Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sex and violence? It may not sell soap, after all

Since the inception of the modern Olympic Games, high jumpers cleared the bar with a scissors motion, rotating their chest over the bar. Dick Fosbury changed the sport forever by “flopping” back first over the high jump bar, creating a new paradigm that is now the norm. Like Copernicus who changed our perceptions of the universe and turned them inside out from the very center, new ideas appear suddenly and change the world in a flash.

Likewise in the world of advertising there has been an accepted wisdom that has gone unquestioned for decades: 18 to 34-year-old consumers are the most desirable demographic, and if you want to reach them, include lots of sex and violence in your ads, or at the very least, advertise on programs that contain a lot of sex and violence.

But what if that entire paradigm is wrong?

Marketers deemed the 18 to 34 demographic desirable in part because of their elusiveness: young adults are more likely to be out with friends than home watching TV, which in the distorted view of youth-obsessed marketers, makes them a hot commodity. They are also sought-after because for years companies assumed that if you can get customers while they are young, they will be customers for life – but recent research shows this is seldom the case. An AARP survey found the relationship between brand loyalty and age is exaggerated, and that an individual’s consumer experience, not his age, will dictate brand choices.

And it’s not merely that advertisers are going after the wrong demographic, it’s that they are employing an ineffective strategy to reach their audience.

Take TV shows. The Parents Television Council just released its annual Best and Worst TV Advertisers List, which focuses on companies that sponsor more family-friendly TV programming and those that do not. In a number of consumer categories, the PTC was able to identify companies that seemed to be going out of their way to support family-friendly programming, and companies that were shunning family programming in favor of more salacious content.

The most inspiring corporate performance came from Walmart, which had the best score across all categories. Walmart has a longstanding commitment to sponsoring more family-friendly TV programming. Walmart’s own market research found an 18 percent improvement in performance of its ad when that ad appears on a family-friendly program, as opposed to a program containing graphic sex and violence.


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