The most frightening observation of the new and remarkably comprehensive Comscore “U.S. Digital in Focus: 2012” report is the rise of the “digital omnivore.” These multidevice consumers roam the streets, their homes, retail establishments, trains and airplanes with smartphones, tablet PCs, huge home entertainment devices and ultramodern game consoles. They are the enemies of old-world TV, print media and radio. And their numbers are growing exponentially. It may turn out, however, that they are nothing more than couch potatoes on the move, and that their new consumption patterns hurt advertisers more than they help them.
The old consumer of media was happy to remain at home or on a commuter train with a copy of the New York Times or a TV set with a cable box, and perhaps a TiVo machine. According to studies from Nielsen and other research groups, these people spent as much as six hours in front of their TVs. Some listened to drive-time radio and had a subscription to Time magazine. They were passive consumers of media. Information and entertainment flowed to them inbound. The most outbound activity they might display was a letter to the editor.
The digital omnivore is an expert at two-way communication. Video games are set up on the internet so that many gamers can play against one another in real time. People with smartphones can talk to one another, text or share observations and opinions with one another on Facebook and Twitter. They can watch movies and vote on whether they like them, even scene by scene.
It is important for markets to study the new class of digital omnivores. Comscore points out:
Understanding today’s multi-device consumer, or what is known as the “Digital Omnivore,” will be increasingly important for advertisers and publishers in 2012 with an eye on the two critical factors to building effective digital strategies: the incremental effect and platform cannibalization.
What has not been proven is whether advertisers will get any more in terms of purchasing activity and returns on their investments from new-age consumers, compared to what they got from a consumer who is stationary in his living room. Omnivores may eschew marketing messages because they can. The omnivore can watch video without commercials, or can skip over them. TV viewers cannot without a lot of effort. Neither can newspaper readers. Whether they read the advertisements or not, the messages are there on most pages.
Omnivores also consume media that have no advertisements at all. One of the criticisms of Facebook is that mobile versions carry no ads. Many videos on YouTube also do not run commercials. Twitter has not found a highly effective way to embed marketing messages in tweets. Omnivores may spend six, seven or eight hours on their devices. Their new habits, and the change in the way that marketers try to take advantage of those habits, may not help sell products and services any better than old media did. As a matter of fact, consumer choices in media are now spread across so many platforms that the consumer may be extremely hard to reach, at least effectively.
Markets were better off with the couch potato. He was not a moving target.
Douglas A. McIntyre