I still can’t get over how good we are at advertising. 

I’m kicking myself for not getting into it sooner, but we had legitimate reasons. For starters, the way a lot of companies use personal data creeped me out. 

It’s also both an incredibly crowded space and one that’s dominated by a handful of mega-agencies who are highly adept at protecting their turf. Most tools that claim to measure advertising are snake oil. That’s heresy for someone in the business of quantifying things, like us.

But mostly, I assumed there was little room for improvement. With a quarter trillion dollars being funneled into U.S. advertising every year, you’d expect people to have figured it out. Google and Meta have certainly taken it to another level, but at least half of the ads I see on Facebook are completely mistargeted. And most of the things I buy, I never search for. 

To be fair, most brands are pretty effective at advertising to the customers they already have. They sit on piles of honestly-acquired data. They build relationships and loyalty. As long as they keep their promises, as long as they’re consistent, they can bring people back – although it helps to be economical today.

Advertising to existing customers is also the easiest thing to measure. It’s generally transactional. You email me an offer, I click on it, I buy, and the whole thing is trackable, which CFOs love. You’re not selling me on your brand – the hardest part of advertising – because you’ve already done that by now.  

Acquiring new customers or even the casual ones who aren’t locked into a rewards program is where the most juice can be squeezed. That’s where advertising is weak. And that’s where we’re killing it. 

Without the benefit of my past behavior in your database, you need different signals…predictive ones. Per our “attitudes change before behaviors do” mantra, knowing what makes people tick gives you the best glimpse into their future choices. Nobody has more data about that kind of thing than we do. And when we put it to work, the performance is off the charts.

We’re also uniquely able to measure the impact, even the elusive “brand lift” part of the equation. Since our polls live in the same digital environments where our ads run, we can see how people’s opinions about things change in real-time.

It’s remarkably simple and transparent, if you think about it – a novel concept in an industry that thrives on complexity and opaqueness.  

We should’ve started doing it years ago. 

Here’s what we’re seeing:

Americans are super-divided on the value of a college education. We started talking about this a couple years ago, when we first saw cracks in Americans’ perception of secondary (and post-secondary) education. Today, only 50% of U.S. adults say that the returns on a bachelor’s degree are worth the cost. It jumps to a whopping (he says sarcastically) 57% among Gen Z. If there’s any reason for college admissions officers to feel better, both of those numbers increased by 1% over 2023. Woo-hoo. Still, the percentage of Gen Zs who say they’re planning to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree has dropped noticeably over the past two years.

Our collective emotional well-being improved coming out of May. Befitting of Mental Health Awareness Month, Americans are heading into June on an emotional upswing, after some dour times just a few weeks ago. Overall, our Well-Being Index has reached its highest point all year. The topline numbers mask some interesting underlying disparities however – particularly along political lines. Democrats saw significant declines in their well-being, while Republicans and especially Independents saw healthy increases. For the record, all these numbers were calculated before Thursday’s verdict.

Private equity firms are becoming a prominent public enemy. In our 3 Things to Know this week, we reported on a growing level of disdain among U.S. adults when it comes to private equity, mostly as it relates to the housing market. Over half of Americans and 61% in the U.S. West say private equity companies have had a “significant impact” on housing prices. We also noted growing concerns among U.S. parents over harmful chemicals in household products. Finally, we found big generational differences when it comes to seeking out new music.   

Cable will still rule the upcoming Olympic games. While the eventual dominance of streaming TV viewership feels inevitable, those days won’t arrive before the Paris summer games. A clear plurality (43%) of Olympics viewers will tune in via cable, while 35% will turn to Peacock or another streaming platform. Elsewhere in this study, we found that the Olympics will be fertile ground for Comcast (who owns NBC) to peddle their new streaming bundle and for Olympic sponsors like Delta, Toyota, Coke, and Visa to advertise to their (see above) current customers.

Dating apps are on the rise again. One of Maddie’s college friends is living with us this summer – ironically while Maddie is away performing in Oklahoma! – and Tara and I have been mesmerized by her masterful use of dating apps. Clearly, she’s not alone, as our data shows that the number of U.S. adults who say they’re using these apps “more often” has climbed 22% in the past two years. Among dating app users, the largest group (35%) say they’re most likely to use Bumble. But the competition is pretty fierce.

More awesomeness from the InsightStore™ (lots more, because I didn’t write last week):

  • Concern over reproductive rights rose over the past month, and other insights from our Election Monitor;
  • We gave a sneak peek into our big Beauty Buyer webinar next week and you should join the hundreds of people attending if you’re into that kind of thing;
  • Some fascinating insights for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month;
  • While Memorial Day travel was up this year, drinking and cookouts were down;
  • Consumer confidence fell in mid-May (but we’ll have updated numbers next week, which I expect to rise);
  • One in five people have experimented with “companion” AI chatbots, but the majority didn’t like them and two other Things to Know from last week;
  • More people are wearing sunscreen, but concerns over SPF ingredients are growing;
  • A closer look at that Comcast streaming bundle I mentioned.

The most popular questions this week (and last):

How important are good neighbors to you?

What’s your all-time favorite game show?

Have you ever received a speeding ticket?

Do you enjoy visiting water parks?

What kind of cuisine is your favorite?

What do you put in your coffee?

Would you rather be a member of a band or a solo artist?

Answer Key: Hugely; Jeopardy!; A few; Absolutely; Mexican; Flavored cream; A band!

Hoping you’re well.


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