How Market Research Links Life Stage to Ad Effectiveness

Measuring the Success of Marketing to Millennials

a group of young people in a coffee shop working on laptops
•••  Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images

Marketers have a sweet spot for Millennials since these digital natives are naturally drawn to technology products, and they typically have the discretionary funds to purchase the latest innovations. When marketing to Millennials, there are several key questions to ask and answer.

  • Are Millennials really that different from consumers in the other generation-based categories?
  • Which form of marketing holds the most appeal for Millennials: Ads on television or ads on digital devices? 
  • Can Millennials be persuaded to make purchases or engage with brands through approaches that are unique and designed just for this target market segment? 

Common Advertising Effectiveness Metrics

Over several decades, comScore conducted research with more than 500,000 women from four generational categories. The generational categories are commonly recognized and include: 

  • Millennials – People who are ages 16 to 29 years
  • Generation X or GenXers – People who are ages 30 to 44
  • Baby Boomers – People who are ages 45 to 59
  • Seniors – People who are 60 years old or older

Some common metrics used to measure the effectiveness of ad include ad recall, consumer engagement with ads, and the influence of the ad on actual purchase behavior. ComScore studied the persuasive influence of television advertising on consumers using a proprietary measure called Share of Choice. 

The Share of Choice metric indicates the change in consumer choice regarding a product following exposure to an ad about the product. The effect of television advertising on consumer purchase choice follows a stair-step pattern, with persuasive influence greater for consumers in the generational categories in which members are older. The average increase in the number of consumers in each of four generational categories who preferred a product after viewing a television ad about the product is shown below:

  • Millennials = 4.6
  • Generation X = 5.3
  • Baby Boomers = 6.4
  • Seniors = 6.6

While the pattern of persuasive influence of television advertising is certainly evident in the comScore research, some experts assert that the effect is due to the life stages of the consumers rather than a characteristic of the members of a generational group that will persist as they age and move into other generational categories. 

Watch Out for Millennials Who Are Irritated by Ads and Remember Them Longer

One of the key metrics in the comScore research was the recall of advertising.  Two types of recall were measured: Immediate recall and delayed recall.

  • Immediate recall of advertising was measured roughly 15 minutes after viewing the ad.
  • Delayed recall of advertising was measured three days after the television ads were viewed. 

The immediate recall metric is intended to capture the effectiveness of a television ad gains the attention of the TV viewers.  This means that the ad is evaluated with regard to how well it comes to the forefront of all the clutter and noise that can occur when consumers are watching television.  Advertisers refer to this ad effectiveness measure as ad break through.

The delayed recall by viewers of television ads indicates how well the advertisement leaves a lasting or memorable impression on viewers. The responses of the people viewing the television ads in the comScore research are quite different across the generational groups.  Millennials evidence a lower ad breakthrough response than the other generational groups. Several dynamics may be in play to produce this outcome.

By choice, Millennials divide their attention across a number of activities and interests at any given time. Millennials often engage with several digital devices at once.  For instance, a Millennial consumer may watch television, use their tablet, and track and respond to texts all at one sitting.

Descriptions of Millennials often report that this occurs because the young consumers have short attention spans or are hyper-discriminating and require digital content that is attention grabbing, unique, or very entertaining. When Millennials do focus their attention on an ad, they are likely to remember it longer than do members of the other generational groups.