Validating Media Meshing

Last week, I attended the Dallas stop of “Eyes on the Internet,” the Online Publishers Association‘s annual research tour. The tour presents the OPA’s recently completed ethnographic study about media consumption among average consumers, “A Day in the Life: An Ethnographic Study of Media Consumption,” conducted by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design (CMD). The basis for the research is the CMD’s Middletown Media Study, an observational study of consumers’ media consumption, set against the backdrop of everyday activities.

The study’s goal was to provide insights into the value of online audiences by addressing the following questions:

  • What are the media consumption habits of the average American?
  • Which target audiences can be reached and engaged online?
  • How does online complement offline media?
  • What are consumers saying about when, where, and how they use media?
  • What are the implications for media, advertisers, and marketers?

To achieve these goals, CMD researchers followed people throughout their day, 13 hours a day, to all kinds of locations: home, work, retail stores, gyms, restaurants, and so on. They observed 350 people of all ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Researchers looked at television, radio, Internet, newspaper, and magazine media habits of these 350 souls to assess daily reach and duration. They looked at consumption across dayparts and media combinations. What happens when people combine media exposure? What happens when one medium drives someone to another?

People in the study talked about reading a newspaper or magazine or watching television, then going online to get more information and new angles on the story. They also talked about seeing a product mentioned or advertised and going online for more information. Which, to many of you reading this column, may elicit a resounding comment of “Duh!” But it’s nice to see validation come from an outside source.

In the past, I’ve referred to this as “media meshing.” The OPA calls it “concurrent exposure.” Whatever you call it, it’s interesting stuff.

What was especially interesting to me was the CMD study looked at the value of Webcentric media consumers. It found heavy Web users tend to spend consistently more than heavy TV consumers across lots of categories, including education, retail, entertainment/recreation, travel, and out-of-home food. Good news for those of us in online media.

At a higher level, the CMD study finds the Web:

  • Has become a powerful reach medium in its own right
  • Reaches consumers in all major dayparts
  • Is a great reach medium, adding substantial incremental reach to other media
  • Has an at-work presence exceeding all major media
  • Attracts valuable audience for advertisers: those who spend more than TV users in many consumer categories

As part of the event, the OPA conducted a panel discussion about the research and what it means to people in our business. The big question: if people are spending so much time online, why don’t media budgets reflect that shift?

“Last year we did a study with Nielsen Homescan Data for Dr Pepper where we measured the impact of our online campaign on product sales,” Erika Knight, director of interactive and emerging media at Cadbury Schwepps, said. “We used lots of rich media with a brand message. No promotion or sweepstakes were used to drive traffic. What this study showed was an up-tick in sales attributable to the campaign.

“The most interesting part for us was that this campaign was able to bring in new or lapsed consumers,” Knight continued. “We found that about a quarter of those influenced to purchase by the campaign had not purchased in the past 52 weeks. What that tells us is that day in and day out online can move the needle for us with a brand message alone. As a result, our media mix is starting to resemble our consumers’ media consumption habits. And that’s a good thing.”

There seemed to be a lot of traditional marketers in the audience, all eager to learn. Every day I see attitudes change about online’s role in the marketing and media mix. Cadbury Schwepps is embracing integration.

The tide is turning. Enjoy the ride.

Check out OPA’s presentation and let me know what you think.

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