Double standards - Does media know who is spending the most?

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 21 June 2012 08:00AM

Agencies should target age groups that are least affected by the downturn while the UK's economy remains stuck in recession, two experts say.

Nick Hewat: group sales director, Telegraph Media Group

Nick Hewat: group sales director, Telegraph Media Group

NICK HEWAT - GROUP SALES DIRECTOR, TELEGRAPH MEDIA GROUP

- Now we are back in recession and 2013 is predicted to offer little respite, is there a demographic group that is less affected by the downturn that agencies can target?

Only one: the over-45s have more than 85 per cent of Britain's wealth. This is a new, very British phenomenon as baby-boomers in other countries haven't accumulated this share of the wealth via house price rises. It's also new; the last time wealth was so concentrated was in 1918. Then, it was the landed gentry and industrialists that had it; now it is people like your mum and dad. We didn't notice all that money going to the over-45s because they accumulated it slowly in ways that are cut off to younger generations now. It represents a challenge for our industry, though. Only 5 per cent of adland is over 50, compared with more than 40 per cent of the population. We are out of kilter with the people we are trying to communicate with.

- Is this group receptive to advertising or are they a tough audience?

On research panels, this audience will say they don't respond to advertising messages. We tested our Telegraph print audience by partnering with a honey company called Littleover Apiaries. It had never advertised before, but after the campaign sales were up 13 per cent and brand consideration up 50 per cent. The myth is that boomers don't switch brands, but the evidence from the Ehrenburg-Bass institute shows they are as fickle as any demographic.

- Are agencies up to speed with which groups are spending the most, and how much time is invested in accurately deciphering this?

During the recession of 1990-92, media agencies targeted younger age groups, partly because younger people are always seen as valuable and partly because the sizeable and wealthy baby-boomer cohort was that age then. Those boomers have grown healthier and wealthier, yet the majority of agency briefs we receive still target 18- to 44-year-olds. Trouble is, they may not be making the household decisions - a third of men aged 20 to 35 live at home and are unlikely to be doing the weekly shop. Strange, then, that we persist in aiming at them alone.

- Should advertising only focus on the most active spenders?

No. Attempts to increase purchase frequency are a fantasy. Anyone who has taste buds and a stomach is in the right market to buy a food product. Media schedules should include light category buyers because it is from them that brand growth comes. Ehrenburg-Bass has demonstrated this in its empirical evidence. It suggests that advertisers should look to maximise their reach by getting to elusive audiences, no matter their demographic make-up.

- What unique challenges are there when it comes to advertising to young people and the over-50s?

Great advertising appeals across demographics. Advertising imagery can be full of young and beautiful people, but the over-50s now feel young themselves - only 20 per cent of gig tickets are bought by 20- to 40-year-olds. As the "bank of mum and dad", this generation of boomers remain enormously influential over the lives of their children: if they are providing the cash, they will demand a say on how it is spent. What I do know is that consumer spending is currently in decline and we have to change our outdated methods of targeting.

MANDY POOLER - DIRECTOR, KANTAR

- Now we are back in recession and 2013 is predicted to offer little respite, is there a demographic group that is less affected by the downturn that agencies can target?

At the moment, the folk at Kantar are like truffle hounds, snuffling through the recessionary undergrowth to find any signs of consumers with money to spend. The good news is there are groups that are less affected, but demographics alone won't do it. For example, we have combined attitudinal and purchase data from three of our companies - TNS, Kantar Worldpanel and The Futures Company - to look at both the current psychology and the current shopping behaviours and we have identified one group we have dubbed "plain sailing", which has more to spend than others now, and is likely to going forward. While, as I said, demographics alone won't do it, surprise, surprise; 42 per cent of this group are over 55.

- Is this group receptive to advertising or are they a tough audience?

They love advertising, they love brands and, while they have money to spare, they are also savvy shoppers, so they will respond well to promotions too.

- Are agencies up to speed with which groups are spending the most, and how much time is invested in accurately deciphering this?

The Kantar companies are very data-rich and have this as pretty much a full-time job. It is still a complex task to keep track of consumer attitudes and spending, so I wouldn't be too hard on anyone trying to keep up. That said, we have been banging on about the opportunity in the "grey market" for so long, I'm now in it.

- Should advertising only focus on the most active spenders?

Clearly not if you want to protect market share. We have evidence from our Worldpanel data that any reductions in aboveor below-the-line spend will result in drops in sales volume in a relatively short time. Our data shows that those FMCG companies that keep spend levels up during a recession can expect to grow by 30 per cent on average. If you are looking for growth, you need to be more inventive than just targeting "active spenders"; you also need to get the proposition and the tone right for consumers who are experiencing complex responses to the times.

- What unique challenges are there when it comes to advertising to young people and the over-50s?

Getting the tone right, if the cliches of silver-haired couples gazing seaward in every pension campaign are anything to go by. There are times when, as a woman hurtling towards the over-55 group at the speed of Madonna working her way through backing dancers, I wonder if anyone in adland knows how to talk to so-called older audiences. Equally, I'm interested to observe the negative responses of my soon-to-graduate and probably-be-unemployed 21-year-old twins to what they see as the "flash trash" excess of advertising aimed at them. There are deep cultural changes going on and advertising needs to tap in to a very different value set that is beginning to take hold across all ages. I'd say anyone smart can spot the tactical opportunities, but I would encourage a more profound review of where and how clients can access growth. Sadly, this recession isn't going away for the foreseeable future.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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