Marketers out of sync with TV and video habits of average Americans, report suggests

Marketers have misjudged the viewing habits of the average US family.

As marketers race to keep up with an explosion of content platforms in video and television, its also possible that along the way they have lost the plot.

The way America engages with media, according to a new report by the Video Advertising Bureau may surprise those who work in the field of advertising and marketing.

The report, released today, found that the average American spends far more time watching live TV and far less time online than advertisers think and suggests that the advertisers and marketers themselves too often assume that the viewing habits are more akin to their own. In other words, marketers and advertisers, who tend to be younger, more affluent urban professionals have not taken into consideration their own average age, tastes, and lifestyle while their target viewers are in fact sticking with live television, and view video and TV online far less often than assumed.

Additionally, the report suggests that the typical US viewer has not caught up with the younger and more affluent marketing and advertising professionals who are aiming for their target but may be missing the mark.

“The advertising business is running so fast to keep up with digital platforms that we’re outpacing the market, and creating an echo chamber that warps our perspective on the people we’re trying to reach,” said Danielle DeLauro, svp/strategic sales insights at the VAB. “Go to any advertising conference today, and you hear about what’s next at the expense of what’s now, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that no one is watching live TV and everyone is on social media all day. The problem with this myopic focus on what’s new and next is that marketers need to sell products today, and that requires a precise understanding of how people are actually using media now.”

The reports suggests that marketers and advertisers dramatically misperceive American adults’ engagement with video. The report notes that when surveyed marketers consider themselves average, watching less than two hours of television per day. However, the majority of adults in the survey said they watch more than four and a half hours of TV per day.

The report also found that the average adult does not spend their days watching videos on their phones or on the computer, and actually spends one-seventh of the time estimated watching video or TV on a mobile device. While 61% of marketers watch 30 minutes of video on the computer, with the notion that 70% of the US public does as well, the report found that Americans average only 12 minutes a day online. Further, while 54% of marketers watch 30 minutes plus each day on mobile, and 73% figure other people do, the report found that Americans average only four minutes per day of mobile video viewing.

"Advertising people are spending more time than ever looking at what's coming up versus where we are today. That's by necessity. We can't understand and explain the new and next media platforms without doing a significant amount of sampling. We need to make sure we understand what our actual audiences are doing now. We're all in the business of helping marketers sell more stuff, and that depends entirely on reaching and motivating people where they are paying the most attention today."

The report found that there is a misconception as well for what most Americans watch on TV. With the exception of popular shows like the “Big Bang Theory” and “This is Us”, the top ten favorite programs for marketers differ radically from the average American. Advertising professionals prefer edgy and critically acclaimed niche programming, with only 53% watching live TV, the report suggests, while average US viewers over the age of 12 report they watch 89% of their TV live.

Marketers who were surveyed also assume people spread video viewing across platforms, watching 32% on a TV set and 13% on a smartphone. They estimate that American adults watch less (25%) on TV sets and more (18%) on smartphones than they do. The report states that Americans watch 82% of their content on a TV set and only two per cent on a smartphone.

The same phenomenon holds true for social networks. Some 41% of marketers spend more than an hour per day on Facebook and Instagram and 53% believe American adults do the same, whereas the real average is 35 minutes per day on these platforms. With Twitter, there’s even more discrepancy. Nearly half of marketers spend 30 minutes a day on Twitter, and 63% believe America matches that level. The real figure: American adults average 2 minutes/day on Twitter.

"Advertisers and agencies keep telling us that they value our reports because they don't get enough intelligence on media behavior today," said Jason Wiese, VP/strategic sales at the VAB. "That's what gave us the idea to explore how much America's reality diverges from advertising people's perceptions. We’re nowhere near as in sync with –American audiences as we think we are, so we all need to take a pause and ensure we fully understand today’s media behaviors.”

VAB compared syndicated data on America’s media habits with the results of a custom study it commissioned by Research Now. From February 6th – 16th, 250 advertising executives – 71% agencies and 29% advertisers, with agency people evenly split between traditional and digital media buyers – were asked about their job, lifestyle and media habits along with their perceptions of how the American public compares.

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