It turns out that the Internet is subject to the same daypart variations as are traditional media -- a finding that has important implications for media buyers.
In a development that perhaps reveals the maturation of online media, a new study shows that the online world faces a split similar to the one seen in the television markets.
Even in the early days of TV, viewers tended to sort themselves up by the times of day they tended to watch. This gave rise to a metric we call the "daypart." Typically, demographics skewed toward women during the workday, back in the days when a minority of women "worked."
During that time of day, the TV networks broadcast dramas they thought would appeal to women. Advertisers selling high-end goods avoided these shows, assuming that the absent men controlled the larger purchases. As a result, the commercials seen in the '50s and '60s in the early afternoon were mostly for household items, such as the soap that came to represent that genre of TV: the soap opera.
When the mostly male office crowd got out of work, the networks changed their programming from these dramas to news and the androgynously appealing sitcoms, such as "Ozzie and Harriet."
Now, with the release of an Online Publishers Association (OPA) study on the demographics of at-work Internet users, we see a surprising consistency with the demographics of television.
It turns out that the people online at work are much more likely to qualify as the types of buyers advertisers desire -- particularly the advertisers of high-ticket items.
The OPA study shows that the at-work crowd is better educated and higher paid and has several other characteristics advertisers have typically associated with hard-to-reach targets and expensive media alternatives. Nowadays, this difference is no longer caused by gender and gender roles but is instead likely explained by other factors governing who is at home during the day, such as the presence of retirees, the usage patterns of the unemployed, and a class distinction between those working day and night shifts.
So what does this mean to a media buyer? Initially, it means less than you might think. Already, the media prices on Web sites that serve business-to-business needs -- the sites with the most obvious at-work audience -- are much higher than the other sites. This OPA-born bit of insight won't help you there in discovering undervalued media for your brand.
But this does have implications for other types of buying.
When those workers go home, about 91 percent of them eventually log on to the Internet, according to the study. That means that a very high portion of the audience in the evening is the highly valued at-work target. Which means that clever buyers can get the more desirable exposure at the prices of the less-desirable media, so long as they limit the times in which their ads run.
For example, if buyers are paying a $30 cost per thousand (CPM) on www.at-work.com, there may be reason to believe they can save 50 percent by, instead, purchasing www.back-home.com for its $10 CPM. Buyers would save only 50 percent, instead of 66 percent, because the less desirable audience back home will also be watching and has to be figured in.
Of course, advertisers seldom rely so dependently on demographics for targeting in the interactive world -- so all sorts of other influences will have to be factored in for the individual needs of a client -- but buyers should also consider taking "daypart" into account.
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Tig Tillinghast helped start and run some of the industry's largest interactive divisions. He started out at Leo Burnett, joined J. Walter Thompson to run its interactive division out of San Francisco, and wound up building Anderson & Lembke's interactive group as well.
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