OOH: Regard the Mammoth

Did you know that so many Americans still exist in corporeal form that GfK MRI’s “Survey of the American Consumer”—a yearly study of about 50,000 Americans’ demographics, attitudes and behavior—doesn’t even bother to ask if people still inhabit their physical bodies? It’s true! In fact, the United States Census doesn’t ask about it either. They just assume we still inhabit our bodies. Sure, 82% of adults say, “I carry my cell phone everywhere I go” and 29% say, “My cell phone is an extension of my personality” but the Singularity is still near rather than here so we’re all tragically flesh bound (for now)!

Perhaps consequently GfK MRI doesn’t ask the simple question, “Do you leave your home?” because it would be plain weird. The closest thing I could find in the survey was, “Have you been to a grocery store, convenience store or restaurant in the last six months?” (since people still need to eat food). Incredibly, only 99% of adults say they have. Presumably that missing 1% are “The 1%” we’ve heard so much about.

Since GfK MRI doesn’t ask about going outside, they also don’t ask the obvious related question about leaving the house, something along the lines of, “When you leave your home do you, like, you know… look around and notice stuff?” because it would be ridiculous. They do ask about a variety of Out of Home formats ranging from billboards to ads on taxis to posters in malls—and 72% of adults say they have seen some form of them in the last 6 months.

I’m sure you can see where this is going and it’s here:

Long Live Out of Home 

Comic of Mammoth

Back when the “dotcom bubble” burst in 2000-ish, I had to fight for the inclusion of “web” on media plans because people thought the internet was done for. That’s a true story. I actually sat in meetings where people really said things like “the internet is over.” That sounds apocryphal now because we live in a digital-first world that’s growing more so by the day—85% of adults say they were online in the last 30 days. It’s also true that the great magic of digital is its measurability, which allows for both better targeting and a deeper understanding of what people actually do after they’ve seen ads.

So 85% of adults were online and 72% saw some kind of Out of Home ad. Guess what percentage of adults watched TV (broadcast or cable) in the last 30 days? TV is dead. You know it. You hear it all the the time, “I don’t watch TV.” Take a minute and think about it. What percentage?

In the last 30 days, 88% of adults watched TV. Yep, more people watched TV than were online. That doesn’t mean we don’t live in a digital-first world; we do and it will only get more so. But that doesn’t mean Americans have shed their mortal coils and uploaded their souls to the internet either. We are still corporeal. We still leave our homes and see billboards and listen to the radio and—gods forbid—watch TV occasionally. The impact of those activities on our behavior are difficult to measure and probably always will be until we really do have microchips embedded in our brains. But that doesn’t mean they don’t affect people.

So here we are, nearly 20 years after the internet burst and I find myself in meetings saying things like, “…but Out of Home is still effective because people still go out in the world and see stuff!” and people look at me like the the pets.com of billboards declared bankruptcy last week. Now as it was at Y2K as it was at Y1K and as it will remain until the Singularity comes for us all, people are complicated and we’ll never fully understand why they do what they do. But when it comes to marketing to corporeal human beings who live their lives in the physical world, I believe it behooves us to regard the mammoth because she’s surprisingly difficult to miss.

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