CBS Says Oldies Can Be Goodies, Too

Survey shows 18-49 demographic is not perfectly golden to buyers
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Boomers rule, and advertisers covet them above and beyond any other single group. Sound familiar? If you know David Poltrack, executive vice president, research and planning, CBS, it ought to.

He has been saying it for years, and he said it again to reporters at the TV Critics Association's spin-fest in Hollywood last week. This time, though, he was armed with a new survey of more than 1,000 ad executives conducted by an outside firm that Poltrack said validated his position.

But wait: What about all those young demos that networks tout so heavily?

The networks "are just plain wrong" when they tout adults 18-49 as the most important demographic group to advertisers, said Poltrack. According to the survey, conducted online by research firm InsightExpress, it's adults 25-54 that advertisers want. Conveniently, that's what CBS thinks, too.

Poltrack insisted that the survey was objective. The network's only involvement, he said, was to contribute 10 DVD players used more or less as incentives to get ad buyers and planners to complete the survey. CBS did not pay for the survey.

But it liked the results. The survey found that 30% of the ad executives responding cited adults 25-54 as the most important age segment in broadcast-network television. Twenty-one percent cited 18-49; 18%, 35-64; 17%, 18-34; and 15%, "other." The breakouts were similar for a question about cable TV.

Just as important, Poltrack said, advertisers weigh other considerations besides age and sex: notably, income level, product-usage information, audience composition, reach and, of course, price.

Competing networks dismissed CBS's pitch and the new survey. ABC and NBC weren't buying the part about the dominance of the 25-54 demo.

According to ABC's estimates, a little more than 68% of the money spent in this year's prime time upfront market on the six broadcast nets was put against adults 18-49 or younger demos. About 54% was spent against 18-49 alone, while about half that, 27%, was spent on adults 25-54.

"This survey is like taking a voter poll after the election," said Mike Shaw, president, ABC Sales and Marketing. "We already have the results of the upfront."

Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBC, agreed, estimating that roughly two-thirds of all the money spent by advertisers on broadcast-network TV is targeted to adults 18-49. "It's the advertisers telling us that this is the group primarily that they want to appeal to. Advertisers pay a premium for this group because older viewers are easy to get."

But the bottom line, said Wurtzel, is that "it's not up to the network to decide what's appropriate for their customers. It's up to the customer to say this is what we're looking for."

Agency executives, though, said last week there is some validity to Poltrack's pitch. Steve Sternberg, senior vice president, director of audience analysis at Magna Global USA, said that, over the past decade, advertisers have shown increasing interest in the 25-54 demo. "It would not surprise me if it was now equal or even slightly higher in demand" than the 18-49 demo.

Part of CBS's agenda is to get TV writers to stop focusing on 18-49 as the preferred demo among advertisers. That's going to be an uphill battle, particularly in the consumer press, where editors aren't going to waste ink detailing a lot of demo breakouts that might interest a buyer but not necessarily your typical JAG
fan, said Sternberg. "They often refer to 18-49 as the demo advertisers are interested in. While misleading, they don't have room to talk about every demo. But it would be equally accurate—or inaccurate—to refer to 25-54 the same way."

Stacey Lynn Koerner, executive vice president, director of global research integration for Initiative Media, said Poltrack's presentation rings true and probably doesn't come as a big surprise to most media planners and buyers. "When anyone asks me if the 18-49 is the most important demographic, typically my response is, every advertiser is different."

Further, she added, "when we decide which consumers to target, it goes way beyond age and sex. It has everything to do with psychographics and lifestyle and product usage," among other considerations.

Part of what Poltrack is battling, said Koerner, is a culture that is "obsessed with youth." The fact is, she said, there's not a lot of difference between the 18-49 and 25-54 demos. "It's the perception of going over the age of 50, and all it is is perception."

Indeed, advertisers aren't going to ignore the peak buying power of ages 50-60, Koerner added. "No self-respecting agency will plan and develop media based on age and sex alone."

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