“Sorta You”

10.08.2015 David Gustafson

When “Close Enough” May Be Good Enough to Define Your Target Audience


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Exploring the art behind the science of media research

If you’re not familiar with the Esurance “sorta you isn’t you” ad campaign, you’ve been missing out on some good television.  The ads take a humorous look at the age-old question of whether close enough is ever really good enough, continually coming to the conclusion that – at least in the insurance world – it most certainly is not. 

For example, like your regular pharmacist, Breaking Bad’s Walter White (below) may have plenty of experience with drugs – “sorry, pharmaceuticals” – but you wouldn’t necessarily want Walter filling your family’s prescriptions.  And, in a more recent iteration, an aspiring beauty queen (above) shares some commonalities with Marge the backhoe operator, but safe operation of construction equipment is not among them.


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A similar quest for precision plays out nearly every day in the fast-paced world of local advertising.  Buyers understandably push for increasingly granular, hyper-local data in their quest to narrowly define their target audiences, theoretically maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of their advertising investment.  Equally understandably, eager sellers and their research teams pore over mounds of information trying to build the most perfect audience profiles possible.  Sometimes, though, the pieces just don’t fit.

Consider one of the most memorable requests from my nearly 16 years as a media researcher.  “Hi, David,” the voicemail message began, “I’m working with the Knights of Columbus Museum, so I need to know what Catholics in the New Haven area watch on TV…oh, and later today would be great, thanks!” 

I would have loved nothing more than to crank out that specific information with a few simple keystrokes, but studies and data linking religious preference to Cable TV viewing habits were not part of our market research arsenal.  To build something useful, we had to get creative – which leads to the first of three scenarios in which close actually can be good enough when it comes to defining target audiences for local advertisers:


1. No Data Available?  Get Creative.  When the requested numbers can’t be found, creative approaches and rationale are required to construct a logical scenario for profiling the target audience.  In the Knights of Columbus example, we started with more general demographic characteristics of the group’s membership and then supplemented that profile with information on TV networks that skewed more toward family-friendly programming.  From a local TV audience measurement perspective, Rentrak employs a robust version of this strategy in its local ratings service  – i.e., merging what they know (household-level tuning activity in the market) with trusted, independent data sources to effectively model the piece they don’t know (the demographic skew of the viewing audience).


2. No Local Data Available?  Look Regionally or Nationally.  On another occasion we faced a request to construct a profile of adult caregivers for a campaign promoting a local assisted-living complex.  With no specific in-market research on caregivers available, we were able to turn instead to a national study that provided an overview of key caregiver characteristics.  The national information provided a roadmap for reconstructing the profile within our local qualitative database, allowing us to cross reference with local data on media consumption.  In local TV audience measurement, Nielsen’s Viewer Assignment methodology is an example of this approach.  Slated to go live at the beginning of 2016 in 45 markets that currently rely on paper diaries to project who is watching, Viewer Assignment will merge what is known within the market (household tuning activity) with what is known from the surrounding region (who is watching the same network, program, etc.) to project the demographic skew of the in-market audience. 


3. Local Data Incomplete?  Broaden the Parameters.  In other cases specific matches can be found in local datasets, but the respondent levels are too low to make the results viable.  A common example can occur with automotive advertisers.  Let’s say the original goal was to profile Mercedes-Benz owners in a specific county – but only 15 respondents in the local qualitative survey match that exact profile.  Simply expanding to a larger geography or, if necessary, broadening the scope to include all Luxury Car owners in the desired county often can provide a viable alternative that keeps the profile local in nature without changing the original intent.


Undoubtedly, the more precise we can be when defining target audiences for local advertising campaigns, the more effective those campaigns can be.  When an exact match is not feasible, though, tweaking the specs to get close can be just as effective for the advertiser.  “And therefore,” agrees Esurance’s construction beauty queen, “yes…thank you.”

About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research, David plays a key role in the company’s usage and interpretation of TV audience data. With more than two decades of industry experience, David currently is a member of the Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore. Known as “The Professor,” David’s articles combine his passion for writing with a penchant for concisely explaining complex topics.

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