As we wrap up the holidays, many Americans have some extra time on their hands. Time enough to clean out the closet, catch up with old friends, or indulge in some of the guilty pleasures of the season. Perhaps too much indulgence.
We do have a tendency toward excess. In a report by ABC News, Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer of the nonprofit American Council on Exercise estimated during a Thanksgiving meal the average American consumed about 3,000 calories. To burn those calories that same individual would need to take a leisurely 30-mile walk to maintain their weight.
It is unlikely that many people follow their holiday calorie binge with excessive exercise, but how about a little House of Cards marathon for dessert?
The rise of streaming multiple hours of a single show in one sitting via Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime has lead to a different type of excessive consumption. As Kevin Spacy explained in his address at the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival:
And the audience has spoken, they want stories. They are dying for them. They are rooting for us to give them the right thing. And they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them on the bus and to the hairdresser. Force it on their friends, tweet, blog, Facebook, make fan pages silly gifs and God knows what else about it. Engage with it with a passion and intimacy that a blockbuster movie can only dream of and all we have to do it give it to them.
Todd Yellin of Netflix certainly doesn’t mind the bingeing viewers, but did tell the Wall Street Journal, "I don't like the term 'binge,' because it sounds almost pathological. Marathon' sounds more celebratory." According to the Harris Interactive poll of more than 3,000 adult Netflix users, nearly three-quarters of them feel good about binge watching. Twenty-eight percent of binge watchers indicate they are participating in more binge viewing now than one year ago.
The Science of Binging
Recent findings also show there is a tendency toward binging that is supported by the chemistry of the human brain itself. While researching neuroplasticity for his book, The Brain that Changes Itself, Dr. Norman Doidge found that thoughts could actually alter the anatomy of the brain.
Doidge referenced his findings in neuroplasticity to explain the neurological changes within a brain when great story telling is then introduced. "We get into something akin to a trance," he explained. Viewers identify with characters on screen and subconsciously begin to mimic their emotions—be it sadness or triumph or anxiety—and each emotional state triggers different brain chemicals, which linger.
“These tend to be protracted states," he said. Those lingering chemicals create a desire to continue triggering that feeling. As extended interaction with a story, video game, or thrilling piece of content becomes more available with endless access, a sort of virtual-reality experience is created.
In the report Tune- In: The Impact of Binge Viewing, Annalect (a subsidiary of Omnicom Media) claims binge viewers are twice as likely to remember seeing and share an ad on social media verses a non-binge viewer. They even go so far as to advise marketers to leverage binge engagement with ads and look for cross marketing and branded integrations with the more popular shows.
As the evidence grows around binge behaviors so does the effort to better understand its impact on business. Dr. Eric Bradlow Vice Dean and Director of The Wharton School, at the University of Pennsylvania recently discussed his new findings on binge activities in “Are Your Customers ‘Clumpy’? What Binge-Buying Means for Marketing”. Bradlow is challenging the business world by proposing the traditional RFM segmentation (recency, frequency, monetary value) that is used to determine customer value is incomplete.
With the rise of digital and online consumption of goods, consumers are breaking the historical patterns of consistent, regular consumption with buying activities that he refers to as “clumpy."
With historical models I can see why they (RFM segmentation) fit fine, because you buy toilet paper in a regular pattern; you buy orange juice in a regular pattern. But you don’t consume Hulu in a regular pattern. You don’t bid on auctions at eBay in a regular pattern. You don’t buy books at Amazon on a regular pattern.
If you look at historically purchased goods, clumpiness really isn’t there. But if you look in the new wave, the new economy, clumpiness is pervasive in every data set I’ve analyzed.
In other words, we aren't as consistent as we used to be, both in our media consumption patterns, as well as in our buying patterns. We tend to binge.
The Business of Binge
Call it binging, being clumpy, or marathoning, as content consumption preferences move toward lengthy, uninterrupted opportunities, the style of storytelling, the way it is made available, and how advertisers respond to it are all quickly evolving.
As marketers grapple with how to capture the binge audiences, they are considering how to pivot away from traditional commercials and interruptive advertising. Product placement, brand integration and other embedded brand messaging seem like a natural fit.
Companies like Netflix have the ability to analyze and predict who, what, when, where, and how a consumer engages with their content. To get even more granular, Netflix Senior Data Scientist Mohammad Sabah revealed at the Hadoop Summit that every day about 30 million plays are analyzed and tracked for every time a show is paused, fast forwarded, or rewound.
All this information is a marketer’s dream, but according to Netflix they do not do paid product placements. Even though a show like House of Cards is ripe with Apple products, Apple claimed in the Washington Post they do not pay for any product placement. Their products are simply given in exchange for free marketing, which has created a sort of barter economy within these productions.
Apple in House of Cards Season 2
Natasha Lomas of TechCrunch explains that although it is unclear if Netflix is booking actual revenue from product placement currently, brands smaller than Apple, with less to offer are probably paying for their placements.
An early innovator of the digital serial drama, HBO committed to this barter approach in their award-winning series The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. To get an idea of what the actual cost in 2002 for a placement in The Sopranos was, DiMassimo Brand Advertising estimated a 30-second spot would equal $287,325. The 28-million-subscriber channel also does not allow paid placements in its original movies but there is no shortage of Manolo Blahniks, Range Rovers, or Coke products in any of those either.
On the other side of the argument, publications like the LA Times blast shows like House of Cards for being a “house of product placement.” The folks at Engadget were so enraged at a scene where nine Apple products were shown in one scene to call it “excessive, story-destroying product placement.” Without a deft touch, any form of advertising can go wrong.
Of course, scripted TV isn't the only medium subject to extended consumption. American adults still watch over 4 hours of old-fashioned TV every day. Fans of the long-running reality show Survivor are known to binge watch full seasons. Some 34 million gamers in the US spend 22 hours plugged into their consoles every week. YouTube viewers routinely find themselves watching more videos after clicking on one recommendation after the next. And where traditional radio once reigned through the commute and work day, consumers are streaming hours of Pandora, Spotify and satellite radio.
This “new economy” is an exceptional opportunity for smart content creators and advertisers to find a comfortable mix where people are entertained and engaged while exposed to products in an intelligent fashion. How it will shake out, no one knows. There is one sure bet, however. As binge consumption and streaming content continue to increase in popularity, advertisers and entertainment channels will work even harder to keep consumers glued to their devices, Apple or otherwise.
What do you think? How important will binge behavior be to the evolution of advertising?
Image Credit: Business Insider