CAMPAIGN REPORT ON NEW MEDIA: The web audience - With ten million UK adults online, an insight into web audiences is critical to marketers. Report by Richard Lord, with internet user profiles from Netpoll

The internet is the preserve of geeks and saddoes. Porn, a few sports sites, some recipes for bombs and a load of American teenagers banging on about pirated software. In the UK, it’s young, male techies who are online - and most of them only use it to fill time when they’re bored at work. And there’s a culture of resentment towards commercial messages.

The internet is the preserve of geeks and saddoes. Porn, a few

sports sites, some recipes for bombs and a load of American teenagers

banging on about pirated software. In the UK, it’s young, male techies

who are online - and most of them only use it to fill time when they’re

bored at work. And there’s a culture of resentment towards commercial


And yet, there are 10.6 million adults online in the UK, according to

the internet consultancy, NUA. Continental Research’s 1998-99 Internet

Report puts the figure at 11.5 million, 25 per cent of the country’s

adult population, and claims it doubled between 1996 and 1998. An ICM

study for The Guardian claims that 29 per cent of people in the UK now

have internet access, and that this will rise to 43 per cent by the end

of 1999. Add to this the ’Freeserve effect’, where free internet access

services like Dixons’ Freeserve, with its million-plus customers, entice

new users onto the internet, and the question is: if there are this many

people using the internet, can you afford to ignore it?

Particularly when you look at the sort of people who are actually out

there. Continental claims that 74 per cent are ABC1s, compared with

around 50 per cent of the population as a whole. According to the online

research specialist www.consult’s UK Internet User Report, 55 per cent

of internet users have completed tertiary education, and 50 per cent

have a household income of more than pounds 30,000. Crucially, Freeserve

and its rivals have widened the demographic profile of UK internet users

- it’s not just geeks any more.

’It’s becoming increasingly the case that as internet penetration

increases, the market becomes more mainstream,’ says James Kennedy,

director of analysis and planning for the research and consulting

company, Netpoll, which has produced profiles of internet user types,

some of which feature on this page. The categories cover all age groups

and also include ’cybertots’, ’chat girls’ and ’cyberseniors’. ’Things

like Freeserve have had a tremendous effect in bringing more normal

people online,’ Kennedy observes. ’Three trends are inevitable: a more

even gender split, a wider socio-economic profile, and an older average


Let’s look at the figures. Continental currently puts the gender split

at 62 per cent male, 38 per cent female. The internet research

specialist, Fletcher Research, goes for 64:36, but its figures for

gender split by age reveal a trend towards equality. While 71 per cent

of 35 to 49-year-olds using the internet are male, the figure falls to

62 per cent in the 25-34 age group, 53 per cent for 18-24, and 51 per

cent below 18.

’The gender split among students is around 50:50,’ Fletcher’s research

director, William Reeve, says. ’As those students get older, that split

is likely to remain at 50:50.’ In the US, the ratio is now around 52:48,

across all age groups.

The age profile is also changing: www.consult puts the age of the

average user at 32, and Fletcher at 33, which Reeve describes as ’a bit

older than you’d think’. Fletcher says 21 per cent of UK users are aged

18-24, 27 per cent are 25-34, and 31 per cent are in the 35-49 bracket.

Continental thinks that 26 per cent of internet users are 25-34,

compared with 20 per cent of the population as a whole; 19 per cent are

35-44, compared with 17 per cent of the population; and 16 per cent are

45-54, the same as the percentage of the population between those ages.

So teenage geeks are not the only users.

In terms of geography, internet use is skewed towards London but, again,

not as much as you might think. By ITV region, Fletcher claims that 27

per cent of internet users are in London and the South-east, against 19

per cent of the population. Internet use in most other regions is

roughly in line with population size. ’It’s not as London-focused as it

used to be, or as people think,’ Reeve says.

The Henley Centre, the consumer consultancy, reckons that the UK

population can be segmented into five groups: 7 per cent who are active

internet users at home and elsewhere; 14 per cent who only use it

outside the home; 30 per cent that haven’t used it, but are likely to be

enthusiastic users in the future; 19 per cent with little or no

experience but who will probably use it outside the home; and 30 per

cent who won’t use it at all.

Chad Wollen, media specialist at the Henley Centre, pinpoints the third

group as the most significant. ’They represent a huge section of the

population and have already shown their willingness to use computers at

work and at home,’ he says. ’As many of this group will be in full-time

work with young families, and suffering from time pressure, if companies

can position their services via the internet as a way of helping them

save time, effort and money, it will not be long before they adopt the

internet wholeheartedly.’

There’s certainly an increasing willingness to buy online. Does Britain

Want To Shop Online?, a survey by MORI for Hewlett-Packard, found that

25 per cent of web users had already bought something over the web, and

85 per cent said they would consider it. Continental found that 38 per

cent of regular internet users claim to have bought something online.

Fletcher puts the figure at 35 per cent.

’I think the general shift will be towards people being more likely to

buy online,’ Adam Daum, principal consultant for the consultancy,

Inteco, says. ’The key questions are what will they buy, and what sites

will they buy it from?’

The bottom line for companies looking to use the internet for marketing,

of course, is whether their target audience is out there. The growth and

increasing maturity of the internet audience makes it easier to


But Daum believes it resists being divided into neat audience


’We’ve tried hard to segment the internet audience, to make it easier

for marketers, but it’s actually very hard to do,’ he says. ’You can

detect differences in the way people use the internet, but you can’t

really characterise individual groups. There are big differences in

people’s primary motivation, but their usage isn’t predictable.’

As Daum points out, however, if you want to attract people interested in

a certain subject, setting up a website on that subject allows you to

create your own market. ’There are synergies between new and traditional

media. If you set up a site aimed at a certain demographic and drive

people to it, you’ll get that sort of person there.’

Netpoll’s director of analysis and planning, James Kennedy, claims that

internet users tend to segment themselves. ’Because it’s a user-driven

medium, the audience is already segmented,’ he says. ’Sometimes we get

trapped in the traditional media way of thinking, where it’s all about

aggregating huge numbers of users. But on the internet, they’re all

broken down already, depending on what they do online. People are using

it for a wide range of very specific tasks. They’re not so attracted by

big media brands.’

While the internet audience may be growing fast, it’s still not that big

in absolute terms and doesn’t allow you to reach the sort of chunk of

the population that is possible with TV. The self-segmentation of users,

however, makes it easier to target potential customers. Where else could

a financial services company own content that its customers choose to

visit, or a car maker deliver ads only to people who search on the word


It’s also worth thinking about how internet use affects the consumption

of other media. According to Continental, 34 per cent of internet users

claim that they now watch less TV than before, and only 11 per cent

watch more. According to www.consult, 47 per cent of people claim to

watch less TV, while only 2 per cent watch more. If your target market

starts to consume less of traditional media, such as TV, it becomes more

expensive to reach them through that route.

Until now, it’s been easy to stereotype internet users. But as the

market grows and broadens, it’s becoming clear that it is not made up of

types of people, it’s just people.Increasingly, there should be a market

for most things online. The question should no longer be: is my target

audience on the internet?Rather, it should be: where is my target

audience on the internet?


Aged 15 - still at school and living at home - he accesses the internet

mainly at home (or at his mates’), sometimes at school or college, or at

a cybercafe. He’s into playing online games and getting into

role-playing in MUDs (Multiple User Dungeons) and he thinks he’s

net-savvy and pretty hip. Other interests include football.


Aged 23, this is ’Loaded Man’ online. He uses the net at work and


He’s a bit of a Jack-the-lad and thinks he knows it all as far as the

net is concerned. He certainly doesn’t want anyone telling him how he

should use it. Interests include sex and sport. He spends a lot of time

online searching for smut and e-mailing it to his mates.


Aged 42, married with three teenage kids, she works in the ’caring’


Her husband got an internet connection for them to use e-mail when he

works abroad. She likes e-mailing her sister in Australia and would shop

online if she knew how it worked. The kids spend time on the internet,

but she’d rather read a magazine.


Aged 40, married with two children, he or she might be a middle-ranking

civil servant or a partner at a small firm of solicitors. He or she

likes the feeling of being in control and in touch through the internet

and feels time spent online is a big benefit to their job but, given

that they get sidetracked so much, this is debatable.


Aged 31, works as PA to the boss of a small company. She is

super-competent and well turned out but also ’one of the girls’. She

only accesses the internet at the office and first got online to do

research for the boss, make travel arrangements and so on. She’s ’not

really into computers and that’, but has started to explore on her



Aged 28, he straddles the border between cool and nerd. No-one is quite

sure which he is, just as no-one is too sure if his clothes are Oxfam or

next season’s Helmut Lang. Could be a gee-whizz creative or unemployed

and living with his mum. The important thing is, he’s really into the

net and thinks he knows more about it than anyone else.


Aged 38, he or she is a successful professional or a high-flying

marketing exec. Being career-minded, they access the net at work and

certainly don’t see it as a form of entertainment. Very impatient if the

web is slow or they can’t find what they want. They bank online and use

the net to manage their portfolio and research holidays.