To find out what consumers are watching, check out where they live

Goochland County, VA, is 2,887 miles from San Mateo County, CA. But its broadcast and cable television viewing prefences are closer than Henrico and Hanover’s are, right across the county line — and worlds apart from the City of Richmond’s, only 16 miles away.

According to a survey whose results Ad Age released April 16, there’s a new way for advertisers to look at consumer audiences — not by geography, not by exhaustive demographics, not by psychographics, not even by focus grouping or other forms of expensive research, but by what kind of county they live in.

The survey broke the nation’s counties into 12 demographic/ behavioral categories. Then they asked 25,000 consumers across the nation which first-run network shows they’d watched during the previous seven days, on both broadcast and cable television. When they correlated the data by county, they found surprising paradoxes — and also a very interesting shortcut advertisers can use to make television buys more efficient and more effective.

You can’t tell the players without a scorecard

In order to understand the conclusions — and use them to get more advertising results for your money — you first have to understand what the 12 different county types are:

  • Boom Towns: Fast-growing communities with rapidly diversifying (but very largely white and Anglo) populations. Hanover, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties are all Boom Towns.
  • Monied ‘Burbs: Wealthier, highly educated communities (again, largely white and Anglo) whose median incomes are $15,000 a year above the national average. Goochland County is a Monied ‘Burb. So is San Mateo County in California.
  • Minority Central: Large pockets of Black residents but a below-average percentage of Asians and Latinos. The City of Richmond falls into this category, as does, for example, Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Campus and Careers: Cities and towns with young, educated populations. They’re more secular and Democratic. Ann Arbor, MI, is a quintessential example.
  • Emptying Nests: Populated largely by retirees and aging Baby Boomers. Less diverse and more affluent than the nation as a whole. Evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Clermont, FL, is an Emptying Nest community.
  • Immigration Nation: Large Latino populations with below-average incomes,  clustered mainly in the South and Southwest — like Laredo, TX.
  • Industrial Metropolis: Densely populated, very ethnically diverse cities, higher-than-average income, voters lean Democratic. Examples: St. Louis and Philadelphia.
  • Military Bastions: High military and military-related employment, lots of retired veterans, likely Republican voters. The Hampton Roads area, including Norfolk and Virginia Beach, is one.
  • Mormon Outposts: Overwhelmingly (95%) white, significantly (28%) Mormon, very (70+%) Republican, slightly higher median household incomes, mainly in and around Utah, as you might expect. Provo, UT, and Twin Falls, ID, are examples.
  • Service Worker Centers: Mainly in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions. Small to midsize towns with economies fueled by hotels, stores and restaurants. Median household income ($34,000) lower than average. St. Lawrence County, NY, is a Service Worker Center.
  • Tractor Country: As the name implies, rural and remote small towns with older populations and large agricultural sectors. Mostly in the northern Midwest, like Sioux City, IA.

It’s this widely varying demographic geography that drives widely differing television choices.

Paradox #1

The most-watched shows nationally may be among the shows least watched by your target audience.

According to the April 17 overnight Nielsen ratings, “NCIS” was the nation’s most-watched broadcast television show, with 17,616,000 viewers. But Richmond’s most-watched broadcast show was “Cold Case,” and the surrounding counties’ choice was “Raising Hope” on Fox. This demographic/geographic segmentation explains it.

It also explains why “Mike & Molly” does at least 20% better in Clermont, FL, and St. Lawrence County, NY, than it averages nationally.

Paradox #2

Counties right next to each other can be miles apart in viewing preferences. Goochland County prefers “Modern Family” on ABC and “Masterpiece” on cable, while Henrico, Hanover and Chesterfield choose “Raising Hope” and “Top Shot” and the City of Richmond tunes in to CBS’s “Cold Case” on broadcast and “Bobby Jones Gospel” on cable.

Shortcut #1

So if you’re selling to an audience segment instead of a general audience, let those findings be your guide.

If you’re targeting affluent suburbanites, for example, buy adjacencies to “Raising Hope” and “Modern Family” on broadcast. Or buy time in “Masterpiece” to reach Goochland by cable and “Top Shot” to reach Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico.

Shortcut #2

It also makes sense to tailor your commercials’ message and executional style to the program each key audience segment will be watching. A spot that’s a good fit for “Bobby Jones Gospel” won’t work so well on “Top Shot,” and vice versa.

The bottom line

Follow these shortcuts, and you’ll save money on air time, because the time you buy will be on less-expensive, lower-rated programs. You’ll also get more results, because you’ll be reaching more of your target prospects and talking to them in their own frame of reference.