The subtitle of "The New Digital Divide" study from Universal McCann (UM) says it all: "How the New Generation of Digital Consumers Are Transforming Mass Communication." In other words, things are changing in Adland.
"No longer can we simply broadcast our messages to a mass audience and hope that our standard metrics of reach and frequency will guarantee success," said David Cohen, the author of the report.
The vanguard of the new digital consumer is the heavy Internet user, and UM defines a "heavy" Internet user as someone who has accessed the Web at least 11 times in the previous seven days, and estimates that close to 100 million people in the US, or about one-third of the country’s population, fit that description.
To gauge the impact of new media on communication and advertising, a group of 1,000 heavy users — all between the ages of 16 and 49 — was asked what new technologies they currently use online and what they intend to use in the future. The most-used technology was instant messaging (IM), followed by price-comparison sites and social networks.
Although podcasting and IPTV are garnering a great deal of media attention, only 13% of heavy Internet users currently download podcasts and less than 7% watch or download video content — though almost 20% said they would use them in the future.
The most common activities of heavy users were shopping and buying, with a solid 84% of respondents claiming to have done both.
Blogging is also an online activity that has received a lot of press, and according to UM there is good reason for it. In fact, 62% of respondents said they have participated in some kind of blogging activity.
Only 7% of heavy Internet users ages 35 to 49 have their own blog, but 22% of heavy users between 16 and 34 do.
With over one-third of bloggers against the practice, UM advises advertisers to be cautious when using blogs to sell a product.
Because of the survey’s concentration on heavy Internet users, you might expect respondents to be drifting away from other media. But that wasn’t the case. When asked which information source they would miss most, television topped off the list, with 28% of users still wanting their TVs. Web sites were second and e-mail was third on the list. Radio and newspapers followed.
The report concluded: "It is clear from this research that emerging technology is having a big influence on U.S. consumer behavior, methods of social interaction and media consumption. Nearly 90% of heavy Internet users are shopping online and researching future purchases. A good majority of frequent online visitors are already using instant messenger to interact with others and nearly half of younger heavy Internet users are active in online social networking. Additionally, an increasing number of younger online consumers are creating content with their own blogs."
But balancing that point of view, the report’s authors stated: "However, this does not mean the end of traditional advertising. Despite the substantial impact, our study also indicates that consumers are still relying on traditional media formats such as TV and magazines for entertainment as well as information sources."