For perfect planning in 2023, try placing people ahead of platforms

The advertising dream isn’t dying, it’s just being born.

Simon Frazier, Head of TouchPoints Marketing & Data Innovation at the IPA delivered the keynote at YouTube Insiders' recent 2023 Brand Planning summit. In his speech he explored why putting people first could deliver the best results.

As now marks the start of the annual planning cycles, I will be taking a look at some of the key learnings from The IPA’s landmark publication 'Making Sense: The Commercial Media Landscape' and also over 17 years of data from the IPA’s TouchPoints survey in order to try and make your planning this year just a little bit easier. I’ll be attempting to demystify three common advertising beliefs that we so often hear within the industry, in order to pave the way for better planning in the year ahead.

The first belief that I certainly hear quite often, is that due to massive innovations in tech over the last 17 years and the emergence of so many new media platforms, nothing is the same anymore and this can make planning feel impossible.

And while to some extent that is true, this idea seems to come from thinking 'platform first', rather than 'audience first'.

Media consumption habits haven't changed

Let’s think in terms of the 4 key consumer need-states for media, watching, hearing, reading and doing (or Video, Audio, Text and OOH) across an average day. Over the last 15 years the patterns of media consumption haven’t changed at all – That’s right, the same pattern from 2005 to 2020!

Consumers are creatures of habits and need-states are constant

People get up, they listen to audio, they read their news, then they go out of home and they watch video in the evening. Even if we look at post-pandemic 2021 where apparently everything changed even more, we can see that the patterns are barely any different to 17 years ago. And this is because people are creatures of habit. They don’t care how their media need-states are met, they just care that they are met, and at the times of day which best fit into their lives. And that doesn’t alter even through vast tech innovation or a global pandemic.

From an average consumer's perspective, they’re still doing the same types of things at the same time of day but just using newer ways of doing them. See how platform first would have told us a totally different story and led us down the garden path which forgot about the biggest fundamental – The Consumer!

Now I know what you’re all thinking, just looking at the make-up of video for example, everything has changed within it, and yes that’s true, tech has moved on. If you remember the yellow line representing video we just saw, we have seen great differences in the constituent parts. In 2005 we may have said “with reach levels that good, one channel is all you need” but that approach won’t cut it anymore. Fast forward to today, where the 5 core categories of video have now grown to 9, adding BVoD, SVoD, paid for one off viewing and live streaming and video becomes a more confusing place.

Yes, video can still reach 98.9% of the GB adult population, but the share of time taken by live and recorded TV has diminished from 87% to just 59%. Online and social video have truly re-shaped the commercial space and achieving high levels of reach and frequency using only one category of video has become far more difficult.

Is commercial media really dying?

The second advertising belief I often hear, is that commercial media is dying and that you can’t reach anyone with advertising anymore, or in short 'advertising is dead, it’s all Netflix and Spotify Premium these days'. Of course as we all saw, heard and I’m sure witnessed in our own households the growth of the Subscription players during the pandemic was substantial. It’s no surprise many people think this way, but I’m sure it will come as no shock to the audience here today that actually 61% of time spent with media content by the average adult in GB is in ad-funded commercial spaces.

Commercial v non-commercial media

And the common retort to this is “yeah, but what about the 16-34s”, well it may come as a surprise that they actually consume more ad-funded commercial media than any other age cohort and 64% of their media time is spent in the presence of ads, Yes that’s right, only 36% of the time 16-34s spend using media content is in premium subscription environments.

And as the cost of living crisis bites and people look to cancel subscriptions - we see the likes of Disney+ open their doors to ad-funded models going forward, I’d say that the advertising dream isn’t dying, it’s just being born.

Simon Frazier, Head of TouchPoints Marketing & Data Innovation, IPA

Differences across age groups 

The third and final belief that I will look at follows on well from the discussion of age as a differentiator and that as older and younger audiences become more similar in the digital media platforms they use, planning will become much easier. In TouchPoints we have seen that growth of digital media usage amongst 16-34s has pretty much peaked and their media usage is almost as digital as it’s ever likely to get, whereas for the 55+ audience, that’s where the exciting shifts are really coming as they have so much capacity for growth in their usage of digital media.

Looking at the correlation between the media platforms used by 16-34’s and 55+, the figure stood at 44% similarity in 2015, however fast forward to today and the similarity figure stands at 52%. This is primarily driven by increased uptake of digital media by 55+ while 16-34’s have largely remained constant.

Now while to some this may sound comforting as this could suggest we can treat these audiences the same, for me this figure should be seen as a cause for concern, or at the very least a false hope of advancing simplicity.

Why? Because once again we have been thinking platform first, that all reach and impressions are equal and that everyone behaves in the same way, when in reality we know that they don’t.

For younger digital-native audiences, social media and online video are seen as extensions of real-life experiences, while for older audiences these media may be seen as natural tech-led progressions of news and TV media where a very different approach is required.

Putting people first

If we had been thinking 'audience first' rather than platform first, we probably wouldn’t have been worried about similarities in media behaviours between audiences. Remember, the goal isn’t efficiency of media delivery across audiences as the outcome, its driving business effects which ultimately align with the audience and encourage them to engage and I don’t mean to sound vulgar, but spend their money in the way we ask them to.

But to get consumers, I mean People to spend money, they need to believe that they are being heard and understood. Remember averages aren’t created by lots of people who are all the same but by lots of people who often have absolutely nothing in common.

There is no one size fits all approach to planning, and despite our rose-tinted retrospective spectacles, there probably never was. And we should all be glad of that, because planning would be pretty boring otherwise.

Simon Frazier, Head of TouchPoints Marketing & Data Innovation, IPA

"But Wait!" I hear you cry! "On the one hand you’re saying nothing has changed, while on the other you’re saying everything has". "What should I take away from this?"

Well that’s why we need to look beneath the surface to understand, because if we were looking at headline categories you might see rising similarities between audiences, but actually once we start to drill down to platform level and begin to consider consumers not based on their demographics - but their behaviours - things might be a bit clearer.

Lastly, if you take one final thing away from today, it’s to never forget that at the heart of every decision is a person and, despite perceptions, habitual behaviours are hard to change. If you always remember the idea of people before platforms, and think audience first, you won’t go far wrong.

Simon Frazier, Head of TouchPoints Marketing & Data Innovation at the IPA.

For more on media planning, watch the highlights of our recent Media Planning & Strategy Summit.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 01 May 2024