Younger demos thought lost are now found: But what about the missing money?

Michael Stanford

Michael has been the executive creative director of some of Australia’s largest and most high profile creative agencies, including Publicis Mojo, George Patterson Y&R and Mccann Erickson. Over 25 years in advertising and media, Michael has worked across a vast range of local and global brands. Renowned work includes ‘John West, the best’, Streets Magnum, and as a writer and Regional Creative Director for MasterCard ‘Priceless’, voted by US Adweek as one of the top 5 global campaigns of all time. As Head of 10 Imagine and national creative director, Michael is responsible for creative and strategic services. Highlight work includes the breakthrough ‘Modern Family Toyota Kluger’ content series, which Michael co-wrote with Emmy award winning producer, Steve Levitan; award-winning integration for Budget Direct, and recent campaigns for Menulog and a six-part digital series for ANZ, written for comedian Luke McGregor. His passion for writing has led to success as an author, which began with a children’s book for Hodder. His second book about office behaviour was published by Allen & Unwin, receiving strong reviews including three out of three stars from Boss Magazine, and excerpts published in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald. His third book, also published by Allen & Unwin, was called ‘The Truth about Babies’, a funny glimpse into the world of new parenthood. Michael has appeared on numerous industry panels, written trade opinion pieces and appeared as a TV commentator on branded content. He has also been a judge for multiple award shows.

There is much talk about what VOZ will bring to the media industry. New ways to slice and dice audiences and segments. A clearer understanding of screen consumption. Even new ways to plan and buy. The most interesting result could be finding something many thought we lost - younger viewers, specifically the valuable 18-39s. 

In early viewing data, this is precisely what we see. Despite what digital giants, digital strategists and count-less industry panels had us believe, younger demos never abandoned television. Sure, their behaviour has changed but they have been there all along.

Of the six screens in every household, they were on the five we never measured. In the overnight ratings, they chose their own time-slot. In the ‘either or’ argument, they multi-tasked. In the attention span debate, they enjoyed bite size and bingeing. 

We can explore why they never left later but the question remains: What happened to the money that headed off in search of younger people? A lot did find them, and cleverly intersected behaviours, passion points and relevant content. But a lot went missing. Like, some serious money.

We love true crime in television so let’s gather the suspects to find where the money went.

1. Novelty over nuance.

Our industry loves new things. Rather than observe and analyse the changes in viewing behaviour with a critical eye, we prefer big sweeping PR release headlines. We like seismic change rather than subtle shifts. We like to pigeonhole mediums or add ‘traditional’ to suggest diminishing relevance. And we love to talk about how content is delivered rather than the content itself.

Television is not one screen in the house. Television is a breadth of content not limited by time-slots, curtailed by device, or relegated to one age group. Television is more relevant and culturally important than it has ever been, stretching attention spans to five hours of bingeing, galvanising Australians behind a Survivor coup or a contestant’s cause, or amplifying a social issue like Lisa Wilkinson’s novel idea to help older Australians shop safely.

2. Unchecked Data.

You can’t argue with numbers. But if the numbers are literally pulled out of a hat (I was tempted to say something worse) you can steer people away from the truth. Few industries throw the word ‘data’ around as liberally as ours. And those who claim the erosion of younger TV viewers have enjoyed a field day with little or no fact checking. In our industry, the amount of third-party, independent and audited data is staggeringly small.

The OzTAM television ratings and VOZ literally stand alone. And the insights emerging from VOZ are factual and fascinating.  We know that TV reaches 73 per cent of 25-39s every week, but VOZ will show the ‘missing’ 7 per cent who were only watching TV content via BVOD.

We know that Luke Toki’s elimination on Survivor was watched by 1.25 million people after 28 days of broadcast, live streaming and BVOD, but VOZ will put them all in one dataset. That is not to say younger demos don’t have more choice and have more to consume than ever before, but let’s use verified data to provide balance rather than cherry picked data to propel an agenda.

3. Questionable research questions.

Having sat through countless research groups, the one truth that quickly becomes evident is that people lie. “Do you like advertising?” A chorus of “No” followed by 15 minutes discussing their favourite ads. This is a small point but it adds fuel to the fire and helps bolster the ‘Digital Only’ argument tailored messaging based on what we know about someone is more effective than one message broadcast to millions.

There is no evidence for this. In fact there is strong evidence that mass broadcast has a much greater effect on sales because of cultural imprinting - the concept that we respond more to a message we know others have seen.

4. Ad fraud.

A truly shady character we need to investigate. According to the World Federation of Advertisers, Ad Fraud is tipped to become the second most lucrative form of organised crime (behind drug trafficking) within the next decade.

Fraud flourishes where there is opacity, complexity, heaps of cash and a good story. And this story was brilliant, particularly when promoting how to reach younger demos. Bundle up all their online interests, create a marketplace and bid in real time to deliver a hyper targeted message. It wasn’t important whether a brand’s message appeared on a site selling weapons or weaponised misinformation. Our enthusiasm for acronyms, abbreviations and algorithms was unstoppable. So was the flow of cash to some of the most unscrupulous players.

5. Less than innocent CPM.

Another culprit in this drama is CPM, or more accurately CPM’s ‘price imprinting’ or ‘price anchoring’. In Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational, he explains “once prices are established in our mind, they shape not only what we are willing to pay for an item, but also how much we are willing to pay for related products.” It sounds like Dan was writing about CPM and its mind-altering power of disguising discount as value.

Digital CPM anchored pricing which made it easier to move money away from mediums that in contrast seemed expensive, even if they had delivered a higher return on investment and a greater impact.

6. ‘Return on investment’.

Not the profitability ratio analysed by an MBA graduate. More the one used by an advertising person to seem more grown up (hence the quotation marks). ROI is not the problem. It is more the fluid nature of ROI in digital marketing based on a dizzying array of metrics from engagement, conversion, click rates to even cost-per-like. This has improved, however it does explain how money poured out of some mediums into the seemingly trackable and accountable ‘digital only’ buy.

It goes without saying that for all advertisers a robust digital strategy and investment is a must. For some ecommerce brands, it may even be all they need. However, for the vast majority of advertisers, if you want to reach younger demos, if you want to grow brands and build memory structures, digital should play a role in the overall mix but not the only role.

7. The dominant Google.

As mentioned earlier, Adtech is complex and opaque. The recent move by US justice department accusing Google of antitrust violations shows that the hyper-targeting narrative has big players behind it. 

A recent paper from Yale economist, Fiona Scott Morton, estimates “Google, by acting as an intermediary between advertisers and publishers, is able to pocket about $0.40 of every advertising dollar before it gets to publishers. That is likely higher than what it would earn in a competitive market.” While this may play out in the courts, it shows market influence can affect how we choose the most influential mediums for younger demos.

8. Narrative.

While all of the above are separate issues they are bound by one false narrative. Younger audiences are too busy, too distracted and too social for television. This has allowed monumentally flawed investments and mind-boggling opportunity cost.

The narrative has many co-authors. Those who want to improve a negotiating position, digital giants that want more of the ad market, media commentators who want a headline, or unscrupulous ad tech practices designed to fleece advertisers rather than help them flourish.

All of these suspects share a degree of guilt. Unlike an NCIS ending, this one seems to be more of a cliffhanger, with plots and subplots yet to unfold. Let’s hope the next episode is all about ‘redemption'.

What is clear, is the arrival of VOZ will have a significant effect on the market. It will provide us with an opportunity to help right the wrongs and acknowledge the blindingly obvious - people of any age love great content, stuff they search out, binge, talk about, and share. They fall for the familiar tropes, the drama, the suspense, and the characters that entertain, infuriate, and captivate.

Younger demos choose differently from older generations but their love of great shows remains as powerful as ever. Maybe the word itself - television - holds us back from a more evolved understanding. In fact, if you ask younger demos if they watch TV many will say ‘No’, then go back to catching up on Bachelor in Paradise on their phone.

So now we have found what was never lost, how about we do things differently. Let’s champion ideas over technology, value over discount, let’s divest in paid influencers and invest in shows that influence, let’s choose the most attentive audiences rather than distracted eyeballs and uncover innovative ways for brands to be part of moments when culture pops. 

Stay tuned to find out what happens next.

Tags: TV advertising, media strategy, OzTAM, VOZ

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