How Special K Started a Data-Focused Trend for Kellogg at the Upfronts

Starcom Extends Test Using NCS Purchase Data to All Kellogg's Brands

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Don't expect to see many ads for Rice Krispies while watching "Grey's Anatomy" anymore. Data shows the ABC doctor drama doesn't perform well when it comes to coaxing its largely female audience -- typically the primary target for the Kellogg's cereal -- to buy the crackly breakfast food.

It's just one change Starcom is making to Kellogg's TV planning this upfront season. The media agency has been using shopper purchase data from Nielsen Catalina Solutions to build TV audience targets for all Kellogg's brands following a trial run with Special K products last year. They call it "buyer-graphics," a play on traditional demographics and psychographics.

"Now we're going to the upfront for the 2015-2016 season; what we're actually looking to do is have it impact the buy itself," said Robert Davis, executive VP, director at Starcom. "These shows or these networks will or will not make the buy based on the data," he said.

In the past Mr. Davis, who oversees global cross-media planning for Kellogg in the U.S., Latin America, Canada and Asia, would rely mainly on MRI data to inform audience targeting based on demographics. In the fourth quarter of 2013, Starcom embarked on a pilot that has resulted in a shift now affecting TV buying for all Kellogg's brands -- from Fiber Plus bars to Pop Tarts.

It all started with Special K. "It's really our biggest U.S. brand. It's got a very clearly defined target," said Mr. Davis, referring to Special K buyers as "women who are on a health journey." Starcom employed shopper purchase data from NCS showing media behaviors of Special K buyers along with age, gender and household income data to develop audience profiles.

"Kellogg began testing the buyer-graphic approach in 2013 to help us better understand core consumer purchasing habits," said Chris Osner-Hackett, senior director, North America media at Kellogg. "The tests have helped shape our approach to buying television advertising so that we can better allocate our inventory and focus on reaching those who matter the most."

During the trial period, Starcom used the data to optimize targeting in TV media it had already purchased during the upfronts. For instance, if a show did not appear to resonate well with likely Special K buyers, the agency might have used space originally purchased for Special K to run spots for Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats. Tests also indicated that likely Rice Krispies buyers under-indexed on "Grey's Anatomy" to a "statistically significant degree," said Mr. Davis, adding that traditional data would not have revealed that.

"We're making use of the NCS data and part of it is skipping any type of demographic targeting," Mr. Davis continued. Now the question is "Are people likely to buy our products or not?"

The approach, if it takes off among other advertisers could alter how television shows are valued, according to the buyers they reach rather than how high their ratings are among coveted audiences. "It creates a different kind of economic model," said Mr. Davis.

Data-influenced media buying is starting to change how some media firms measure campaign performance for clients. "For several years now folks have been trying to correlate their buys with modeled performance results," said Mr. Davis, noting that some media partners such as Crown Media's Hallmark Channel offer secondary guarantees based on actual purchase data rather than demographics.

"We're sort of in new territory," he said. "Everyone's pushing for more accountability."