Switching off outsiders

Dismissing people you don’t target

You’re not really ‘us’

There has been much chortlesome bemusement about Mitt Romney’s latest gaffe.  At a fundraiser, he told supporters that since 47% of the electorate paid no income tax and were dependent on government assistance he could effectively write them off as supporters – they would already be voting for Obama.  My job, he said, is ‘not to worry about those people’.

Obviously it was a little insulting, and electorally stupid, but look at some media sales arguments – they can look even worse.

TV channels (like websites and magazines… especially magazines) routinely sell their consumer ‘profile’.  The more pure the profile, the stronger the case.  What the channel is saying to advertisers is that poor people (or whoever) don’t watch us, and we don’t want them to.  It’s going beyond Romney.

Here’s something on the business channel CNBC’s US website.  ‘According to a July 2004 survey by Mendelsohn Media Research, the median household net worth of CNBC Business Day viewer exceeds $1.2 million’  (The fact that this survey is only conducted among high earners means that the point is actually wrong – if you conduct a survey only among high earners then the viewers to EVERY TV CHANNEL MEASURED will be affluent).

Take a look at the UK, where digital channels routinely use profile data to pitch to advertisers.  Here‘s E4 (picked at random)

‘through research, we know that E4 viewers are predominantly young and upmarket… 

E4 and E4+1 reach over 8.9m people each month. On top of this it has a young and upmarket viewing profile, with; 52% of viewers 16-34 (Vs 23% Total Commercial TV), 43% ABC1 (Vs 38% Total Com)’ 

Predominantly means ‘for the most part’, so you would imagine that the majority of viewers were young AND affluent.  But we don’t even know if the young ones are the upmarket ones – it is likely that only a quarter of viewers are actually young AND affluent on the numbers they use (though, of course if we defined viewers as aged 12-39, it might be an easier case to make).

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with E4 promoting itself this way, but for the argument to work best, E4 actively prefers older and poorer viewers not to watch.   For youth brands, the propensity of older people to watch a lot of TV can be a problem.  And not only TV. As Chris Moyles may have discovered this week, he not only doesn’t work at Radio 1 any more, but as a 38 year-old they no longer seek him as a listenerAccording to the BBC ‘Our aim that Radio 1 focuses more clearly on a young target audience so that its median age is within the target age group is still outstanding’, that is under 30.

An MTV tattoo. Yes, OK, but please remove when you get to 34 or the company may complain

Sometimes things get out of sync.  The standard audience demographic used for news channels in the USA is 25-54.  Here‘s a typical day: the biggest show on this day attracted more than 80% of its audience from outside the 25-54 group – a headline audience of 670,000 but an actual audience of 3.6 million.  In an election year this may matter less because candidates actively court older voters. CNN and Piers Morgan are doing poorly enough, but reporting his audience on this random day as 222,000, when it is actually 690,000 seems a little unfair.  As the Ad Contrarian recently pointed out ageism is not only rife within advertising, it is commercially dubious.

As an audience advocate, I’ve always felt somewhat squeamish about audience profile data.  While promoting the delivery of a particular target viewer makes perfect sense commercially (e.g. we are especially popular among these people), actively promoting the channel’s lack of viewing by audiences outside the target seems cliquey.  If a 35 year-old wants to watch MTV, or a poor person wants to  watch E4, or a teenager wants to watch CNN, isn’t that a good thing?

As Bill Cosby once said ‘I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody’ (quoted here), so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with targeting particular people editorially or commercially (in fact it’s an effective strategy), but boasting about the purity of your base is not only somewhere even Mitt Romney wouldn’t go, it’s lacking a certain humanity.


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