Connected TV

Expect the Unexpected—Audiences Don’t Always Behave How You’d Think

Recent research shows that audiences are breaking generational stereotypes. Brands need to shift their advertising strategies to meet these findings, or else they could be left behind.

Expect the Unexpected—Audiences Don’t Always Behave How You’d Think

6 Min Read

Gen Zs love TikTok. Millennials will rock a side part to the grave. Baby Boomers can’t figure out technology. Gen Xers…are they even a part of the conversation at this point? Social media, the news, popular TV shows, etc. have continually pushed these generational narratives—so they must be true, right?

Obviously these statements don’t apply to every member of each generation. (Apologies to all the Gen X readers out there.) The point is that it’s easy to make sweeping generalizations about various groups of people. And advertisers oftentimes fall into this trap.

Fortunately, it’s easier to avoid that trap now than it ever has been. For years, brands developed messaging based on what they believed to be true about various consumer groups. But these days, with such a high volume of data-backed consumer insights readily available, it’s much easier to understand an audience group inside and out. And recent studies show that audiences are behaving in unexpected ways…

When it Comes to Consumer Behaviors, Age is Just a Number

Subtitles aren’t just for deaf and older audiences anymore—research indicates that the younger generations are turning them on far more often. A recent survey by YouGov found that 63% of consumers under 30 watch their favorite shows with closed captions. Compare that to just 37% of people aged 30-44 who say the same. Even starker yet: 29% of consumers in the 45-64 age bracket, and 30% of those aged 65+ said that they watch with subtitles.

So why are the younger generations so drawn to a feature that’s long been associated with accessibility? The growing cultural understanding of and tolerance for disabilities that involve audio processing could play a part; Hollywood’s ongoing love affair with muttering and murky sound mixing could be another. eMarketer, for its part, attributes the rise of TikTok and the recent spike in the popularity of non-English language content.

“Social platforms like TikTok have played a significant role in normalizing captions for younger viewers,” eMarketer reports. “The platform’s short, engaging videos often come with captions that make it easier to follow along and understand the content. Foreign-language films like Oscar-winning ‘Parasite’ have popularized subtitles among young viewers, making them a standard part of the watching experience.”

The younger generations aren’t the only ones acting out of character. OfCom’s Media Nations report shows that Disney+—a platform often associated with kids—is being watched by more and more Baby Boomers.

“Older viewers are increasingly using streaming services,” reports Ofcom. “With take-up of Disney+ among online over-64s rising from 7% in 2022 to 12% in 2023.”

Reading that, you may be thinking, “Of course older generations are watching Disney+—they all co-view with grandchildren now.” But this shift in viewership might not be as obvious as that.

The Telegraph suggests: “While some may have taken out a subscription to entertain visiting grandchildren, the US streamer is adding more shows aimed at older audiences, such as ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ with Steve Martin and Martin Short, and Peter Jackson’s documentary series ‘The Beatles: Get Back.’”

Advertisers Are Already Letting Customer Behaviors Drive Branding Efforts

While some brands may be struggling to keep up with various audiences’ ever-changing behaviors, others are ahead of the curve.

Bookseller Barnes & Noble—remember them?—was once marked by the masses as a greedy mega-corp out to put all local bookstores out of business. That was before Amazon swooped in and proved even more disruptive to those local businesses. Now that many Barnes & Noble locations function as those local bookstores themselves, they’re leaning into the best-of-both-worlds narrative, reinventing themselves to keep up with shifting consumer behaviors.

“Instead of trying to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble is changing to appeal to consumers looking for the experience of an independent bookstore with the resources of a large chain,” eMarketer reports. “Leaning on local inspiration and a store layout that optimizes discovery, Barnes & Noble is revamping its 596 locations, as well as its membership program.”

Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus is also heavily taking consumer wants and behaviors into consideration. Their 2023 fall campaign, “New Frontiers,” is aimed at making all consumers feel like they could find something at Neiman Marcus. A key piece to this campaign is the new “Fall Book,” which will feature both fashion finds and profiles on “Achievers” like author Amy Sall and creative director Carolina Herrera. To appeal to their most loyal audiences, Neiman Marcus will send copies of the book to their “top 300 customers.”

“We have a massive opportunity to continue to engage with our customers in new and different ways,” Neiman Marcus president and head of NMG customer insights, Ryan Ross, told Adweek. “And so, when we think about our top tier customers, I think it’s important for them to get [something] a little bit more special when they experience the brand.”

Many direct-to-consumer (DTC) beverage companies are shaping their entire aesthetics around consumer behaviors, too. Once again, TikTok is a key part of this. (As a millennial who does live up to the stereotype—this time of watching TikTok videos on other platforms while refusing to download the app—I can’t speak to this firsthand.) But apparently, the “preppy” look that dominated the early 2000s is trending again on the app. And some DTC beverage companies are using this knowledge to drive both online and in-person sales.

“Many preppy-looking beverage brands started out selling their drinks only online but soon followed the ongoing trend of DTC companies flocking toward retail shelves in order to scale,” Ad Age writes. “That means they have an incentive to brand themselves as prestige products that someone can take out into the world and use to express their identity.”

Advertisers Can Benefit From a Customer-First Approach

If your brand hasn’t taken a hard look at its advertising strategies recently, you might consider testing an audience-first approach. Consumer preferences and behaviors will continue to change, and soon there will be a new group to advertise to.

While they’re not doing much shopping yet, Gen Alpha (aged 7-14) is already tastemaking. A recent study by Beano Brain indicates that to this audience group, Netflix and YouTube are the coolest brands.

“Brands that can cut through are able to do well, but only if they also live up to their messaging and, most importantly, deliver real emotional benefits for kids,” Helenor Gilmour, Beano Brain’s director of insight, told Adweek. “Netflix enables them to explore sophisticated topics with quality drama, and YouTube helps them learn and gather knowledge capital.”

Advertisers, fear not—the road to knowing your audiences better is paved with more resources than ever. One easy win: Connected TV (CTV). As CTV grows in popularity with viewers, so does the sophistication of its advertising technology. With the right advertising solution, brands can use CTV as a full-funnel, digital, performance marketing channel. From hyper-specific audience targeting to detailed campaign reporting that gives vital insights on consumer preferences and behaviors, CTV allows you to skip those assumptions and guesswork altogether—ensuring you’ll always reach your audiences, wherever they are.