Marketers are running out of time. Recent studies into consumer
behaviour are showing that time is now one of the most valuable and
The obvious danger for marketers is that it becomes increasingly
difficult to find, and be noticed by, a population with not enough hours
in the day.
The Henley Centre, in its recent ’Media Futures’ report, says: ’The
importance of time as a marketing message cannot be underestimated. The
challenge is to match time-based products and services with the
appropriate consumer moods. Value for time is the overriding
Never before has the expression ’time is money’ been more true.
Marketers have a golden opportunity to make time a key component of
Time has such a high value that 33% of British consumers say they would
spend more to save time, and demand for out-of-hours services is at a
As a new report by the Future Foundation reveals, we are moving
inexorably toward a 24-hour society, with 80% of people saying they
think companies should provide customer care over the telephone out of
hours, and 35% wanting, literally, to shop around the clock.
The danger is that marketers fail to realise that less time also means
consumers are harder to hit with commercial messages. So far, their main
tactic - more commercials - has only made matters worse. More and more
ads does not mean they are more likely to work. People are suffering
from information overload and are increasingly ’shutting off’ when they
can’t take any more.
The average person will see 250 TV ads, 350 poster sites and 400 press
ads in a week. Around one in every three people, according to research
by Western Media, is an ’ad avoider’, actively ignoring advertising.
This has created a paradox with which the marketing community is
struggling to contend. People are being bombarded by more commercial
information but they have less time in which to process it. Consumers
are taking control, and exercising their right to choose, but they are
finding that the level of choice is unmanageable. They are under siege.
People are even talking about putting ads on condoms.
As Professor James Twitchell of the University of Florida says in his
book, Ad Cults, we have reached a point where ’almost every object
carries advertising, almost every human environment is suffused with
advertising and almost every moment of time is calibrated by
So how are marketers supposed to get through to this frazzled, time-poor
and information overloaded consumer? It is a question taxing the brains
of industry thinkers.
Sian Davies, a director at the Henley Centre, says: ’Many advertisers
have not responded to the implications of this. Business needs to see
things from the consumer’s perspective and start from scratch.’
Davies is among those calling for a fundamental reappraisal of how
advertisers approach prospects and customers. Relying on established
methods of segmenting people into boxes and a rigid creative strategy
won’t work. Instead, she says they have to take account of the
multi-layered complexity of peoples’ lives and schedules. The same
person could go through several different ’segments’ in a single day as
their mood and stress levels change. The man rushing off to work in the
morning is a very different animal to the one slumped in front of the
telly in the evening.
Getting in the mood
Davies calls this new approach ’occasion-based segmentation’, which is
sensitive to moods and movements during the day. She says clients need
to tie this understanding to their analysis and planning so that their
goods or service can take in a variety of moods.
Much of this is a media planning task. Often, media are the last thing
to be planned, but with the right route to the consumer being so
elusive, media experts say the reverse should be true.
Graham Bednash, managing partner of Michaelides & Bednash, told an
audience at the recent Marketing Forum that : ’Finding an effective way
of connecting consumers in this sea of information, and working out
which of hundreds of media permutations available to you is the best, is
now one of the most important issues in marketing. In the age of
information overload the medium is more important than the message.’
Bednash is convinced that consumers - however busy they are - will still
respond well to a message that uses a medium that is right for them at
the right time.
He points to the Vaseline deodorant hang-strap on the London Underground
as a good example. ’Consumers will respond well to clever ideas that
attempt to catch them at the right time. They’re not so much consumers
as editors, sifting through what they do and don’t want to use.’
This is not to say that ambient media - that rapidly expanding industry
that sees every available surface as a potential ad - is the be all and
end all. It is just that advertisers should work out exactly which media
are going to be most effective before setting out on the creative.
Andrew Marsden, marketing director of Britvic, is convinced of this
strategy and says clients should develop a much keener understanding of
media and demand better research than is currently provided by standard
tools like Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board (BARB), TGI and the
National Readership Survey.
’We’re being taken for a ride. Consumers are almost impossible to
measure. It’s time marketers stopped their agency deciding which media
to use and started to plan media before creative. We need a consumer-
first approach’, he told the Marketing Forum.
First Direct, which, with BT, backed the Future Foundation’s 24-hour
society study, was one of the first companies to recognise the value of
saving time and has prospered ever since. Mike Phillipson, brand
communications manager for First Direct, knows his media choice and
product offer has to take account of his customers’ lack of time.
’We know our customers are very light TV viewers; 66% of them watch less
than one hour of ITV per day. You have to communicate on their terms and
be very smart with your marketing communications.’
Phillipson says First Direct adopts a ’velcro’ approach to its
’We put hooks out everywhere, so that wherever you are you have some
sort of contact with the brand. We look at how different segments react
to different media so that we can ensure we have the right media for the
right person. We want an objective, intelligent dialogue with the
The Future Foundation’s concept of a 24-hour society is a more dramatic,
but ultimately realistic, solution to the problem.
Leon Kreitzman, senior fellow at the Future Foundation, says: ’It’s no
good labelling people as time rich and time poor. The only way to
resolve the issue is to change the nature of the organised day. It
requires a radical solution; we need to colonise the night.’
An inevitable result of the lack of spare time is that consumers are
demanding that products and services are available through more channels
and outside of the normal ’working day’. This has already happened to an
extent and there are now multiple options to buy or trade, whether it’s
by mail, phone, Internet, or soon, interactive television.
But this in turn is leading to demands for even more flexibility and
could lead to one of the biggest business revolutions since First Direct
and Direct Line blazed the trail into telephone banking and
Howard Sandom, head of PR for BT’s business customers, says: ’This is
going to be the next big shift in the way businesses think and it will
be created by the same tension between consumer demand and business
apathy that spawned telephone business. People want this and companies
can’t stand still for long.’
Sandom points to the number of retailers not facing up to 24-hour demand
as evidence of this intransigence. The survey reveals that while 72% of
businesses acknowledge that 24-hour service is inevitable, only 70% of
retailers have plans to alter their hours.
If business does bend to this latest consumer demand it will be the
latest in a long line of victories for consumer power.
They have the whip hand now and, with precious little time on their
hands to mess about looking for what they want, they expect business to
come up with the goods in the right place at the right time.
The challenge is for marketers to give them this while not making their
lives any more stressful in the process. This requires careful and
clever media planning and a fundamental reappraisal of the importance of
time as a valued commodity.
- The average British commuter encounters 80 to 100 commercial messages
between getting up and reaching their desk. Each day we are exposed to
1300 commercial messages.
- In 1987 there were 500 TV ads per day; in 1997 11,000 and in 2007
there will be 33,000.
- The Sunday Times contains more information than a person in the 17th
century would come across in a lifetime.
- The amount of information available through computing and
telecommunications doubles every year.
- More information has been produced in the past 30 years than in the
- In 1950 Sainsbury’s stocked 550 product lines per store. Today there
are more than 20,000 to choose from.
Source: The Henley Centre/Michaelides & Bednash
- The British working week is the longest in Europe at an average of 43
hours, compared with 40.3 for the rest of Europe.
- In the UK, 33% of full-time employed men do not take their full
- This decade will see 30% more women in management/professional jobs
and a 10% fall in the number of women in secretarial and manual
- Unpaid household labour would be worth pounds 740bn a year if it were
- 33% of British people would spend money to save time.
- In 1987 pounds 524m was spent on cooks, cleaners, child minders and
gardeners. In 1997 that figure was pounds 3bn.
Sources: Warwick Institute for Employment Research; The Henley Centre;
Office for National Statistics.