There’s a gulf between how consumers act, and how marketers think they act: Ipsos

People working in marketing and advertising tend to significantly overestimate how much time everyday Canadians spend with newer media technologies such as streaming and on-demand, their ownership of connected devices like smart speakers, and how much time they spend with social apps like TikTok, according to a new research study from Ipsos Canada called Ad Nation 2020.

“Your estimate of public perceptions is far from reality,” said Ipsos’ chief operating officer Steve Levy during a Monday webinar presented by the TV marketing body thinktv Canada, which commissioned the study.

Among the key reasons for the discrepancy is that Canada’s marketing and advertising professionals tend to skew significantly younger than the Canadian population as a whole, and are largely clustered in Toronto. “Demographically, we do not look like the public,” he said.

Levy used the word “divergence” several times during his presentation, noting that people working in marketing and advertising tend to split from the Canadian population as a whole in areas such as smartphone ownership (97% of marketers/advertisers, versus 78% of the population as a whole), and devices like smart speakers (58% versus just 19% of the population as a whole). “There’s a perception that just about everyone owns these devices, and that’s actually not the case,” he said.

Marketing professionals are also far more likely than typical Canadians to have subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix (95% versus 61% of the general population), Amazon Prime (77% versus 35%), Apple TV (31% versus 7%) and Disney+ (39% versus 16%).

What’s even more notable, said Levy, is that people working in marketing and advertising tend to drastically overstate how Canadians are consuming media across various devices/channels, from subscription media like Netflix to online platforms such as YouTube.

“The industry media habits and practices are markedly different from those of the public,” said Levy. “Industry perceptions of what the public thinks and does, from a media consumption perspective, are different. Our lens appears to be colouring how much we think Canadians are consuming media.”

For example, while Canadians self-reported watching an average of 1.3 hours per day of a subscription service like Netflix, the 300 marketing and advertising professionals interviewed by Ispos estimated that number to be around 2.8 hours (see chart). And while Canadians self-reported using social media for 1.6 hours per day, marketing professionals pegged that number at three hours.

Marketing professional also drastically overstated how much Canadians spend watching on-demand, saying 1.8 hours compared to the average 0.5 self-reported by Canadians. Marketers and advertisers also significantly overestimated how much time everyday Canadians spend online to accomplish practical tasks, at 3.7 hours compared to the reported 1.8 hours.

Marketers are also prone to drastically over-stating what percentage of Canadians use various apps in a typical month, with Levy calling some of the differences—particularly around the social platforms Instagram and Twitter—”remarkable.” While 42% of Canadians said they use Instagram in a typical month, for example, industry professionals (82% of whom said they use the service) pegged that number at 91%. And while only one-quarter of Canadians said they use Twitter in a month, marketers estimated monthly consumer use at 74%.

There was a similarly significant disparity in TikTok, with professionals estimating that 56% of Canadians used the app in a typical month, while just 13% of Canadians said that was the case. And while 25% of Canadians said that they use Spotify, ad professionals pegged that number at 74%.

“It really needs to be our collective obligation to ensure that we’re clear about what people are doing, and not assume that they are doing what we’re doing,” said Levy. “Some of these differences really are quite gigantic.”

People working in marketing are also more likely to “multi-screen” across devices when watching TV, causing them to project similar behaviour onto the public, even though they tend to be more focused on just one screen when watching, said Levy. “Our assumption is that the public is multi-screening to the same degree that we are,” he said. “This is divergence.”

And while the narrative among marketing and media professionals is that people are migrating from traditional media (like TV) to streaming and/or on-demand, a comparison between 2017 and 2020 found that daily time with TV has actually increased slightly (to 2.5 hours from 2.4 in 2017), while consumption via subscription services has risen from 0.9 to 1.3 hours.

There are, of course, differences in consumption patterns among various cohorts—for instance, people 18-34 said they spend an average of 1.4 hours per day watching TV, while people 55+ put that number at 3.3 hours—but Levy said that the primary takeaway for marketers is that TV remains part of a multimedia diet for younger Canadians, reaching 90% of Canadians 18+ each week, and 82% of Canadians 18-34 each week.

While acknowledging that its reach is declining, Levy said that the important thing for marketers to note is the magnitude of its reach: 27.5 million people 18+ and 6.9 million people 18-34. “Television viewing is still huge,” he said. “Materially, we don’t see an awful lot of shift.”

The key question for marketers to consider, he said, is just how much their personal beliefs might impact their judgement when it comes to allocating media budgets. “At minimum we as an industry need to be thinking about adjusting our marketing and media plans with the Canadian public in mind, and at best there probably needs to be some level of reset and training.”

Photo by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash

Chris Powell