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In the good old days of mass media, a 30-second commercial broadcast over the three major television networks in prime time could reach virtually the entire U.S. viewing public.In theory this could still happen in the tricky new days of fragmented media. The reality, however, is that the population has diversified so much that brand marketers now talk about "nicheing," "fractionalizing," "segmentation"

In the good old days of mass media, a 30-second commercial broadcast over the three major television networks in prime time could reach virtually the entire U.S. viewing public.

In theory this could still happen in the tricky new days of fragmented media. The reality, however, is that the population has diversified so much that brand marketers now talk about "nicheing," "fractionalizing," "segmentation" and "psychographics." Many are now learning to use television's "after-mass" reach in different ways.

"For us, mass reach is still the objective," says Greg Lincoln, director of brand communication at Pillsbury Co., Minneapolis. "How you deliver it these days is very different than it used to be. Instead of three spots on three networks, it's 20 or 30 spots on 20 or 30 networks because of the way the audience has fractionalized. Delivering the mass market is now a combination of some cable, some broadcast, some network, some syndicated and some local TV."

Jon Kramer, president of J. Brown/LMC Group, Stamford, Conn., agrees: "When you think of what television traditionally has been used for, which is as a 'broad reach' media vehicle, and what television is now, which is a narrow-reach vehicle at best, you really need to think about this vehicle differently."

With the technological capability of cable television, which can isolate zones within a given district to run different creative and copy, and with the rise of co-marketing between stores and brands, brands and brands, and licensees and brands, if marketers are not looking at television differently these days, perhaps they should be.

"There's more target marketing and market segmentation going on than ever before," says Mike Hess, senior vice president of testing services at Informational Resources Inc., Chicago. "There are differential efficiencies you can get by not going national with network programs."

IRI, as well as others, currently offers a "mass-market testing" program in which a computer analysis of the buying patterns of different cities is matched against a national average. If a brand marketer thinks its product might do well in a specific region of the country, it can run spot television in a test market of that region. The company can then measure the results in the test market vs. the control market and really see if its advertising has influenced sales.

"One of the reasons you can do this is that computer programs have come such a long way. Out of many combinations, you end up matching on behavioral-built characteristics. And with covariant analysis, we can factor in what the competition did or didn't do during our test period to get results that are more accurate," Hess says.

The speed at which computers can process this information, from scanning data at checkout counters to cross-tabbing demographic, behavioral and psychographic profiles, makes this type of research possible, timely and reliable. "With so many market research techniques available, smart marketers can test a theory before they spend oodles of money," Hess says.

The problem with all this research is that there's too much of it, says Kramer of J. Brown/LMC. "Who is going to wade through all this information and analyze it? We did a four-market test and the numbers spanned 22 pages. What if that were a national test?"

Hess and his company are ready to read all those numbers. In addition, Hess sees more marketing synergy and integration in the future. He maintains that the buzzword for the second half of the 1990s will be "increased target or niche marketing." John Young, senior vice president of the Mars Agency in Chicago, agrees with Hess. "One thing that's impacted television as a broad mass medium is the way brands are using television in an account-specific sense. Retailers are integrated into the spots that, at the very least, tag the retailer, but often fully integrate the brand and the retailer in the look, slogan or voice-over of the spot. These commercials wind up taking a real co-marketing approach that delivers lots of brand equity and brand sell but is also selling retailer equity and attracting people to the stores through promotional elements."

Young maintains that this co-marketing activity is a "redirection of ad funds from buying network and broad spot schedules." Young recently oversaw one client's campaign for a reformulated product that was also being repositioned in the marketplace. The client used a television account-specific campaign in the top 50 markets. Each spot was customized for the retailer and was very performance-oriented for new distribution and merchandising criteria. "Activity on the back end showed incredibly higher sales and volume, with substantial incremental volume in TV markets vs. non-TV markets," he reports.

"One of the interesting benefits of co-marketing, where you are spending your ad dollars in a much shorter period of time, is that it's clearly more measurable than mounting a regular media campaign, where you've got to look at broad numbers over a much longer period," Young adds. "When you're measuring to and through a particular retailer in a very concentrated period of time, you get some very interesting and timely information."

Kramer at J. Brown/LMC Group says the whole commercial environment has changed so dramatically that not only do you need to look at television differently, but at all your media usage. He cites the need to look at lifestyle changes and psychographics: the who, how and why people spend money.

"Years ago, daytime television was very efficient. You could reach a lot of women very efficiently," Kramer says. "Now, with 70% of women ages 25 to 54 working full-time, you have to talk to them in their own markets, in their own way."

The Cable Advertising Bureau claims to be doing just that. Indeed, they can target so specifically that they named their own demo the MTV generation. "Cable invented the idea of branding a television network," says Bruce Ferguson, vice president of local sales and marketing at the Cable Advertising Bureau, New York. Beyond that, cable can target travelers, weather-watchers, financial, business and news addicts, pet lovers and more.

"Grocery stores have the smallest trading zone of nearly any retailer, and people are making their buying decisions in the car or in the aisles," Ferguson says. "We can run different creative to Los Angeles within 30 zones. And while research that looks at [designated marketing areas] and [standard metropolitan statistical areas] shows the trading zone of the seller, we can reach the trading zone of the client, the local grocery store."

Ferguson sees a shift away from aggressive rate negotiations to a more qualitative approach to marketing. "Macromarketing for the grocer is a mistake. Grocers need to focus on a universe of one. Nielsen ratings give you an average look at the market when many people are unaverage. With cable you can zero in on a lifestyle.

"Cable also offers unique editorial tie-ins that can link a product to a need at the time that the incidence for use is the highest," Ferguson says. He cites an example of a cold/allergy remedy that sponsored the flu report on the weather channel. This type of marketing can even be narrowed down to target the areas within a state or city where the flu is prevalent and customized to tag a local store. In addition, cable offers many more local promotional "watch or enter to win" activities and opportunities.

"Now, with cable, TV can be bought like any vehicle -- by clients, not just sellers," Ferguson says. But the clients have changed over the years, too. While the supermarket used to be the only place in town, it now competes with warehouses, club stores, convenience stores and fast-food restaurants such as Boston Market and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

"They're all competing for a share of stomach," says Kramer. "That's why co-marketing is so important. The retailer needs to use the manufacturer or brand as the driver of its consumer position communique. Whether they're touting fresher produce, better meat or more deli selections, the store needs to position itself the way a brand positions itself. That's what has been missing from historical doughnut tag programs."

Kramer also questions how the media is changing to address the new business environment that exists today from both the consumer lifestyle and the brand marketer's standpoint. He also predicts a clash between the available information and how to use it and what is "actionable" and hot. "Network buys haven't gotten into the neighborhoods, and that's the next opportunity," Kramer says. "We've found that tagging local retailers doesn't work. But when you seamlessly integrate a retailer and a brand into the creative, it works unlike any other marketing tool we're currently employing." Tom Conway, senior vice president of the Television Bureau of Advertising, says, "Spot television's key strength is that you can target to the community. It's not just a mass medium." He speaks about targeting through the psychographics of the different network programs. "Instead of just targeting to men, age 25 to 54, we show clients how to place their media in programs that will specifically attract the psychographic that's right for the product.

"Network television is still a mass medium, and that's a positive," Conway says. "Over the air has the same potential, and in fact does a better job of niche marketing because it's hitting a bigger niche."

Pillsbury's Lincoln is still looking for numbers, though. "When you're selling a can of corn that costs $1, and you're looking to sell tens of millions of cans, we're still in the mass-market business. As important as account-specific marketing is, the fact is that we need to deal on a maximum-efficiency basis in all of our communications, whether it's couponing or television. "This suggests that mass couponing, mass magazines and broadcast television will likely play a prominent role in our future marketing plans. Will it play the role that it always has? Probably not. Efficiency is still attractive, but it's not what it once was."