When you work in radio, sometimes it's easy to feel like you're Charlie Brown – reliving a “Groundhog Day”-like nightmare year in and year out. As the broadcast medium continues to skew older, all the economic data show the same thing: upper demo consumers are the biggest spenders. But the ugly contradiction is that the media buying world continues to focus its attention – and its dollars – on a considerably younger audience.
Charlie Brown's futility is a reminder to those of who continue to believe the media world will one day wake up to this reality – only to have “the ball” pulled away again and again. Lucy Van Pelt is like the media buyer queen from hell – a metaphorical example of cognitive dissonance. She knows the truth about the demographic strength of 55+ consumers – and she seemingly doesn't care.
Logic suggest that advertisers and marketers are smart enough to connect the dots, and realize that today's 50+ consumers are the most reliable – and have the most money. And every year, prognosticators (I was once one of them) maintain that as Baby Boomers age, their marketing strengths will become in vogue once again. But like clockwork, Lucy keeps yanking the demographic football away from radio broadcasters.
It has been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and hoping for a different result. The Charlie Brown/Lucy football analogy strongly suggests the outcome will be the same – until perhaps there's a dramatic change in strategy and tactics.
These days, long-time consultant John Sebastian is proudly trumpeting a new 55+targeted format, guaranteed by him to rocket to the top of the 6+ ratings rankers. And he may, in fact, be truthfully advertising his format. Sadly, its 25-54 year-old rank will most likely be challenged to finish in the top 10, making it arduous for radio salespeople to convert its ratings into revenue.
I've been in this movie before. In fact, I've starred in it. It's the story of the Classic Rock format. And as I've (somewhat) kiddingly suggested, I inadvertantly discovered the best 55+ format in radio – without intending to do so. While Classic Rock continues to excel in the coveted 25-54 rankings, it also skews above that AARP watermark. As my wise friend Ted Ruscitti often reminds me even when good Nielsen books arrive, the format has long gone over the “demographic cliff.”
Many stations in the various Classic formats have been punished in sales and revenue by media buyers and planners who just don't get it. As KQRS programmer Scott Jameson reminded me earlier in the year, a one year shift to include 55 year-olds moved his station's ranking, average rating, and share significantly in the latest rating survey. In that mathematical Kabuki dance, KQ is not alone – most stations in the Classic Rock and Classic Hits lanes would be substantially helped by even a 5-year shift in emphasis. But in an advertising mindset where demographics trump audience behavior – and results – this is the world in which we live.
But maybe there's a change afoot. In just the past few weeks, we're witnessing an onslaught of Breeze stations signing on, re-exposing a Soft AC playlist of hit songs that have been relinquished to Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, and personal music collections for the last couple of decades. It's been some time since Lionel Richie, Air Supply, and Whitney Houston have seen the light of day on FM radio. Until now.
The biggest companies in radio – iHeart and Entercom – are both embracing the “new” format, signaling that a barrage of similarly programmed stations will begin to emerge throughout the U.S. and Canada.
I wish them all well – especially their sales department. Because if women 55 and over become a desirable audience (again), surely their male partners, husbands, boyfriends, pool boys, and relatives should be treated with equal value even though they've aged out of radio's so-called “money demo.”
And by the way, this demographic pattern doesn't just match consumer spending habits (more on that in a moment), it overlays perfectly with actual radio listening. A recent story in the Indianapolis Business Journal – “Radio stations embrace older audiences, rather than be millennial-obsessed” – by Anthony Schoettle notes the five highest rated stations in the market focus their attention on listeners 45 years of age and older.
Indy ratings leaders, including Classic Rock WFBQ, Country WFMS, and the news and talk programming of WIBC. all benefit from appealing to so-called mature audiences.
As the story also points out, this pattern is totally congruent with the audience currently spending time listening to broadcast radio. Nielsen data reveals the majority of radio usage occurs among those in this middle-aged – and older – demographic.
If you think of the many challenges facing radio revenue generation in 2018 (and don't forget the election was not a normal occurrence), a quantum improvement in the industry's fortune would take place with a concerted effort to establish 50+ radio listeners as being not just viable – but desirable.
In the same IBJ story, investment banking consultant, RTK Media's Robert Unmacht, refers to targeting Millenials and Gen Z as “a fools errand.” And Promotus Advertising's Bruce Bryant points out “The 40-plus demographic still drives the market. Advertisers are often more willing to pay for the older audience because statistics show they have simply more disposable income.”
Not always. In fact, the disconnect between spending and demographic chronology couldn't be more apparent in today's media environment.
That's why everyone in braodcast radio should be getting to know media researcher Charlene Weisler (pictured below right). She's a frequent contributor to Media Village, as well as a strong proponent of the power of upper-demos in media advertising and planning.
Last summer, her story “It's Time to Welcome the 55+ Demo ino the Media Mainstream,” makes the case that today's AARP members are more modern, luxury focused, and focused on a better quality of life than their counterparts did back in the 1960s.
She subsequently wrote “Losing Money By Missing the Demo Target,” quoting Forbes, media ecologist Jack Myers, and former iHeart research maven, Radha Subramanyam, all of whom see missed revenue opportunities by ignoring senior spenders. Now the Chief Research and Analytics Officer for CBS, Subramanyam asserts:
“Audiences that have been left out of media plans are often the most affluent and the most likely to drive spending across a range of categories, including auto, fine dining and travel.”
But no one is going to bat for thie over the hill, high-spending older audience. Nielsen, the RAB, and other organizations maintain their demographic agnosticism and neutrality. After all, radio broadcasting is a melange of interests and tastes, from music to talk, designed to appeal to a broad audience.
Not just seniors. Right about now, a little bit of upper-demo advocacy would be desirable as radio heads into the new year, especially as more and more stations target them.
And perhaps in 2019, marketing them will become a Breeze.
That is, if Lucy doesn't yank the football.
Jacobs Media has consistently walked the walk in the digital space, providing insights and guidance through its well-read national Techsurveys.
In 2008, jacapps was launched - a mobile apps company that has designed and built more than 1,200 apps for both the Apple and Android platforms. In 2013, the DASH Conference was created - a mashup of radio and automotive, designed to foster better understanding of the "connected car" and its impact.
Along with providing the creative and intellectual direction for the company, Fred consults many of Jacobs Media's commercial and public radio clients, in addition to media brands looking to thrive in the rapidly changing tech environment.
Fred was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2018.