expecting to see any difference in instant messaging," Kilger says. Those two pieces of information suggest that advertisers who are targeting underweight individuals would want to put a good chunk of their ad budgets into the Internet.

Also, cable and network TV tends be watched more heavily as weight increases: there's truth in the "couch potato" term. Along those same lines, consumer interest in sexier magazines like Cosmopolitan and Allure drops off as weight increases, but oddly enough so does interest in Martha Stewart Living. That's surprising because most magazines centered around "domestic arts" don't rise or fall with weight, but perhaps an association exists that to be like Martha, one needs to be thin, too, Kilger suggests.

Another surprise from the study was that Oprah Winfrey's O magazine did not draw more overweight readers than other titles. Kilger had thought that Winfrey might draw readers with a similar body size and type. But that's not the case, he says. Given that her magazine draws evenly across all body types, advertisers should not make such assumptions. Some marketers might mistakenly think her magazine would be a good vehicle to advertise a product attractive to people with a higher BMI, but that would be a waste of money, Kilger says.

He also found that Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi lure slightly different consumer groups. Skinnier folks are more drawn to Diet Coke, while the overweight prefer rival sugar-free soda, Diet Pepsi, he says.

"This is really important to keep in mind because you are trying to reach out to these people with a product that has some direct relevance to weight and body mass index," Kilger said. Consumption of Diet Pepsi also ticks up dramatically as weight climbs. "This suggests that there is something associated with Diet Pepsi - whether it is the taste, advertising message or some pricing/distribution strategy - that makes it much more attractive to individuals as BMI indices increase than Diet Coke."

This information could be extremely useful for Pepsi, he said. "If you are Pepsi, you need to focus your advertising on things relevant to body mass index and you might be wasting money on the underweight people. Can you shift more ad dollars to overweight people because they will do more good?"

Understanding the nuances of the consumer mindset in more detail can only help a marketer develop a more effective media buy. Adds Kilger: "Probably the basis of the study is that something that people thought didn't have very broad general applicability in terms of developing marketing messaging actually has applicability to other categories you wouldn't have thought of before, like instant messaging."

Next story loading loading..