Over the past six months my blogs have focused on the digital consumer, but in this months post Ill focus on one of the bigger, and potentially controversial, consumer trends at play. Its a trend were all familiar with – multi-tasking – and specifically watching TV while surfing the web. Its nothing new – many of you probably do it (maybe even whilst you are reading this), but it’s prevalence is growing and it has big implications on the marketing community. So what are the facts:

  • Australia is the most likely market in Asia where the PC is based in the lounge
  • 32% of online Australians watch TV and surf the web simultaneously on a regular basis
  • Evenings are the most likely time, with no particular skew to particular days, although weekends are marginally lower than weekdays
  • The behaviour is slightly higher among the under 30s, but prevalent throughout society, and
  • Typical activities are emailing (82%), general browsing (69%), social networking (60%) and online shopping (39%).  

The trend is being driven by a fundamental shift in the home-PC market. Most consumers opt for laptops these days, with an increasing proportion choosing entry level netbooks. Over 60% of online households have WiFi. In essence, browsing is no longer limited to sitting at the PC in the study.

Im an avid multi-tasker but I also know in reality Im hopeless at it, and can only ever focus on one thing at once. Is it really possible to concentrate on two things at once? Numerous scientific projects have set out to prove that multi-tasking is a physical impossibility, with a mixture of outcomes. However, what we can assume is that consumers can only allocate partial attention to each activity and will generally have a hierarchy of focus – they will be concentrating on one task over the other.   

So which device – the TV or the PC – is more engaging? In our most recent digital study (May 2009) we asked our respondents to split their concentration between the PC and the TV. The result was an allocation of concentration at 39% TV to 61% internet. While I would not claim this is a scientific test, it does indicate where consumers are generally more focused when multi-tasking.   

So what are the implications? The obvious implication would be that TV adverts will have to work even harder to cut through – the TV might be on, but to actively engage with an audience, to grab their attention, advertising has to work harder than ever.  Perhaps (although we did not test this), the importance of audio cues is growing as a means of attracting attention?

However, a second, more important implication, is the opportunity it provides for marketers to generate brand interaction using the TV. If the content is engaging enough and you can spark curiosity in the consumer, you can encourage consumers to interact immediately. For example, 68% of consumers have responded (immediately) to content in a TV show and gone online to find out more while 54% have responded to a TV advert by going online to find out more.

There is an immediate implication that search should always be integrated into your media plan – while this might seem obvious I still find it surprising when I type in key advertising messaging, be it tag lines, slogans, etc., that I regularly do not get a link through to the brands website or the campaign microsite.   

But the most important implication is the sheer range of opportunities it creates for marketers, and the opportunity to combine engagement with scale. I like to refer to digital marketing as being a blank piece of paper – there are few rules about what you can and cant do creatively. It’s nature promotes engagement, but the challenge has always been scale. The multi-tasking trend provides an opportunity to create this scale for digital, by using other media such as TV in a co-active manner. In essence, multi-tasking creates an abundance of opportunities for original, cross-media campaigns to tap into mass, mainstream audiences.