Broader Broadband: The Advertising Implications

The latest Pew Internet and American Life Project report on home broadband adoption is an interesting read (if you’re interested by things such as broadband penetration — and if you advertise online you should be).

No, the researchers didn’t find any sharp jumps in penetration. It’s currently at 47 percent of American homes, only a 5 percent increase over last year. That’s to be expected. Broadband adoption’s been leveling off for some time now. And face it: some groups are just never going to become broadband subscribers (my beloved grandmother, who has yet to adopt answering machine technology, comes to mind). Though few advertisers strive to reach the 90-plus-year-old demographic, it’s worth bearing in mind that the 65-plus age group has nearly doubled in home broadband subscriptions, from 8 percent in 2005 to 15 percent this year.

Considering domestic broadband is less than 10 years old, 47 percent penetration isn’t bad at all. It’s not as if telephones, or even indoor plumbing, have achieved 100 percent.

Where Is Broadband Blossoming?

Not among young, wealthy, educated, urban, white people. They’ve been subscribing to home broadband since the get-go. Adoption jumps over the past year have been in five specific demographic segments:

  • Households with annual incomes under $30,000 (43 percent)

  • African-Americans (29 percent)
  • Rural residents (24 percent)
  • People with less than a high school education (24 percent)
  • People with some college education

Pew Associate Director of Research John Horrigan, who authored the report, somewhat downplayed the significance of these demographics to advertisers. “It might not be a red-letter day for advertisers when one of the growth segments is low income,” he told ClickZ.

I respectfully disagree. Let’s start with African Americans. By some estimates, this group is expected to spend $1 trillion by 2010. Last year, American Blacks spent $800 billion. Advertisers should be thrilled to pieces that 40 percent of these households are now online — up from a mere 14 percent in 2005. My rudimentary math skills indicate the value of targeting African-Americans on the Web has risen from $112 billion to $320 billion — an increase of roughly $208 billion in two short years!

Don’t dismiss lower-income, less-educated, rural cohorts too quickly, either. Why? Because they buy stuff. U.S. Department of Labor data outline what common sense would dictate. They eat. They drive. They also have homes, wear clothes, buy insurance, shop in drugstores, and spend money on entertainment.

Takeaways: Hold the iPhone

There are takeaways from these data that should be fairly obvious. Prospective buyers of iPhones and BMWs may not have swelled in terms of their online presence. But those people have long been online, anyway.

Home broadband users overwhelmingly check e-mail every day (to the tune of 95 percent). We never for a moment thought e-mail marketing was going away, of course. It’s becoming a part of the daily digital diet of more and more users. Eighty-nine percent of home broadband users seek information about their hobbies or interests. This implies they’re searching.

Back in the boom years, much more was made about marketers accounting for users’ spelling mistakes and typos. As the broadband audience broadens, particularly among users with lower educational levels or keyboard skills, this accommodation should again be a big part of the planning process. Consider typos when buying domains and certainly when buying search terms. While we’re on the subject, you may want to brush up on your keyword research. You may need to take people using more regional terms into account in both paid and organic search campaigns.

Local search, as well as ethnic and geotargeting, may also require some fresh thinking. Your ability to reach rural and African-American audiences has greatly expanded over the past year. What do you need to do to reach these segments, assuming they’re prospects for your product or service? Where do they live on the long tail?

Framing offers is still another consideration when reaching these new households. Less affluent consumers, as well as those with lower education levels, will likely be more price sensitive. They may also be less receptive to high-consideration, highly verbal, information-rich pitches. You may want to consider different sets of messaging entirely for these groups, subsets of these groups, and other demographics you’re targeting.

More Is More

More broadband users from a broader demographic pool — Pew’s findings clearly are good for advertisers. The Web’s reach is becoming broader and more mainstream. This means messages can be targeted to mass audiences or to hyper-specific economic, geographic, and ethnic subsets.

What’s not to like?

Meet Rebecca at ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 19 in New York City.

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