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Perspective: How Can 18 and 49 Be in the Same Demo?

My son turned 18 earlier this year. Putting aside my anxiety on how quickly he is growing up, it occurred to me that for the first and only time in our respective lifetimes, we are now joined together in one of the most coveted demographic groups for advertisers — adults 18-49.

I pointed out this dynamic to him at his birthday dinner and his reaction fell somewhere between embarrassment and complete disgust. I don’t blame him. What 18-year-old wants to be told they share anything in common musically, politically or socially with a 49-year-old?

Why, he asked, do companies use such an expansive target group to sell products? My son, a recent high school graduate, has no significant income, has never voted, cannot rent a car in most states, has no credit, has never purchased anything more expensive than a large pizza, doesn’t own a car and has never met an employee payroll. In my lifetime since turning 18, I have voted for president eight times, owned multiple cars, purchased a home and the commensurate mortgage, filed taxes and (sometimes) have disposable income. Remind me again why he and I are evaluated in the same manner by advertisers?

Granted, the same dynamic exists with the other target demo groups and it defies logic that they are considered the same consumer by advertisers. To add insult to injury, the advertising community treats adults 55-plus, the prime drivers of our economy, as an afterthought, not worthy of any attention with their messaging. I understand the idea is to make an impression on future generations, but completely ignoring the people with the largest discretionary incomes makes no sense.

It’s not just on the buying and selling side where these demographic absurdities reside. For decades, newsrooms across the country have targeted their content offerings based on reaching A18-49 and A25-54 audiences.

Ironically, Nielsen bases its methodology on the even broader sample of total household universe estimates. While Nielsen aims to empathize with buyers and sellers regarding the erosion of ratings for the key target demos, especially in local newscasts, they appear to see nothing askew with their demo formulas so long as the household universe is aligned properly.

Of course, no client has used households to make an advertising buy since the Nixon administration. This dichotomy has left TV and radio stations scrambling to explain to agencies and clients why our mediums are still the most powerful platform on which to place their valuable advertising dollars. It’s becoming an increasingly difficult conversation and is costing the broadcasting industry billions in the process.

As dysfunctional as TV and radio measurement has become, at least we can still confirm to our clients where and when their spots aired each month, certified with a notarized invoice.

Conversely, digital companies today are being pressed by their clients to explain how one to three seconds of viewing constitutes a “viewed ad,” as well as how their digital creative is showing up alongside “questionable” environments. Earlier this year, Google and Facebook were forced to issue refunds to clients for pervasive fraud in their ad campaigns. By the end of 2017, more than $6.5 billion will be attributed to digital ad fraud.

Young Ideas for ‘Old Media’

What can broadcasters do to reverse the narrative that radio and TV are somehow “old media?”

First, we must continue to hold Nielsen accountable for better measurement across all the platforms that carry our signals, including out-of-home viewing. Nielsen has been too slow to keep up with changing media consumption habits and in the process, nullified our brands as the highest reach linear and digital mediums. Sadly, Nielsen currently impacts our future more than any other entity. That future may look bleak to an outsider despite the evidence to the contrary in historic total viewing/listening of our products.

Second, broadcasters should continue to hammer home to our client base and ad agencies the message that our linear and digital platforms have never reached more people and are verifiable to boot.

Finally, the buying community, especially major ad agencies, should expand the data pools from which they purchase media. Relying solely on linear ratings makes no sense given that people continue to consume our platforms radically differently than they did even two years ago. As an example here in Orlando, ad agencies are shortchanging their clients by limiting their reach and frequency to the sample sizes of just 800 households of linear TV viewers.

While I will enjoy the sentimental bond I share with my son for the next few months, we agree it’s not reality. The sooner he and I are evaluated in a completely different light by Nielsen and the advertising agencies throughout the U.S., the better it will be for our valued clients.

Curran is the market VP for the integrated properties of Cox Media Group Orlando (Fla.), consisting of WFTV TV (ABC), WRDQ TV (Independent), News 96.5 WDBO, K92.3, Star 94.5, Power 95.3, WMMO 98.9, ESPN 580, 107.3 Solo Exitos and the Cox Events Group.