Same-same but different

What does Making Sense tell us about generational media habits?

Hearts & Science's Tessa LeGassick explores the findings of our latest IPA TouchPoints 'Making Sense' report and what it says about the changing nature of the relationship between the media consumption habits of 16-34s and people aged 55+.

In the second edition of Making Sense: The Commercial Media Landscape, Les Binet predicted that the "great Digital Transformation probably won’t be complete until the pre-internet generation is dead and buried". What Binet could not have known at the time is that COVID-19 was only weeks away from shutting down the UK - an event that disrupted the evolution of media behaviours, and hastened the move towards digital. Or did it?

It does feel like most of us, despite which generation we belong to, have spent the last two years living through screens, for work, play or for social connection. Indeed, shows like  Tiger King to The Queen’s Gambit to Bridgerton to Squid Game have even acted as cultural markers, helping us keep track of time over the various lockdowns and restrictions. 

Converging media habits

However, the TouchPoints data suggests that the impact of this surge in subscription-based video has only contributed to a total 5% loss of share from commercial to non-commercial channels between 2015 and 2021 post lockdown. The how, where, when and what of video is increasingly complicated to understand, but this data means we can at least begin to answer these questions and develop plans.

We all know that even demographic profiling is a broad brush – both Prince William and Lil Wayne turn 40 this year! In the same vein, broadly there is a convergence from both ends of the spectrum; the pandemic supercharged digital behaviours in older generations, while digital saturation was reached in younger generations. Yet there are still significant disparities that we need to understand.

For example, although there has been a sizable increase in the share of time spent on devices by those aged 55+, there’s a significant generational difference in terms of which ones. Smartphones are the device of choice, taking a 51% share for 16–34-year-olds, compared to just 17% for those aged over 55. Yet the opposite was true for TV sets - 21% for 16-34s vs 45% for 55+.

Looking beyond standard demographics

Crucially, TouchPoints data allows us to go beyond standard demographics to create specific target audiences and uncover insights about their media behaviours. Ultimately, there is no one size fits all; an audience-centric approach to planning reflects how target audiences are consuming media, while factoring in context and attention - which allows us to maximise our chances of reaching them with our messages.

The good news is that people are still spending a big proportion of their day with commercial media, with even the supposedly elusive 16-34s clocking in 4 hours 43 minutes per day. Furthermore, media significantly impacted by lockdowns have rebounded, with out-of-home and cinema returning to the fore, delivering both overall reach and time spent.

The latest TouchPoints data has the balance between digital and non-digital time spent at +12% from 2015 to 2021 in digital’s favour, but arguably as technology advances and media delivery methods evolve, the line between what is or isn’t digital is so blurred by this point that the distinction ceases to matter.

Reaching mass audiences is complex in a fragmented media landscape, but brands don’t have to make a binary choice between one channel or another. Data provided by TouchPoints helps us navigate this complexity by fuelling a nuanced understanding of all
media channels, how they are connected, and how people interact with them, ensuring we reach the most effective planning solutions.

And although TouchPoints can’t predict an event as impactful as a pandemic, it can certainly allow us to understand how such events impact a considerable proportion of our lives.

Tessa LeGassick is Head of Connections Planning at Hearts & Science. This article first appeared as part of the 2022 IPA TouchPoints report, 'Making Sense: The Commercial Media Landscape'.

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 02 March 2022