Families together differently today

By Published on .

Mom is in the kitchen, one child is playing baseball outside while the other is watching TV and Dad is in the study.

This is family togetherness, '90s style.

A study conducted exclusively for Advertising Age by America's Research Group, Charleston, S.C., found that while U.S. families are spending more time at home, they aren't spending the majority of that time involved collectively in activities.

This appears to be counter to what many trend researchers have said in the past few years.

"I didn't believe that everyone was going to go home to their living room, get in their sectional sofa and watch reruns of `Gilligan's Island,' and say, `Oh boy, we're a family again,' " said Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group.

Togetherness has a different meaning today. "Being together means that they are in earshot of one another vs. sitting in proximity to one another in one room," Mr. Beemer said.

Of the 1,000 people interviewed by phone between June 16 and 20, 35.5% said that they spend more time at home as a family now compared with two, three or four years ago, while 13% of those interviewed felt they personally are spending more time at home.

According to the study, consumers with personal incomes over $50,000 say they are spending less time at home compared with the general population.

Just over 28% of those with incomes over $50,000 said they feel they spend more time at home than two, three or four years ago. Although, of those who said they are at home more, 84.6% said their family is doing more things together rather than individually.

Family is the No. 1 reason why people spend more time at home. About 52% of those who said they are home more said that the importance of having the family together is definitely a reason they are spending more time at home.

Renting movies (30.3%) and eating dinner together (26.2%) are also family-supportive activities that respondents gave as reasons they are tempted to stay at home more.

But the study found the reason people want their families together is not really to increase quality time doing activities together but to exert control over outside influences.

"Parents feel much better today when their child is in their home and not at someone else's home," said Mr. Beemer. "A parent would say, `When my child is at someone else's home I lose control,' which shows that the consumer may be concerned about what someone else's standards are."

When at home, individual family members participate in differing activities. "A lot of people who are at home have a disjointed family," said Mr. Beemer. "The children are doing their own thing, the mother fixing meals and the father is in the office working."

For female members of the household, reading (34.6%) and sleeping/relaxing (25.7%) top the list of activities they said they have more time to do since they are staying at home more.

For males, activities like yardwork (46.1%) and home repair/improvement (31.2%) top the list. With children, outside/yard games (35.4%) and watching movies (34.9%) were the most common responses.

Even though families do spend time at home apart, there are activities that they enjoy doing together.

Most often family members said they like watching TV (47.7%) and watching movies/videos (44.4%). "This shows how powerful TV and video are in America," said Mr. Beemer. "The TV/electronic age has become the primary entertainer of the family when they are at home."

Families spending more time at home said that they now purchase certain home products more often than before. They are buying more food/snacks (72.1%), renting more movies (55.2%), reading more books (31.8%) and playing more games (30.4%).

Judging from this survey, the big marketing winners should be the electronics industry as well as the video rental business: "This survey bodes very well for the electronics industry from the viewpoint of building home theater as a category as well as selling TVs and video recorders," Mr. Beemer said, since families will want to upgrade the systems on which they view videos and broadcasts at home.

Because today's family isn't always playing together, marketers must be sensitive to that reality.

Mr. Beemer pointed to a recent ad for a fast-food marketer showing a family piling into a car to go to the restaurant. "America doesn't live that way [anymore]," he said, indicating that a single family member is much more likely to be sent out to pick up a meal while the others pursue solitary activities at home but within earshot of others.

When it comes to media, newspapers and TV are nearly tied in being most influential over major purchases.

Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they get most of their information about making major household purchases like furniture or appliances from advertising in newspapers. About 75% said TV was most influential, 21.4% said direct mail and 12.4% said radio.

Among those who don't subscribe to a newspaper, more than half go out to buy a paper before making a major purchase. "The subscription rate may be dropping but the influence may be holding out," Mr. Beemer said.

Most people seek out both newspapers and TV because they believe that is where the advertising is.

"Major department stores have been a primary advertiser in print, so the question is are the numbers a reflection of what advertisers taught consumers or a reflection of where they are going?" said Mr. Beemer. "I don't think there is any one issue you can tie it to."

Surprisingly, consumers religiously read the Sunday circulars. Seventy-six percent said they typically read the inserts in the Sunday newspaper.

The number of Sunday insert readers is even higher with certain income groups. Of those people with personal incomes between $36,000 and $49,999, 84% read the inserts in the Sunday newspaper.

And of those people spending more time at home, 73.9% feel they are watching more TV, 79.5% say they are reading the newspaper more and 57.4% read more books.

With radio and magazines, the numbers are lower. Approximately 50% said they are reading more magazines while 48.5% are listening to the radio more.

Mr. Beemer also has advice for those marketers who use only one particular medium: "The research says that if you are going to be a market leader you have to be a major advertiser on both television and [in] newspaper," he said.

"In this day and age, having your advertising budget skewed to newspaper only will not bring you the results you would like to have." The survey has a margin of error of 4.3%.

Copyright October 1995 Crain Communications Inc.

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