August 2008 - DRTV and the Holiday Mindset

A three-year study that analyzes television consumption around annual holidays and calendar events may help marketers plan their media buying more effectively.

By Dick Wechsler

Mindset is the direct response marketer’s great intangible. Predict your audience’s mindset, their willingness to respond to an offer at a particular point in time, and the DR marketer’s job will become easy.
Audience viewership-e.g., the number of people watching a particular network-and responsiveness-the percentage of those people who respond to a particular offer-are the two most important criteria in establishing media value. As campaigns run over time, viewership and response find their level, providing media planners and buyers with predictive guidance about how to price media for that campaign in order to deliver an advertiser’s expected return on investment (ROI).

The challenge is that while audience viewership is gauged in empirical measures (size and demographic composition), responsiveness is rooted in mindset, or human nature itself, and can be affected by cultural or societal events. For instance, after 9/11 responsiveness to DRTV offers dropped nearly 30 percent for the subsequent three months. It wasn’t until Christmas passed that the consumer mindset shifted and response returned to traditional levels.

Holidays, such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day, affect normal viewership and response patterns in unanticipated ways. In fact, a recently conducted study of television consumption around annual holidays and calendar events reveals that minset swings more significantly than viewership. Since more than 12 percent of the year is made up of holidays, and annual events like Tax Day, understanding and anticipating these swings is critical when planning and buying media for DRTV campaigns. The study was conducted by Irvington, N.Y.-based Lockard & Wechsler Direct.

Eddie Wilders, Lockard & Wechsler’s director of research, designed the survey, which covers a 36-month period from December 27, 2004 through December 30, 2007. It includes data from 27 DRTV campaigns-ranging from houseware and beauty products, to nutritional supplements and mortgage origination leads. In total, the campaigns accounted for more than $250 million in media spending.


The audience delivery measures were based on Nielsen ratings for 29 national cable networks. Each network was analyzed separately and as part of six category clusters:

  • General: A&E, FX, TBS, TNT, USA;

  • News: CNN, Fox News, Headline News, MSNBC;

  • Entertainment: Comedy Central, E!, GSN, MTV, VH1;

  • Information: Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, THC, TWC;

  • Male: ESPN, ESPN2, Spike TV;

  • Female: Hallmark, LMN, Lifetime, Oxygen. In calendar order, the 10 annual holidays and events covered include:

  • New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day: Four days prior, 12/31 and 1/1, four days after;

  • Easter: Six days prior, Easter Sunday, six days after;

  • Tax Day: Six days prior, 4/15, six days after;

  • Mother’s Day: Six days prior, Mother’s Day Sunday, six days after;

  • Memorial Day Weekend: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday before, of and after;

  • Father’s Day: Six days prior, Father’s Day, six days after;

  • Independence Day: Six days prior, 7/4, six days after;

  • Labor Day Weekend: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday before, of and after;

  • Thanksgiving: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday before, of and after;

  • Christmas: Six days prior, 12/25, six days after.

In total, the study covers 115 days, or 31.5 percent of the year.

“Going in we expected that shifts in audience delivery would explain the deterioration in ROI we often associate with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the summer holiday weekends,” says Wilders. “The study shows that an intangible shift in consumer mindset seems to take hold around these events, causing significant swings in responsiveness and, as a result, ROI.”

Mother’s Day and Easter are excellent cases in point. Viewership actually spikes on both holidays when compared with the prior six days. For the three years studied, the television audience jumped 50.9 percent on average on Mother’s Day versus the prior six days. In contrast, response on Mother’s Day fell an average of 30 percent over the three years.

Easter is an even more dramatic example. On average, viewership increased 52 percent over the three-year period (see chart, page 58), while response fell 27.3 percent on average (see chart above).

“It’s obvious that the viewer mindset on Mother’s Day and Easter is quite different than on non-holidays,” Wilders explains. “More televisions are on, and more people are in ‘eyeshot’ of them, but they aren’t engaged. Their mindset is elsewhere.”

Wilders also points out that there was a drop in the number of people watching the news networks during Easter (see chart, page 58) and Mother’s Day. On average, news viewership was down 18.6 percent on Easter over the three years, while it was up significantly in every other media category: General (63 percent), Entertainment (54 percent), Information (61 percent), Male (103 percent) and Female (51 percent). The same pattern held true on Mother’s Day, when news viewership fell 5.3 percent on average over the three years.

Labor Day further substantiates the point that mindset outweighs viewership when it comes to DRTV efficiencies. Over Labor Day weekend, total television viewership was up 7 percent on average over the three years. Responsiveness, however, was down 18.6 percent on average.

“What people are watching and why they are watching it are very different influencers to response,” concludes Wilders. “Some holidays are very emotional times. The viewer mindset is to relax, to be with family and not to respond to offers.” And, not to watch news, where viewership was off 10.6 percent on average over Labor Day weekend for the three years studied.

In fact, news viewership was down on every holiday, with the exception of Independence Day, where it was up 4 percent. The biggest drop in news viewership was Christmas-28 percent-followed by Thanksgiving-22.6 percent.

The biggest increase in viewership for the 10 annual events studied were the Male networks. On Easter, viewership was up 103 percent on average. Mother’s Day showed a 77-percent increase, Father’s Day, an 87-percent rise, and Christmas, a 92-percent jump.

“It’s safe to say that men dominate television viewing in the home,” points out Wilders. “And men are not your typical DRTV buyers.”

Memorial Day was the one holiday weekend where both viewership and response improved on average over the three years studied. This was the same phenomenon that occurs between Christmas and New Year’s, where it was most dramatic. From 12/26 through 12/31, viewership increased 3 percent on average over the three years. Response, however, soared 212 percent on average, likely the beneficiary of a very positive consumer mindset.

Given the data presented, it is critical for the DRTV marketer to understand the distinction and balance between viewership and responsiveness. Poor holiday results cannot be attributed to lower holiday viewership. In fact, viewership actually increases on most annual holidays. Results are much more closely tied to mindset, the intangible trigger that causes an individual to make an impulsive response. The clearest support for this in the research was the six days after Christmas when the viewing audience was basically flat (up 4 percent), but responsiveness went through the roof (up 212 percent).

Dick Wechsler is president and CEO of Lockard & Wechsler Direct in Irvington, N.Y. He also serves as chairman of the Electronic Retailer Magazine Advisory Board. To obtain the complete media study, please contact Lockard & Wechsler Direct at (914) 591-6600.



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