Freeform Cracks the Culture Code With Advertisers

How can you best reach the coveted 14-34 age group for both programmers and advertisers? First you have to crack the culture code to understand what stimulus motivates and connects with them. In a recent industry showcase for ad sales clients, Freeform announced the results of a special research study that identified their core target consumer which they call the Becomer. Tom Ascheim, President, Freeform, explained that a Becomer is “shorthand for a life stage – who am I and who am I evolving into. Our brand goes from the first kiss to the first child.” 

In a departure from the usual ad sales events, Freeform representatives escorted clients through four separate rooms, each highlighting one of the audience mindsets. In addition to an overview of each mindset, attendees were asked to perform a task that helped explain how the mindset worked. One task involved going through a series of psychological questions that led you to your ultimate profession. Another had participants describe celebrities in one word and hang their photo on a tree. After the tour, attendees settled into a luncheon panel of agency thought leaders who gave their perspectives on the mindsets and the implications for advertisers.

Research to Discover Mindsets
Freeform launched a two year research effort focusing on 14-34 year olds. The study resulted in the identification of nine relevant segments, four of which Freeform uses to focus on the Becomer. The study reached out to 10,000 respondents, according to Jane Gould, SVP Consumer Insights, Freeform, who noted, “We wanted to listen and be a part of the youth culture and see the world through their eyes, We wanted to bring to life the visual culture of the demographic, not by asking how they feel but by studying images and signs that decode the visual culture. This was truly a passion project.”

Gould stressed that this research study did not ask respondents direct questions (which is unlike most research studies). “We had them focus on an image. Respondents gave us a dream that represented them. Then, using images pushed through semiotic analysis that uses both anthropology and linguistics, we brought the four mindsets to life,” she said.

The Four Mindsets
These four mindsets – They Value the Struggle, Embracing the Undefined, Being Intersectional and Standing Together – are, each in their own unique way, focusing on a cultural, behavioral touchpoint of this generation. When these sensibilities are evident in content, branding and messaging, a deeper understanding and connection are formed. 

They Value the Struggle encourages fighting for success. It embodies resilience, the journey of working hard for your achievement, hustling. 14-34s don’t want to see people who were given everything without working. They believe that you have to work hard for what you get. But engaging in the struggle can make them anxious. An example of a celebrity who embodies The Struggle is Beyonce who, after achieving great success through her own hard efforts, reveals her authenticity in sharing her real life hardships. This helps her to stay relevant with this audience.

Embracing the Undefined shows the non-linear possibilities that transcend limits, encourage wanderlust and create, what Freeform calls, a messy glory. When all around you is crumbling, seize the opportunity and pivot to positivism. Memes like the Crying Michael Jordan and programming like Louis CK and the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are examples of Embracing the Undefined. If life gives you lemons, you don’t necessarily need to make lemonade. You can also make lemon cake. You have many options.

Being Intersectional means being interchangeable, embracing and combining complexity and offering many versions of oneself. The rally cry is Don’t Box Me In where we are able to learn many different (and sometimes conflicting) things about a single person. An example of a program that personifies Intersectionality is NBC’s This Is Us where the viewer discovers new things about each character that might surprise or confound.

Standing Together is a value concept that differs from past generations. With the proliferation of social media and the immediate connection, there is greater awareness of life’s disparities - the haves and have nots – resulting in a collective mentality and shared experience of adversity. This generation is using their power, rising up and offering real possibility for good. Keywords to connect to this mindset are – punching up / not down, the glass is half full, support underdogs, power to drive change and optimism. An example of how advertisers use this concept is the Nike campaign “Find Your Greatness” which highlights the efforts of regular folks and not elite athletes.

Mindsets in Use
So how does the use of mindsets help advertisers and the network? For advertisers, what resonated was, as Scott Hess, EVP, Corporate Marketing and Millennials, MediaVest/Spark, explained, “how heroes for Millennials differ from Gen X. Bling is out. Earned bling is nobler.” Thomas McGinley, Project Director, Flamingo Group, noted that, “communities can live longer through streaming.” And, Hess added, “the scope of them look different. It is truly a global marketplace.” The secret is, according to Jonah Disend, Founder and CEO, Redscout, “to focus on experiences and loyalty showing that you care about the consumer. Cultivate the tribe, listen carefully and see where the genius can be found.”

For the network, these audience filters, according to Ascheim, “are used to power our business. The insights we have gained informs our branding and programming.” The relaunch from ABC Family to Freeform has helped to shift attitudes resulting in an increase in brand affinity and loyalty. “This lifestage can be a scary time – there is ambiguity but also positivity. The potential energy is loud, huge and exciting. So we are being fluid and ever-changing, embracing the idea of an un-tagline. We are now moving quickly because the audience moves quickly,” he concluded.

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