Millennials research by Metro and MailOnline

Recently I led a research project about Millennials for Metro and MailOnline. It was launched at Advertising Week Europe as ‘Millennial Rules’.  Currently it is shortlisted for a Mediaweek award.

The topic of millennials is broad, confusing and often seemingly contradictory. My pitch to win the project was based on the idea of a central hub of insight that would be the ‘go to’ destination for agencies and advertisers seeking to understand the generation. It should lessen confusion and address contradictions rather than add more of both.  

The central hub that was created can be seen here. It contains nine rules for advertising to millennials, eight millennial traits, a competition for agencies, presentation slides, infographics and an expert guide. Hats off to the Metro and MailOnline teams for producing such a useful and good looking website.

You can read all about the full research methodology in the expert guide. I got to work with the Bournemouth University Faculty of Media and Communication (and met some wonderful millennial students there), CrowdDNA who partnered me for the qualitative work and the desk research and Alligator Research who I used for the quant.

 Below, as a taster and content for this blog, is a section from the nine-chapter, sixty page experts guide. Such a big report is there to ensure every brief line in the slide deck can be traced back to a fuller explanation. It ensures nothing gets forgotten and research departments have all the facts, figures and findings. This particular section deals with social media.

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Young people have always felt insecure about how others see them but in the millennial story it would be impossible to untangle social media from the pressure to be perfect. 34% of millennials say social media forces the to be vainer, according to Adjust Your Set.

Social media not only triggers insecurity about looks but also the fear of not getting on in life too.

 “With everything we see on social media this can make us feel overwhelmed. We see constant achievements or people the same age so much further ahead in life. Seeing all this on social media sometimes can make you question yourself and doubt what you have achieved” (Older Millennial).

Millennials live lives that only yesterday’s celebrities would have recognised – always in front of a lens, always having to make what they are doing seem ‘cool’.

Any given moment could turn into a photo shoot.

They are on a quest for physical perfection. Today’s twenty- somethings are three times more likely to go to the gym than their counterparts were 30 years ago, according to Holland and Barrett. The use of protein shakes is high, exercise is personalised (meeting personal physical goals rather than being team sport focused) and lifestyles don’t allow for anything that might cause physical damage so smoking, drinking and drug use is declining amongst the young.

Yet all this work isn’t creating more overall confidence. Rather, the bar is simply set much higher. According to Holland and Barrett, only 3% of the younger generation feel extremely confident about their body shape, whereas more than 11% of those aged over 50 said they felt secure about their appearance when they were in their 20s.

Older millennials have started to grow in self-confidence and put the importance of social media into perspective.

“When I was younger I would say I was more susceptible to social media but now I am older and more experienced I am able to see the positives in my life and hold them in higher regard” (Older Millennial).

“On Instagram and Facebook people only really post when they are doing interesting or exciting things. You can get a misguided impression that they are somehow more interesting than you” (Older Millennial).

“Whilst I use Facebook, I do struggle with reading people’s declarations of their ‘perfect lives’ whilst I’m sitting at home in my pyjamas. I rarely post now and that makes me feel a lot more secure in myself” (Older Millennial).

They still take a lot of pleasure in social media and buy into the desire to show an idealised version of their life.

“Social media is a guilty pleasure. Of course there’s pressure. I feel the pressure of it to show how brilliant my holiday is” (Older Millennial)

But they see other uses for social media. Initiative reported that the older millennials are less likely to use social media as ‘Social Me’ (self focussed with emphasis on marketing themselves and boosting their profile) and more likely to see it as ‘Social We’ (a (a support network linking like-minded people and old friends)

The entrepreneurs see social media as a springboard from which they can launch their businesses. Crucially they can use it for free, be creative and make their own story part of their business.

“Social media gives you the freedom to make money for yourself and that’s what’s amazing about social media – if you want to start a business or promote anything you can do it without paying someone to do it for you. But from a social sense, I find it so stressful, same old thing, everyone trying to portray their perfect lives. But there is so much opportunity on an entrepreneurial level and that’s why I think it’s a good thing on balance” (Older Millennial).

The younger millennials we met were thoroughly bought in, immersed in both the pleasure and pain of social media. A millennial who is also a teacher told us;

 “You’ve got girls taking selfies when I’m trying to teach or videoing me and putting it on Facebook. I thought I was tech savvy but I’m not. They know so much more than I do. They try and charge their phones in the classroom saying oh no I’ve only got 20% battery and I still need to get home. Their whole lives revolve around their phones” (Older Millennial).

And here’s what some of the students we met at Bournemouth University said;

“I would definitely say I’m a different person on social media – you try to be the perfect you! You only post the pictures in which you feel you look your best on to Facebook and Instagram. You are seeking social acceptance and appreciation” (Younger Millennial)

“Many people feel pressured to keep up a positive image on social media, normally an image that suggest they’re succeeding in life and this is depicted by things such as materialistic items, beauty and exotic holidays etc. If you’re not seen this way, people feel they’re seen as a failure’’ (Younger Millennial).

“On Instagram I am a reputation-conscious monster, desperate to portray a persona of ‘coolness’ and ‘attractiveness’ to those who don’t know me in person’’ (Younger Millennial).

‘Likes’ on social media are important to this group.

“Instagram is a young person’s medium, where ‘likes’ are as valuable as money and maintaining an attractive profile means everything!’’ (Younger Millennial).

 “Social media is self-promotion. It is gratifying when your post gets lots of likes or retweets” (Younger Millennial).

“I know some people who have posted a photo and not had ‘enough’ likes and have then deleted it. They think if people don’t ‘like’ you online then they don’t like you at all” (Younger Millennial).

On balance, they would rather be ‘liked’ in person (girls said they would rather someone in a club said they really liked their dress than just get a like on social media) but a social media ‘like’ can theoretically happen anytime, not just when out and dressed up. This group is ever likely to be in front of a lens and ever likely to be critically appraised. There are very few hiding places.

They have adopted tactics to maximise their chances of getting a ‘like’. We heard about “Prime-Insta Time” from a student who times her use of Instagram to match the maximum number of eyeballs that will see it.

We also heard about the role of purchases in the pursuit of ‘likes’.

“I have one friend who has to put a picture on Instagram most days and if she goes shopping the first thing she does is take a photo with the new clothing she has bought’’ (Younger Millennial).

“Many Instagram users have bought things based on the ‘rep’ and number of likes they will receive and I am no exception” (Younger Millennial).

No wonder then that millennials are said to be in constant search of affirmation. Friends play an important role and their advice can be sought on potential purchases even when they’re not in the shop to see for themselves. We met millennials who said all shops should have Wi-Fi so they can send pictures of potential purchases to their friends and receive their instant answers.

But it is also important to remember the role of competition in their lives. They are competing with the very people they are seeking affirmation and ‘likes’ from.

The more competitive amongst them were posting pictures of purchases already made. They were not asking for advice on purchases to be made. It is an important distinction because it says, “here’s what I’ve done” and shows they’ve taken another step. One more step forward in the competition – one more step towards perfection.

 

 

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Extra curricular reading of business media

Recently I ran some research for the PPA around business media.  It was a survey amongst people on the databases of business media companies.  Some of the quirkiest findings were around extra curricular reading.

My research showed that 61% of respondents read business media in the evening, after work. 44% read it at the weekends and a staggering one in five of us read it on holiday (however, that last stat became less staggering when I realised that I do it). In fact, only 28% of the respondents did none of these things (presumably only reading business media at work).

There’s an obvious link between this behaviour and another stat that said 71% of them like to take their time with business media. I remember talking to an Engineer who had been scouring his place of work to find back copies of the The Engineer magazine to take on holiday with him. A deck chair and a pile of The Engineers is heaven for some.

Of course, a lot of this extra curricular reading is done via internet enabled devices.  It is done on the spur of the moment and doesn’t require being as pre-planned as our engineer friend.  Such devices blur the lines between work and home – or work and the beach.

The research found 67% of us are looking for breaking news on business media websites and that happens a lot via digital platforms outside office hours. I suspect a study of fortnight holidays would show more of that in the first week than the second. It takes time to wind down and we live in an ‘always-on’ society.

It is an opportunity for business media and a chance to use analytics to find out what articles are being read in the evenings, at weekends and during school holidays that are less read during work.

Now, where did I put that copy of The Engineer?

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The immersive experience of print

This week I was privileged to present at the PPA Business Media Summit at the Intercontinental Park Lane. I shared the stage with such luminaries as Bruce Daisley, MD of Twitter and John Barnes, MD of Incisive Media. The moderator was editor and writer Jon Bernstein, formerly of The New Statesman and Channel 4 News.

My role was to outline some research findings that the PPA had commissioned me to produce. I ran an online survey, using Alligator research, amongst 400 professional people sourced from the databases of the PPA’s Business Media publisher clients. They ranged from engineers to lawyers, financiers to marketing and pharmaceutical professionals. Business media spreads far and wide.

Anyone who has ever been employed knows business media does a good job and my objective was to put some figures behind the great work it does. Jon asked me some interesting questions in the Q&A that followed my presentation.

This blog piece is about the first question he asked me. It was about the fact that respondents were more regularly reading websites than the business media print products. What of the quality of that engagement, he asked? Does the immersive nature of print give it the upper hand?

Firstly, comparing regular reading of print and online is a little ‘apples and pears’ because print has an issue date and websites are constantly updated. It makes it hard to choose a common metric. For print I used “read at least one out of every two issues” and for websites, “at least once per fortnight”. The same? Not really, but close.

The issue date issue is part of the answer to Jon’s question. A magazine’s arrival is an event. It isn’t as ubiquitous as tap water; it’s a glass to enjoy. 71% of my sample liked to take their time reading business media, though 67% are constantly checking business media websites for breaking news.

The Engineer is a business magazine that went out of print a few years ago. Centaur brought it back – one of several print publications to do a Lazarus. Engineers told me how ecstatic they were to see it come back yet none of the content disappeared, just the ‘event’ and the magazine moments; the magazine’s arrival, the moment, as one engineer told me, that you’ve set the machine running and can sit back with the magazine. No dodgy Wi-Fi issues or grubby fingers on smart screens. The only issue is the one in your hand.

Some of us have been around print for years and we have habits and associations that are hard to break. Recently I was handed a free NME at a tube station (that companion of our youth is now without cover price) and it felt a bit guilty and a bit special to just be given one. It went in my bag as something to look forward to.

However, I was in a focus group with the youngest of smartphone touting millennials the other day and they told me about the joy of print; glossy fashion magazines with page after page of delicious fashion advertising.

So it isn’t just about the old romantic notions of print held only by those of us who remember a pre-digital world. It is about appropriate platforms. Print is personal and can look beautiful so it appeals across the ages.

But then my iPhone is personal and can look beautiful too. The web might have started cluttered but it needn’t go on that way. Mobile first strategies are making our screens immersive, not despite the small screen but because of it, because it is personal and beautiful. I’ve never believed that screen size matters, just design and resolution. I know a lady who tells me her husband read a novel on his watch! That anecdote sounds less and less unusual every time I tell it.

The design of apps makes for immersive reading too. Much thought goes into keeping us in their walled gardens. As a result, Enders tell us that 86% of the time we spend on connected devices is spent within apps. 36% of those with a smartphone in my PPA research had downloaded a business media app and 27% of them used it everyday. Only 2% never used it. Get someone to download and they will use it. Yes, the youngest members of the sample were more likely to have downloaded business media apps but so too were those in the boardroom. It is certainly an emerging behaviour.

App reading can be complementary to print and website reading. Those reading a print business media title regularly were very likely to have downloaded an app and so were those who read business media websites regularly too. It’s not one or the other; it’s about appropriate platforms. I like the Kindle app on my iPhone on which I read my Amazon purchases. I can immerse myself in my book, one handed, hanging onto a tube train – but I’d rather be on a sofa with the actual book. The app is just immersion on tap.

Why don’t I read via a screen all the time? Why don’t people in my research just give up on the print product? In a nutshell it is because it requires a different sort of energy and the information I read is later recalled in different ways.

Research by NewsUK last year concluded that reading via a tablet triggers more electrical activity so it encodes into memories faster than print. Print is a less stimulating though less tiring way to read and so it ends up encoding as much into our memory as tablet reading does but over a longer period. They argue, therefore, that simply comparing dwell time of print and tablets overlooks the energy spent.

Researchers in an Israeli Institute of Technology in 2011 had people prep for a multi choice exam either using screen based or print based course material. When given only 7 minutes to prepare both groups did equally well. When given an indefinite period to prepare the print group did much better. The researchers put it down to print encouraging people to read with goals and revisit paragraphs to ensure they understand. Behaviours consistent with the NewsUK view that print is a slower boiling pot.

If there is a lesson for business media publishers in all this it is that you don’t need to make screen reading exactly like print reading. Publishers tried that and it isn’t a bad starting place because it made them de-clutter. However, digital reading will be all about interactivity and personalisation in future.

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We need a monument of hope in the age of the Shard

This is a piece I wrote for Mediatel in 2011.  At the time I was working at The Daily Telegraph and we were promoting a roadshow of media buying agencies that The Telegraph was undertaking.  The Shard was a recent addition to the London skyline and gave me a striking metaphor to begin with.

The Shard towers over London, a lean, tapering, thrust to the sky. It’s magnificent but it’s not kind. The contrast with the Gherkin couldn’t be starker. The Gherkin, built in 2003, before the financial crisis, is plump and jolly – a monument to a time of plenty. The Shard tells the story of the new world but there’s optimism missing in its sharp narrative.

In these dark days the future is uncertain and we need a monument to inspire hope. After the ’87 crash, New York adopted a statue of a raging bull to represent financial hope but I propose that London, not least ad-land, needs a statue of slightly balding man in his late fifties. He doesn’t need to look aggressive or triumphant or even saintly, he could just look a bit, well, like someone’s dad.

He is your hope. The country is feeling the pinch of the financial crisis and things are set to get worse. But we are not all feeling the pinch equally, we are not all in it together as the government tell us. There is a wealth gap opening up in the country and it’s not between north and south or the franchised and the underclass; it’s between the generations. Your baby boomer parents have all the money and for them, the party isn’t over.

This is a story of luck. The baby boomers were born in a post-war world. They were expected to be the generation that fought the Russians but they ended up riding a wave of good fortune and they sucked up all the wealth. Nobody could imagine the extent to which the babies of the fifties would have it so good.

“Average Baby Boomer” is the title I’m giving my proposed statue, or “Brian”, to give him a name. He bought his first house for a ninth of the price his average son paid this year for his average property. His son is in negative equity, having only just got rid of his student debt but “Brian” has made a mint from property. His present mortgage has practically gone but he is one of the baby boomers who bought a second home recently because his son’s generation couldn’t get the credit to benefit from falling house prices. He and his wife are busy furnishing it.

Brian was once a bright lad who got himself a good job as an accountant, at a time when there was more social mobility. Bristol University research shows that, on average, accountants of Brian’s generation were born to parents who had average incomes. Those taking up accountancy jobs in later generations had parents whose incomes were 40% higher than the national average.

Social mobility is part of the baby boomer success story.

Brian has climbed the tree as the years have gone by and he’s at a level in his company that means his wage has increased by over 25% in ten years. For those lower down the tree, like his son, wages have barely kept pace with inflation.

When he retires he has a final salary pension, the level of which was worked out by someone expecting Brian to live no longer than seven years after retirement but, he’ll keep going until his late eighties, spending most of that time active and spending. No such luck for the rest of us, a PWC survey found recently that 94% of major employers intend either to reduce or axe current defined benefit provision.

I mentioned that Brian’s an accountant but he’s also the bank manager of the fastest growing bank in the UK, the bank of mum and dad. According to research from Sainsbury’s Life Insurance, parents in the UK have forked out a staggering £34 billion in loans and financial gifts in the last year alone. This includes those who received a total of £8.4 billion for mortgage or rental deposits or payments, £3.5 billion for home improvements and £2.2 billion to pay off debts.

Deloitte says household incomes are at their lowest since 1955 and Mervyn King says we face the biggest downturn either since the thirties or perhaps it will be the worst yet. None of us have experienced anything like this but it is Brian’s money that will make our world keep turning.

He represents hope. His statue might not be as attractive looking as the figure of someone in the 25-44 age groups but he is cast in gold. He is the opportunity now for advertisers brave enough to think beyond their traditional targets. For many advertisers who target 25-44s, a significant amount of their existing customers are 45+ anyway but they are often left un-targeted. Times have changed. When the young could get credit, it was easier to ignore this large, rich group of people but that was in Gherkin time, not the age of the Shard.

As part of the Telegraph Works programme we’re visiting advertising agencies on a roadshow, bringing an exhibition showing just how the Telegraph works. As part of the day advertising director, Nick Hewat is doing a couple of talks in which he discusses Brian along with characters representing younger generations. It’s compelling stuff and if that roadshow comes to your agency do go along. He makes a thought provoking case and, you never know, if he convinces you, you might just join my campaign for ad-land’s new monument to hope.

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Robo-journalism: The future is arriving quickly

This is a piece that I wrote for The Media Briefing. It can be seen in situ (including links to source articles) here.

The number of UK employed journalists has declined by 6,000 (9%) since 2013 as publishers have had to cut costs. However, it means they are cutting content creators at a time that they are demanding more content creation. Some experienced writers have been replaced by younger, cheaper ‘digital-natives’ but publishers will increasingly use robo-journalists instead.

If you think that’s far-fetched – they’re here already, learning fast.

The career path of the robo-journalist

Robots are employed by several publishers including The New York Times, LA Times and Forbes.

They’ve shown a natural aptitude for data so careers have started on sport and business desks but they’re moving into breaking news and investigative journalism.

Like all junior reporters they’re learning from their copy editors. Although in this case the ‘subs’ are there to actually, not metaphorically, re-programme them.

Like junior reporters they can learn from and draw on a back catalogue of great writing – but with more powerful memories and analytical techniques.

A few big publishers will understand their potential and let them shine. Other publishers will only ever give them mundane jobs.

They’ll open doors for the sort of nimble new companies that arrive during disruption, able to use technology for what it is suited.

Silicon Valley is already immersed in the technology behind robo-journalism but will use it first in fields like healthcare. They’ll enter robo-journalism later, buying or eliminating the newcomers.

Take a step back. How good is robo-journalism?
It has taken ages to reach a point where people in tests can’t tell the difference between machine written articles and similar articles by humans. A key feature of the ‘new machine age’ is that slow development quickly turns to accelerated gains.

A hard exercise has been getting journalists to verbalise what they’ve learnt to do instinctively. Once verbalised, those lessons are turned into algorithms. Machines can then trawl through wire stories, the Internet, press releases and data sets, finding and writing stories.

They don’t, of course, knock on doors, burn shoe leather or make contacts and phone calls. However, they can do the same tasks as the increasing proportion of journalists set to re-packaging news or making sense of the increasingly digitised data that informs the news.

After algorithm creation there’s slow fine-tuning. This is human labour-intensive process of re-programming but it is coming on apace.

The Associated Press once checked everything machines produced but now they put the majority of it on the wire directly.

Other companies will be check everything but decoupling machines from over zealous human chaperoning will be essential to take full advantage. It is what will make new entrant companies nimble; it is what will hold back established publishers. Machines produce more if checking doesn’t slow output.

How machines learn
Machines can learn language from large banks of expensively produced, comparable texts.

They translate between languages by comparing decades of EU and UN reports, expensively translated into multiple languages by humans. When asked to translate a sentence they scan these translations to find a close match or a few fragments they can add together.

Similarly, that newsbrands publish to the open web means machines can compare how publishers cover the same story. They learn alternative phrases, different approaches, narratives, tones and house styles.

It means they can be set to write with a particular skew: in support of a sports team or against a political party.

They can learn in an unsupervised way. They can absorb captions under hundreds of pictures and so describe what is in a new picture. They can test their understanding of stories against summaries like those CNN and MailOnline use in articles. They can learn in dynamic environments, reacting to events around them. They don’t always need a human to slowly feed them knowledge.

This rich back-catalogue of digitised articles is also a source of facts to draw on. Machines have powerful memories. Fact checking is fast.

Paul Pierotti, MD of Accenture Digital says:

“This technology is being used in healthcare firstly because of its ability to digest vast amounts of textbook knowledge and new research; secondly because it can diagnose what it sees in pictures or in patient data; thirdly, it can use language to report the diagnosis along with supporting evidence and recommendations. The reasoning and language will evolve to feel human. If the healthcare industry can harness that potential so too can news companies.”

Data Analysis
Machines are adept at investigating data sets. Publishers have set them to tax records, homicide data, meteorological reports and more – looking for patterns and describing them. They’re thorough, not prone to error and they’re fast.

The LA Times uses robo-journalism to break news about earthquakes because machines can analyse geological survey data faster than a human. It takes under five minutes to spot a story and get it online.

Robo-journalists are arriving at a time when the lack of data skills amongst journalists is starting to show. Peter Bale, MD of CNN observed at a Reuters Institute Big Data event that traditional journalists who aired opinions based on very little proof were being embarrassed by people, often outside the industry, who could draw more solid conclusions from data. Machines will help publishers catch up.

Personalisation
Machines can produce multiple versions of an article to make it more ‘personal’ – to give it local flavour, for example.

Again, speed is important. Re-writes are produced in a fraction of the time it would take a human so stories are both current and personal. As well as location, personalisation might be based on the demographics or behaviours of groups of readers, as determined by their online activity. Publishers already target advertising like this.

Articles can be re-written based on what an individual might show they know about a topic in an interactive element in an article. The machine then describes the difference between your perception and reality.

We’ve always read between the lines to understand how we are personally affected or to see how reality differs from what we assume. In the future we will only need to read the lines themselves to understand those things.

Language translation is another form of personalisation. Publishers from De Correspondent to The Economist have ambitions to find new customers amongst different language speakers. Machines offer opportunity.

Finally, machines can write tirelessly. By covering more topics they’re more likely to write about your football team, your industry etc. News feels more personal.

Interest to Advertisers
Robo-journalism will be of interest to the advertising department. They’ve built native advertising units to write copy for advertisers – and charge a premium. Personalisation means bigger premiums.

On the flip side, what if robo-journalism technology got into advertiser hands? They already plan to buy native at scale across many sites. What’s missing is the ability to speedily and cost-effectively re-write content to suit different publishers’ environments. If technology enables it, they can force prices down.

In conclusion
The slow part is over. The rate of development will accelerate. Costs of entry will drop, as expensive lessons learnt by machines will be cheaply replicated in others.

Publishers will battle nimble robo-publishers and advertisers seeking to drive down cost. They’ll need to fully embrace the twin opportunities of data interpretation and personalisation – and avoid chaperoning machines too closely.

Before you know it, these challenges will be upon us.

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Exposure to out of home advertising isn’t just about time in public places

Last month I blogged about a project I’d undertaken for Route Research Ltd. They produce research for the Out of Home industry. I was commissioned by Route to find the stories in the GPS data and questionnaire data that they have collected from 30,000 respondents. The Media Briefing published the blog and you can read it here. It contains a lot of information on the Route methodology that I’ll not repeat here.

In the blog I concentrated on the morning commute as I wanted to publicise the fact that Route research could be used to analyse a day-part. In this new blog I’ve chosen to look at a few of the more general insights that my investigation threw up.

Most prominent are the headline figures: the amount of time we Brits are in a public place in a typical day, the proportion of that time we are (knowingly or not) exposed to out of home advertising and the number of advertising frames we are exposed to during that time. If you think about it before reading on, they’re actually hard figures to guess-timate.

Are you personally out and about more or less than average? Are you exposed to more or less frames than average? It is possible, it seems, to underscore on one and overscore on the other.

Here is that ‘headline’. People are “out and about” (not at home, not at work but in a public place) for an average of three hours ten minutes a day. 9% of that time (16 minutes) is spent “under the influence” of out of home advertising (in a ‘zone’ and facing the right way). People see, on average, 71 frames a day.

Those averages are benchmarks against which specific audiences can be judged. People who live in Birmingham, for example, outscore all benchmarks. They’re are out and about for twenty-five minutes more, under the influence for more than double the average time (40 minutes – 19% of time out and about) and see over twice as many frames (153).

Londoners are more peculiar beasts. They are out and about for less time than the national average – two hours forty-four minutes – but still see the same number of frames as people in Birmingham (153) i.e. more than the national average. They just see them more frequently.

You might have expected Londoners to be out and about for longer but remember; we’re talking about being in public places, not just out of home.

Londoners have time consuming commutes but they also work long hours, so they are in a workplace not a public place for a lot of the day.

Another quirk of Londoners is that they go out for an evening straight from work rather than returning home to travel back into the city centre later. Alternatively they use the local restaurants, bars and entertainments that are more evident on their doorsteps than they are in regional city suburbs.  It means less journeys ‘out and in’.

I’m reminded of a story I was told about a clothes designer who designed dresses that were meant to look great at work and in the bar straight from work. The idea and designs were a hit with women in London focus groups but less popular in areas where a fresh set of clothes were just a short drive away from the office.

Londoners are one of several groups who spend less time out and about but are exposed to more frames than average. Upmarket audiences are also out and about less than average but exposed to more frames. In this instance the greater distance they travel contributes to their opportunities to see advertising. ABs might spend the least time out and about of all the social grades but they travel five miles further than C2DEs and see five more frames a day.

Others include heavy Internet users, light TV viewers, smartphone owners, those who work from home fairly often, under 25s, ABs and ABC1s. That this is the case for such desirable ad audiences is testament to media companies’ targeting abilities.

Media owners do this by targeting hotspots, of course. Perhaps one of the nation’s hottest hotspots for out of home advertising is Oxford Circus underground station. It has high footfall and a lot of frames. Walking through Oxford Circus station a person sees 71 frames in just a few minutes – exactly the same average number of out of home frames the average Brit sees over an entire day.

So, exposure to out of home advertising isn’t just about time spent out and about in public places. Distance travelled plays a role too but so does targeting by media owners of key advertising audiences. Route research certainly shows off the effectiveness of that targeting and makes a strong case for the out of home medium.

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How the Outdoor ad industry measures itself – and what it tells us about our morning commutes

This is an article I wrote for The Media Briefing about the work I did for Route Research Limited. It can be found on Media Briefing here. They commissioned me to ‘find the stories’ in their data and the commuting story was one of those. Route’s MD, James Whitmore, also visited ad agencies and media owners with a presentation I prepared called ‘Out and About and Under the Influence’. It told the commuting story and more. The presentation can be found here.

Outdoor advertising literally moves with the times. Digital screens can be programmed to show different creatives at different times of day. It increases advertisers’ ability to target audiences when they’re out and about.

The way Outdoor advertising is measured has had to keep up. The Outdoor industry, through Route Research Ltd, has invested £19m in the ‘Route’ study, which can analyse advertising effectiveness by day part. As such, it is a useful tool for advertisers and ad agencies planning to use Outdoor.

For example, it reveals some fascinating facts about our morning commutes and how different types of commuters are exposed to Outdoor advertising.

Route offers a single measure of the efficiency of Outdoor advertising in all types of environments – roadside to rail, tube and light rail to airports and more.

It is also person-centric – based on 30,000 plus respondents carrying GPS devices that track them. Where GPS can’t reach, journeys are meticulously modelled.

GPS data is “big” – it creates billions of data points. It’s also passive – not reliant on respondent recall. Cognitive biases cloud our perceptions of time but GPS data has no such human frailties. GPS records the extra time it took to pick up a coffee or sit out the delay you forgot about.

To link respondents to advertising Route overlays their journeys on a map of the zones within which each of the nation’s Outdoor frames are visible. It reveals who sees what and when (only registering a frame as ‘seen’ if the respondent is travelling in an appropriate direction).

It tells us that commuters see 31 frames on average during their morning commute. For 10% of time they are within sight of a frame.

Upmarket, educated urbanites are the people most successfully targeted by the outdoor ad industry. Here are three, perhaps unexpected, reasons why:

  1. Grade ABs commute for five minutes more than C2DE commuters and see 12 more frames.
  2. Young graduates have a 6-minute longer commute than young non-graduates and see 83% more frames.
  3. London commuters see twice the average number of frames and are within sight of a frame for 20% of their commute. – A short walk through Oxford Circus tube station exposes a commuter to as many Outdoor frames in a few minutes (71) as an average Brit sees in a whole day (also 71).

Economists won’t be surprised that the upmarket and ambitious have longer commutes. They estimate a 20% increase on current salary will offset an extra 30-minute commute. Also according to economists, upmarket commuters invest a consistent 13% of their annual wage on commuting even as they earn more. It allows them to travel greater distances in only a small amount of extra time.

Workers with long commutes drag the average to 37 minutes, according to Route. In fact, most are under, or around, 30 minutes. Even two-fifths of London commuters are at work within that time.

Academics believe people in multiple societies and throughout history have typically travelled for an hour a day – in commuting terms, 30 minutes each way. It is a phenomenon called Marchetti’s Constant and dictates the size of cities – they extend only when people can travel further in 30 minutes. Think London during the Victorian railway-building era.

The Marchetti effect is evident in Route data. When all commute times are mapped out there’s a discernible dip immediately after 30 minutes. People have deliberately found work less than 30 minutes away. There’s also an element of ‘dashing for the line’ too.

There’s a similar dip after 45 minutes. Those unable to hit 30 minutes evidently see 45 minutes as the next best goal to aim for when choosing where to live. Their longer commute may be offset by other rewards but the Marchetti theory suggests they’ll adopt innovations that shave time off.

Two-fifths of Londoners have a commute in excess of 45 minutes. London also has a rich history of commuter innovation – from overgrown scooters to foldaway bicycles. According to TfL bicycle journeys in London have risen 150% since the Millennium. Bikes account for 28% of the vehicles crossing London’s bridges northbound every morning – the same number as private cars.

The new wave of technologies that combine crowd sourcing, mapping, GPS and mobiles will also shave time off commutes. That potentially poses both challenges – and opportunities – for Outdoor advertisers.

Waze, for example, is an app that uses crowd sourced speed data and GPS to direct motorists away from clogged roads and through clearer rat runs.

Such innovations won’t just shorten journey-time; they’ll create new flows of traffic around cities. Attentive Outdoor media owners will, no doubt, observe these and place new frames on those routes.

Route will log their effectiveness.

Route is a research study with a similar toolbox to these new technologies. As such it’s well suited to the future of Outdoor advertising measurement. As traffic flows change through the day and over time – Route has the ability to keep up. It’s going to be fascinating to see what sort of impact it has.

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