Since it was acquired by NBC Universal in 2007, Oxygen Media has gone to great lengths to recontextualize itself in the eyes of clients and viewers alike, recasting its target demo of young female viewers as “Generation O,” while splashing a profligate amount of bling across its consumer outreach efforts.
As it enters its fourth year under NBCU rule, the network is sifting through the data from what may be its most ambitious research initiative to date, presenting its advertising partners with findings from a study that explores the prevailing attitudes and desires of women in the chrysalis stage.
Beginning this week, Oxygen will begin presenting media agency executives the results of a comprehensive study on “women in transitionhood,” a classification that zeros in on women in their 20s who also happen to be in a sort of lifestyle limbo. Compared to earlier generations of women that knocked out the career-marriage-kids trifecta before they’d reached the quarter-century mark, today’s women are taking a much more drawn-out approach to adulthood, and in doing so, they’re blessed with a far greater amount of discretionary income.
Based on a series of in-home interviews and online surveys conducted by the Chicago-based research outfit TRU, Oxygen is painting a portrait of a young woman who isn’t in a particular hurry to settle down and raise children. While women still want everything their mothers had, their personal timelines are much more flexible. Per the TRU survey, 30 has emerged as a soft deadline for marriage, home ownership and career advancement, a development that has much to do with the pragmatism that informs today’s younger consumer.
The TRU study is most compelling when it offers unmediated insights from the women who took part in the in-home interviews. What comes across in the testimonials is the sense that, despite the fact that it may take a little longer to reach their goals, women are increasingly excited and enthusiastic about their long-term prospects. TRU's vp, insights Scott Hess characterizes the transitional state as a time of “happy chaos,” before adding that it’s important that marketers recognize that young women feel confident about their future, despite the uncertainty that may lie ahead.
“With Gen X, the prevailing attitude was to look at these consumers as being less motivated; they were ‘slackers,’” Hess says. “The important thing to consider with these transitional women is that they’re still trying to jump over the hurdles of career and marriage and motherhood, it’s just that their deadlines aren’t nearly as rigorous as their mothers’ deadlines. So, for marketers, the worst mistake you could make with this segment is to treat them as unconventional or aimless. That’s not the case. They’re just going about things at their own pace.”
While these transitional women are laying the groundwork for their future accomplishments, they continue to be intensely social creatures. Per TRU’s findings, 90 percent of women 18-49 actively engage in social networking, a platform that allows them to share updates about their own lives as well as brand recommendations, while 81 percent say that spending time with friends is a top priority. Women in transitional stages also are particularly open to trying new products and services, especially in categories like consumer technology and fashion.
All of this adds up to a demographic that is in a constant dialog with its generational cohorts, a group with significant buying power that is also increasingly receptive to word-of-mouth brand endorsements. “You want to be in a place where women are passing along their recommendations to their circle of friends,” says Susan Malfa, svp, advertising sales, Bravo and Oxygen Media. “These are happy, influential consumers, and they have money. These are the women you want to reach as a marketer.”
Along with several minutes of captured testimonials––the women who took part in the study offer insights about everything from the allure of the high-end impulse buy (“a Louis Vuitton bag…is a right of passage”) to the importance of self-sufficiency (“I was watching Mad Men last night and a woman actually had to ask her husband for money…I would hate that!”)––the TRU presentation offers a few telling details about entertainment content. For example, many women reject the notion of indulging in “a guilty pleasure,” arguing that even the most low-brow unscripted programs can serve as a welcome antidote to their own reality.
“Rather than guilty pleasures, women look at these shows as ‘earned indulgences,’” Malfa says. “They just want to come home and kick off their heels and watch TV, and when they’re involved in one of ‘their’ shows, they tend to be more engaged and more receptive to the commercial messages.”
Perhaps nothing on Oxygen’s programming lineup is more of an “earned indulgence” than the network’s top-rated series, The Bad Girls Club. The long-running investigation into group dynamics among sociopaths is the most-watched original show in Oxygen’s 10-year history, out-delivering kinder, gentler fare like Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood in total viewers and the 18-34 and 18-49 demos.
In the third quarter of 2010, Oxygen enjoyed a 9 percent boost in prime-time deliveries, with an average draw of 491,000 total viewers. Women 18-34 improved 20 percent versus the year-ago period, as the network finished 18th among ad-supported cable nets with 101,000 viewers; meanwhile, women 18-49 grew 8 percent (186,000).
Over the next several weeks, Malfa and Hess will present the results of the TRU study to media buyers and clients. “The presentation offers a fresh view of what young women want and I think it’ll be well received,” Malfa says. “This is a fantastic opportunity to go out into the marketplace and provide our partners with some new information that can help drive success in their business.”