Media Metrics: No Vacation for Marketers

Family GuyLook out your window: it's summer outside. While most Americans look forward to warmer weather, taking days off from work and spending more time in the sun, many marketers can't risk taking a vacation from selling their products and services. And it requires a bit more than toting a BlackBerry to the beach. Marketing during the summer is especially crucial for many competitive categories and understanding how consumer behavior changes. And acting upon it can add the needed efficiency, reach and impact that help a communications plan achieve a competitive advantage.

Like Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and waiting 30 minutes to swim after eating, some myths just won't die. It's an enduring myth that people don't watch TV during the summer, so taking a vacation from the foundation of many marketing plans has been an accepted, albeit unnecessarily risky, practice - especially if it's found that television advertising works throughout the year. The Olympics are not the only game in town this summer, and tools like Nielsen's NPower can prove that carefully placed TV GRPs during the summer months can deliver the effective, targeted reach that marketers expect throughout their schedule.

Viewers prefer original programming, and it's another a myth that you can't find high-quality first-run programming in the summer; syndicated programming remains original into the hot months. Combined with top-rated off-net sitcoms and dramas, syndication helps drive reach high, creating a viable "prime replacement" during the summer. With 12 regularly scheduled syndicated shows, from talk to sitcoms to entertainment news, delivering above the network average, advertisers have a choice in a competitive scatter marketplace.

The vast majority of prime network's summer program hours are repeats. I'll say that again: The vast majority of prime network's summer program hours are repeats. Annoying, isn't it? Last summer, nearly 70 percent of the entertainment shows airing on networks were repeats, fueling a steep 33 percent ratings decline that should be cause for advertiser concern.

While the networks offer a limited slate of first-run reality programs during the summer, the genre seems to be facing something close to a saturation point. Last summer saw 36 percent more hours of reality programming than the previous year, yet among adults ages 18 to 49, ratings were 21 percent lower than summer 2006.

Many marketers can't afford this type of performance. For example, summer marks the beginning of back-to-school shopping, a major sales event that is the second biggest retail sales period, right behind Christmas. Depending upon your location, back-to-school extends from late July through Labor Day, with moms making important purchasing decisions for the coming school year. It's big business, too, with $18.4 billion in retail sales, or $563 per child, according to the National Retail Federation.

During this crucial summertime sales period, syndication triumphs among moms, with an average of four of the top 10 shows every Monday through Friday, well ahead of each individual network. Last summer, top-rated performance came from first-run episodes of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy and Entertainment Tonight in addition to Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond. One can expect that, given their performance this season, Family Guy and Two and a Half Men will join this group.

By genre, syndication delivers a higher composition of moms, thereby reducing waste. For the entertainment news, drama and sitcom categories, syndication offers a double-digit advantage over network prime. Syndication also over-delivers mothers who shop at key back-to-school retail outlets, like department stores and club stores, and moms shopping for shoes, electronics and supplies.

Summer is important to other significant groups of marketers who need strong summer performance to meet their yearly goals, including wireless, theatrical, restaurants and automotive. Interestingly, they all need to engage younger, active consumers in order to succeed. Whether it's the "high-value mobile phone user," "people who are more likely to attend movies on opening weekends," "frequent visitors of restaurants" or "those in the market to buy a car," syndication delivers these hard-to-reach viewers because its median age is significantly younger than network television.

Syndication has high-rated strip programming that's available every weekday. Last summer, top sitcoms like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond were joined by young-skewing comedies like That '70s Show, King of the Hill and Scrubs, as well as leaders in the talk, court and entertainment news genres. In summer 2007, syndication led all network with an average of five of the top 10 Monday-to-Friday shows for adults ages 18 to 49. Even more impressive, syndication led with an average seven of the top 10 shows for adults ages 18 to 34 and all the top 10 shows on Fridays.

This summer, look to syndication's new sitcoms, like Two and a Half Men, Family Guy and George Lopez, to join the top of the charts. Already this year they've been strong performers, and if last summer was any indication, syndication should continue to outperform network prime. Last year, among adults ages 18 to 34, four syndicated sitcoms were higher rated than network's best. In the age 18 to 49 bracket, we saw a similar story, where three of the top five sitcoms were from syndication - including television's No. 1 comedy, Everybody Loves Raymond.

Cable networks try to fill the void by launching shows that air original episodes during the summer. Still, it's interesting to note that 20 syndicated programs had larger audiences than the highest rated original prime cable series airing last summer, according to Nielsen NPower.

In responding to the impact that the summer has on consumer television viewing, marketers may need to adjust their media mix. Syndication's summertime consistency is a valuable advantage in an increasingly competitive retail environment. Today's tools demonstrate how including syndication in your summertime plans can increase reach, add efficiency and extend continuity.

Jordan Harris is the director of marketing for SNTA. (

Next story loading loading..