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Sex May Sell, But Age/Sex Cells Do Not: CBS, General Mills Call For The End Of Demos

March 26, 2012

By Joe Mandese, Editor of MediaPost

In a major push to shift the ad industry’s focus from the traditional age- and sex-based demographics that have been the foundation of media planning and buying for nearly 50 years, CBS and General Mills Monday unveiled results of some extensive research demonstrating what a poor surrogate conventional demographics are for the actual consumers that marketers and agencies are trying to reach. The studies, which are the culmination of more than a year of research conducted with a powerful new partnership between Nielsen and Catalina Marketing that integrates actual TV viewing from digital set-top devices with actual consumer product purchasing from grocery store scanner data, show that other lifestyle segments are far more precise for targeting consumers with media.

“We knew we couldn’t just look at consumers by their demographics anymore -- we needed to look at them in terms of their lifestyles,” Gayle Fuguitt, vice president of global insights at General Mills, said Monday afternoon during a presentation at the Advertising Research Foundation’s annual conference in New York. Fuguitt used the presentation as a platform to encourage other marketers, agencies, media, research providers -- even “competitors” -- to collaborate on accelerating new forms of consumer targeting that will make advertising much more efficient and effective.

She said General Mills had already been working on its initiative internally when she saw a similar rallying cry made by CBS research chief David Poltrack during a presentation at last year’s ARF conference, in which he provided some preliminary data from Nielsen Catalina Solutions, and was inspired to join CBS in a collaboration for more in-depth research, which CBS helped fund.

CBS’ Poltrack has been on a long campaign to shift the industry away from demographics, and started championing the move back in the 1970s, not long after the industry began utilizing age and sex segmentation as its primary way of targeting consumers with media. He was a big supporter of previous “single-source” measurement initiatives, such as Arbitron’s ill-fated ScanAmerica or Arbitron’s and Nielsen’s more recent but equally ill-fated Project Apollo, both of which failed because the industry declined to support the huge expense associated with research systems that simultaneously measured consumer media and purchase behavior. Nielsen Catalina Solutions isn’t pure single-source, but its approach is a pragmatic and increasingly well-accepted alternative that integrates data from disparate databases to produce similar results and insights.

In one “experimental” example shown by Poltrack Monday, CBS was able to measure the “most profitable” consumers for an anonymous advertiser in a consumer packaged goods category in one of CBS’ shows, “The Good Wife.” Poltrack said “The Good Wife” case study shows that using the brand’s “most profitable” consumers as a media buying target improved the ROI for the brand three times over the conventional demographic audience break it had been using to buy the show, adults 18-49.

Poltrack said CBS will release its data to agencies and advertisers prior to this year’s upfront advertising marketplace as part of an effort to get them thinking beyond conventional demographics, and to start thinking about the underlying value of buying shows based on actual consumer targets. He said the industry is likely to continue buying and networks are likely to continue guaranteeing their advertising deals based on demos for some time to come, but that shifting their planning and program selection based on the new data could greatly influence how much money they budget into higher-value shows not reflected by demographic data.

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