You need an MRI!

Not the words you want to hear from your doctor but if it comes from your advertising partners it’s definitely worth looking into. For one thing an MRI is painless, and for another it’s a pretty good place to start during media planning when seeking answers to category, brand and target audience related questions.  

I am writing of course about a different tool than the one found in the medical field.  Among the many tools and methods we use in the planning process none is probably more useful than the survey data provided by Gfk MRI, a subsidiary of the GfK Group. MRI is useful in developing consumer insights and targeting, media insights and specific channel values. It’s flexible enough to incorporate a client’s proprietary segmentation to garner media related insights that are generally under-reported in the original segmentation

The name MRI stands for Mediamark Research & Intelligence, and just as a medical MRI provides a detailed view of the human body, the MRI survey provides a detailed view of the 226 million adult consumers in the U.S. An MRI report shows their media choices, demographics, lifestyles, attitudes, and usage of almost 6,000 products in 550 categories. 

There is also an American Kids Study and a Teenmark Study that along with the adult survey provide a clear, single-source view of the entire U.S. consumer market in high resolution. That’s about as complete as any consumer research study can get and it’s why we subscribe. Of most importance to us is that an in-depth understanding of current consumers and best prospects can be compiled AND tied to media consumption.

How MRI collects the data:

  • Data are collected in person, with in-home, face-to-face interviews. Surveys are collected year round, every year and reported 2x a year. 
    • Adult survey- Survey of the American Consumer
      • Nationally representative sample of ~26,000 adults yearly
    • Teenmark- Captures the  teen 12+ market
      • Nationally representative sample of 2,800 teens age 12-19 recruited from households that participated in the adult Survey of the American Consumer
    • American Kids Survey – collects data from children age six to 11
      • Nationally representative sample of 4,500 boys and girls living in households that participated in the adult Survey of the American Consumer

What can we do with this data? Pinpoint targets… identify trends… develop product lines… define users vs. buyers… fine-tune media campaigns… study consumer motivations… identify shopping styles….evaluate the competition… gauge brand loyalties… analyze demand across segments… quantify niche target potential… explore new strategic directions.

An MRI analysis is just one of several important marketplace inputs that can help you identify strategic and tactical insights to drive marketing and media strategy. Continue to visit Blue Plate Media’s blog for additional overviews of other planning resources and media approaches. As always if you have any questions or would like further information on anything you see here please email us at

Tim Jones, Media Director, Blue Plate Media Services 

Published 05.08.13

Blue Plate Media Special Report: 2012 Toy Media Spend Under the Microscope

Lower Q4 Ad Expenditures Caps Off Down Year for Toy Spending

The 2012 Holiday toy season was tough by most measures. Ongoing economic fears and Super Storm Sandy drove an overall weak performance for the quarter, aided and abetted by decreased advertising activity. Toy Advertising expenditures declined by 10.3%  in the fourth quarter of 2012 versus the same time period one year ago, finishing the quarter with $656.8 million dollars in media spending according to data released by Kantar Media. Only three categories, Hobby Crafts, Action Figures and Online Games increased spending year-over-year.  

Toy Advertising Expenditures Declined in 2012 Down to 2010 Levels

Total spending for the year declined by 9.3% to $1.26 billion, wiping out the 9.5% increase in spending seen in 2011. Out of 61 measured categories, the toy category had the 6th largest decline overall.

In 2012 traditional toys took the back seat as digital categories again led the way in advertising investment. Electronics, Video Games & Software (excluding PC/online) and Online Games topped the list of highest spenders.

Among the top 5 categories, only Online Games increased spending in Q4 and total year 2012. Dolls and Infant & Preschool were essentially flat. The weak demand in the video game console business was reflected in the almost 18% drop in year-over-year spending. Also of note, Arts/Crafts/Activity toys decreased their measured media budget by 12.5% after having increased spending in 2010 by 7.8%



Source: Kantar strADegy Media Reports 2011-2012 

Media spending changes were not limited to the top 5 largest categories.  Looking across the eleven Toy categories measured by Kantar StrADegy, we find that two categories, Hobby Craft and Action Figures increased media budgets by 46% in the fourth quarter and ended the year up 72% and 27% respectively. 

The bottom five categories to cut media spending in 2012 were led by traditional toys, Plush, Trading Cards, Non- computerized Games and Arts/Crafts/Activity Toys slashed spending by 20%-56% in Q4 and the total year. 


Source: Kantar strADegy Media Reports 2011-2012 

Bright Spots

News reports have indicated Toy Sales were flat to slightly down year-over-year, however a review of sales results from NPD indicates there were a few bright spots. The NPD Group estimates that toy retail sales slid by 0.6% in 2012 with a handful of categories enjoying gains versus 2011. 

A review of the NPD results, and the corresponding toy advertising spending from Kantar, shine the light on one of the big differences between the winners and the losers – advertising investment.  The NPD categories with flat to highest sales increases in 2012 were those who maintained or increased media spending. The lone exception was arts and crafts which cut spending by almost 27% but saw a reported 7% jump in sales.  A result that owes much to increased demand for kid’s activities in a down economy and severe weather that occupied much of the country from October to December. 

Similarly, and in-line with these results, the categories with the largest sales declines slashed media spending. The biggest impact was seen in Plush, down 56% in media spending, and Outdoor Activities, down almost 41%, two categories that saw sales reportedly decline by 12.6% and 8% respectively. 


Source: Kantar strADegy Media Reports 2011-2012, The NPD Group Press Release 1/15/2013 – Based on data from NPD’s Retail Toy Tracking Service

We hope you enjoyed this broad category view of Toy media spending in 2012, brought to you by Blue Plate Media Services.  If you would like more information, or to contract a more customized report for your brand and category, please contact a Blue Plate Media partner at 

Stay tuned for our follow up report on major trends in 2012 media mix across the toy category.  

Tim Jones, Media Director, Blue Plate Media Services, LLC

Published 05.02.13

Uh Oh

You presented your product to your retail buyer.  He likes it.  A very necessary first step.  Now, he wants a meeting to see what you you’ll do to support your brand.   Uh oh...

As a toy marketer these days, there is a lot of pressure thrust upon you.  One of those pressure points relates to your media plan and what, precisely, you are going to do to support your brand.  Your media plan must deliver big time…and your retail partner has very strong ideas as to what you should be spending…where you should be spending it…and when.  They have a lot riding on your success.   Impress your buyer and you are one step closer to securing your sell in.  Upset your buyer, or let them down, and you run the risk of losing the order.  Scary.  One partner wants to see heavy advertising during peak season…with very specific weekly TV weight.  Another wants to see advertising start earlier, extending the season, lessening their risk, and ensuring a steady early flow of retail traffic.  Another buyer wants to measure your plan in relation to the competition.  All valid points, but how do we satisfy everyone (including the bean counters controlling your budget) while staying true to an effective plan?

What steps will you take to ensure a winning media plan, one that satisfies your retail partner while, at the same time, reaches your target audience, breaks through the increasing clutter…and drives your brand?  

Any smart media plan needs to first define its primary audience.  Simple enough (although this is often easier said than done).  Once defined, how do you then reach and engage your audience either nationally or in key markets (aligning with your distribution)?  Your plan needs to reach a lot of kids.   But what’s a lot?  And which kids?  And at what weight levels?  Are moms included?  Or both?  

According to Nielsen Universe Estimates (UE), there are 23,700,000 kids aged 6-11 in the United States.  Add an additional 7,421,000 in Canada, and we total a whopping  31MM kids 6-11 in North America.  That’s a lot of kids.  That number takes an exponential leap if we extend to kids 2-11 – climbing to 41,490,000 and 12,000,000 respectively, delivering 58MM kids 2-11 in North America.   So, if we are striving to reach 95% of kids within our universe, 3-5 times, what’s the magic mix?  Do we stop there, or do we go beyond reach and frequency and add another element we call engagement …and time spent with your brand?

How do you target the right kids?  How do you get them to consume your message?  Are they watching TV?  Check!  (Among Kids 0-8, 74% of kids are spending TV screen time, according to Common Sense Media).   Are they on their computers, tablets and cell phones – learning, playing and communicating with their peers?  Check! Check! Check! Are they in cars, theatres, outdoor, in-school?  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Yes! There are so many kids – each with limited time and pre-determined routines.  It is very important that we know where to reach them…and when…and how often.  Match your dollars against share of time spent with each medium…against time spent with your brand, and you’ll arrive at a mix of media that delivers your target audience square on.  But relevancy matters, too.

How do you drive them to your brand?  Consider the stats:  America has 114.7 million TV Households (down from 115.9 million in 2011).   Why the drop in TV Households?  A bunch of logical reasons…including 1) the shift from analog to digital; 2) pure economics of owning a TV;  and  3) consumers are viewing more video content across all platforms – rather than replacing one medium with another.

Of the 7 or so National Cable TV networks that reach kids, Disney reaches 114MM households, Nickelodeon 99MM, Cartoon Network 99MM.  The other networks, including Nick Jr., Nicktoons, Sprout and Hub follow suit.   When looking to local markets, TV DMAs deliver their own numbers; California makes up for about 3,547,355 kids 5-11.  New York 1,670,158.  And Florida with 1,542,229.  The list goes on…and depending on your distribution, you may want to reach your audience where your market is…heavying up in key markets…or nationally, with local heavy ups.

But media channels are rapidly evolving and becoming more complex…While the leading Kid TV networks are fighting for eyeball attention of 2-11s and their moms – we know that the TV screen is not the only screen these days to reach and engage our target audience of kids…and their moms.  Online delivers equal if not greater reach into this channel surfing demo.  

Approximately 182 Million users are watching online video.  Kids 2-11 are among these online users, playing games, learning, and watching video.    

Add mobile phones to the mix, coupled with gaming console screens, applications on the tablets, plus time sitting in theatres, times recreationally with moms and dads, and many hours are clocked.

The best way to reach and engage your target audience of Kids 2-11, and their moms, is through a smart, blended mix of media.  Focus attention, and spending, on the platforms that deliver the greatest share of voice, then build the mix accordingly.  This calls for a mix of TV, coupled with Digital (display, pre-roll, gaming, in-app), strong support of Search (branded, category and competitive ad words), mobile apps, and an element of Social.  Where applicable, Print (consumer and trade, depending where you are in your product life cycle) and FSIs (drive to retail when targeting moms) and In-theatre (where relevant).  There are many media choices and we can’t afford for one medium to unnecessarily dilute the efforts of another, especially when one medium might deliver the lion share of our targeted eyeballs.  Most importantly, it is necessary to build a plan that delivers the reach and frequency of TV, the reach, engagement and time spent of online, and the deliverable metrics of all other media.

Build a compelling media plan, one that reaches and engages your target audience, and you are well on your way to satisfying your retail partner while delivering a winning plan that will drive awareness and product sales.

Follow the above media rules and the days of Uh Oh are over.  

David Becker, President, Blue Plate Media Services

Published 02.13.13


Attention marketers --- Your audience is distracted!  Their attention is pushed and pulled and the only way to reach them in this frenetic, screen hopping, tech-driven world is by crouching in the trenches, splintering your messaging and connecting with them, one on one, in real time…their time.  The young consumer is moving fast…and not always where and when you think.  Today’s marketer needs to reach and engage their target consumer throughout their day…where they live…where they breathe… where they play…where they consume their product messaging…and when they are most likely to react to your offer.

Old school media planning alone is thin, irresponsible and does not embrace the varied media messaging tactics that are required to deliver today’s “ca-ching” returns your retailers demand.   We’re in a new age of branding and product push.  If your product is going to succeed, and register in the psyche of your young consumer, and at the cash register or shopping cart, you might consider broadening your media tactics…and splintering your messaging to reach and engage your fragmented audience at relevant touch points.   

Fascinating media patterns are developing and you can begin to see industry movement… and shifts in media behavior…as illustrated by shifts in media spending. Media spending when targeting Kids and Moms is changing.   Spending is more fractioned than ever.  Don’t get left behind.

David Becker, President, Blue Plate Media Services

Published 11.22.11

Upfront & Personal: The Devil in Lingerie

TV upfronts allow advertisers and their agencies the opportunity to enter the broadcast and cable marketplace early to secure inventory for the following year. Negotiations are typically third and fourth quarter, followed by first and second quarter of the following year. Upfront negotiations enable advertisers to leverage collective dollars (across a full year) and negotiate media placements at aggressive rates versus scatter buys.  Just as there are advantages to upfront negotiations, there is also a place for scatter buying.

With regards to children’s networks, Nickelodeon, Disney, Cartoon Network, and The Hub all announced new projects including new programming and cross platform marketing opportunities.  

Each year the kid’s networks hope for increased spending from the toy and food categories, as well as robust investments from the studios, and introductions of CPG, retail, travel and car spending.   New projects/pilots have been ordered for the upcoming season to keep broadcast programming fresh and marketing opportunities new for advertisers. 

When buying media inventory from upfront buyers, agencies or networks, warns David Becker, president of Blue Plate Media Services, and strategic partner with TIA – “be sure you are securing premium inventory that is truly in your best interest, that covers day parts, weekly weighting by quarter and/or programming that aligns with your brand, and not investing in media that is in the best interest of the agency or network selling you the inventory”.  The wrong inventory, even at a great rate, is still the wrong inventory.  It’s the devil in lingerie.

The takeaway from this article is that the Upfront can be a wonderful opportunity to leverage your media money for maximum value.  Or, you may opt to hold off on the upfront and buy in the scatter, hedging your bet, playing the market and securing inventory relevant to your needs...and budget.   You can also consider a calendar upfront. Another option – you can leverage your media dollars and maximize your share of voice (SOV) by pooling budgets through cumulative buys with partners.   According to Becker, “The power of a group, fueled by a common goal, helps to take what might be considered a “smaller” spend and convert it into a “media spend with muscle”.  

Consider your options.  

David Becker, Blue Plate Media Services, LLC

Published 05.03.11


When it comes to media planning for your brand - Are you smarter than a 5th Grader?

When planning your media schedule for this holiday season, and for the year ahead, seven smart steps should be taken before you spend a single dollar.

Step 1:  Define your campaign objectives.

Step 2: Define your core target audience(s).

Step 3: Define the markets that align with your distribution.

Step 4: Define your campaign success metrics.

Step 5: Define your media budget.

Step 6: Now you are ready to plan your buy…and buy your plan.

Step 7: One more step should be on your list --- one that will make you smarter than a 5th grader…and a smarter media planner today than you were yesterday.  Look under the hood of your competition.  You don’t have to mimic their course, or shadow their media spend, but it might be wise to take a peek at where they’ve been advertising…how much they spent…and how they channeled their money to drive their brand.

There are several competitive media tools available to you and to your agency, including Kantar StrADegy and Nielsen Monitor Plus – Ad*Views.  These proprietary research tools provide media planning agencies with an inside look at competitive media spending by industry, by company and/or by brand.  You can view dollars spent in total, by month and/or by medium.  You can learn how much your competition spent, what media/medium they relied on, and how they flighted schedule(s) throughout the year.  There is a wealth of information you can glean from a competitive media spending report.  

The first thing you should know is that competitive reports are available to you or to your agency for an annual subscription fee.  If you are a member of Toy Industry Association (TIA), however, and through a strategic partnership with Blue Plate Media Services, competitive spending reports are available for a nominal fee.  In addition to pulling and providing timely reports, Blue Plate Media Services will provide a play-by-play analysis of the report and walk TIA members through the report details.  Additional research reports are also available.  For more information on competitive media spending reports, contact Blue Plate Media Services at 908-918-0202 or email

So, go ahead, be smarter than a 5th grader…and take the first step toward understanding your competition and leveraging the power of industry research.   Take a look under the hood of your competition …and be a smarter media planner in the process.  A competitive report can also help you back into a media budget and dissect what your competition is doing to build their brand.

David Becker, President, Blue Plate Media Services

Published 10.25.10