A Day in the Life of the Average Consumer

Consider a day in the life of the average consumer. How do you think it would unfold? Would you expect the consumer to be exposed to eight different media over the course of that day? Would you be able to describe which he interacted with most, and why?

If you attended the Online Publishers Association’s (OPA’s) Eyes on the Internet 2006, you probably have a pretty good understanding of what such a day might look like. This year, the organization’s annual eight-city tour (I caught the Detroit stop last week) was focused on a research study titled, “A Day in the Life: An Ethnographic Study of Media Consumption.”

Conducted by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, the study reveals consumers’ consumption of various media in an average day. To gather the data, researchers observed select consumers for about 13 hours of their average day, recording their interaction with 15 different media in four locations (home, work, auto, and other). Research objectives included how online complements offline media and which target audiences can be reached and engaged with on the Web.

Most of the results were on par with existing knowledge of media consumption behavior. For example, aside from the 50-plus demographic, the Internet ranked second in consumer reach at home (television is still first). Naturally, it’s also the leading medium for all demographic groups at work. And the Web shows fewer age and gender differences than traditional media, such as newspapers, usage of which is dominated by males and females aged 50 and up.

Additionally, about 60 percent of Web use is concurrent with TV use, supporting previous data that’s found simultaneous use of these media is dramatically increasing. Like traditional media, the Web has significant reach in all major dayparts, with its incidence of use remaining relatively steady over the course of the average day.

All these statistics reinforce media buyers’ collective hunch that in terms of reach, online media is surely inching its way to the top across all gender and age groups. Even more interesting, though, is the insight the study offers into why the Web plays such a prominent role in consumers’ lives.

Video clips of interviews with some of the study’s participants illustrate how heavily they rely on the Internet for in-depth information. One consumer spoke of how he routinely terminates his engagement with other media in lieu of the Web to get the information those media fail to provide. If a magazine article doesn’t go into enough detail for the consumer’s liking, he’ll supplement the incomplete information with a visit to the Web.

Similarly, one participant explained he was recently driven online by print ads for a product he was considering purchasing. The ad failed to provide the data he sought, so he turned to the Internet for more.

What does this study teach us? For some time now, marketers have been progressively viewing all media as part of one synergistic campaign, as opposed to disparate advertising channels. Print ads are kept consistent with banners. Paid search copy reflects that on the advertiser’s landing page and brand site. The study solidifies the importance of this approach. Given the way consumers interact with various media, all marketers must recognize the importance of delivering a consistent brand message.

To make the OPA’s research actionable, media planners and buyers must also consider the degree to which they’re incorporating informative content into campaigns. Knowing how heavily consumers rely on the Web for enhanced content, don’t we have a responsibility to our clients to leverage this understanding? Online advertising shouldn’t be about entertainment or branding alone. There are countless opportunities to incorporate valuable content into our banners, and we must continue to uphold the Web’s reputation for picking up where other media leave off.

For an informed media buyer, it’s all in an average day’s work.

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