How much time do American consumers spend with their devices and media?
In February 2023, Advertiser Perceptions, the gold standard of advertiser and agency sentiment, surveyed 305 marketers and agencies to learn about their perception of American media habits.
Media decision makers tend to believe their media habits are pretty much like everyone else’s. But how do Americans actually spend their time with media? Do perceptions match reality?
Turning to Nielsen’s Total Audience Report, the authoritative study of consumer media use, we can compare actual U.S. time spent with devices and platforms versus perceived media use.
The key finding? There is a stunning difference in how Americans actually spend time with devices and media versus how media decision makers perceive how consumers spend their time.
Marketers and agencies underestimate American time spent with TV, smartphones, Internet-connected devices, and AM/FM radio
- Live + time-shifted TV: Media decision makers believe Americans spend 25% of their daily media time with live + time-shifted TV, a -24% difference from the actual 33% of time spent.
- App/web on a smartphone: Marketers/agencies believe consumers spend 19% of their daily media time with apps or the web on their smartphones. In reality, Americans spend 22% of their daily media time with these devices.
- TV/Internet-connected device: Marketers/agencies think Americans spend 14% of their daily media time with TV/Internet-connected devices, -18% lower than the 17% reality.
- AM/FM radio: The greatest time spent disconnect between agency/advertiser perception and reality occurs with AM/FM radio. Marketers/agencies dramatically underestimate time spent with AM/FM radio. While they believe Americans spend 9% of their media time with AM/FM radio, the reality is 15%.
Marketers and agencies overestimate time spent with tablets and the Internet on a computer
- App/web on a tablet: Marketers/agencies overestimate American daily media time spent with tablets by +71% at a 12% perception and 7% reality.
- Internet on a computer: The largest overestimate is in the marketer/agency perception of daily media time spent with the Internet on a computer. They perceive 22% of all media time spent going to the Internet on a computer. In reality, it is only 7%.
Why is there such a disconnect between media decision makers’ perceptions of consumer media time spent and reality?
Brands often ask their media agencies to peer over the horizon to predict emerging media platforms. Constant time spent examining early consumer trends can exaggerate their perceived size. Media conferences and trade publications tend to focus on new platforms and emerging media. As such, “Objects may appear larger than they are.”
Marketers and agencies need to take the “me out of media”
Colin Lewis, award-winning CMO, wrote recently that advertisers delude themselves and are “too easily lulled into marketing ‘cults’ that stop us seeing the world as it is.” To create informed planning decisions, marketers and agencies should take the “me” out of “media” and fully understand today’s media behaviors.
The mismatch between advertiser perceptions of consumer media use and the reality is not unique to the United States. An IPSOS study conducted for ThinkTV Canada reveals the same disconnect. Agencies and advertisers massively overestimate consumer use of TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, subscription streaming video, and OTT TV.
In light of these findings, Bob Hoffman, a long-time ad agency executive and now an in-demand speaker at industry conferences, asks: “How can professional people who work in an industry that is largely constructed on media behavior be so astoundingly misinformed? The answer is pretty simple. … Marketers always overestimate the attraction of new things and underestimate the power of traditional consumer behavior.”
Legendary marketing professor Mark Ritson explains, “There is increasing global evidence that marketers are basing their media choices on their own behaviour or that stoked by the digitally obsessed marketing media, rather than actual audience data.”
In their book How Not To Plan: 66 Ways to Screw It Up, Les Binet and Sarah Carter remind agencies and brands, “We’re marketing and communication people, we’re different from the majority. In the US and UK, we’re less than 1% of the population. We tend to be younger. … And we live in a handful of big cities. So it’s all too easy for us overlook how different our lifestyles and perceptions are from the people we talk to.”
Acknowledging this, Colin Kinsella, the former CEO of Havas Media North America concludes, “The biggest risk for AM/FM radio is the 26-year-old planner who lives in New York or Chicago and does not commute by car and does not listen to AM/FM radio and thus does not think anyone else listens to AM/FM radio.”
- Marketers and agencies underestimate American time spent with TV, smartphones, Internet-connected devices, and AM/FM radio.
- The greatest time spent disconnect between agency/advertiser perception and reality occurs with AM/FM radio. Marketers and agencies dramatically underestimate time spent with AM/FM radio.
- Marketers and agencies overestimate time spent with tablets and the Internet on a computer.
- To create informed planning decisions, marketers and agencies should take the “me” out of “media” and fully understand today’s actual media behaviors.
Pierre Bouvard is Chief Insights Officer of the Cumulus Media | Westwood One Audio Active Group®.
Contact the Insights team at CorpMarketing@westwoodone.com.