Commuters Supplement - The mindset of the modern commuter

As Britain's population becomes increasingly mobile, understanding what drives commuters' hearts and minds is ever more crucial for advertisers. Harriet Dennys reports.

Commuters - the 16% of Great Britain's 18+ population who are in full-time employment and travel for more than nine hours per week - are advertising gold dust. Commuters are better educated, from a higher social grade and have a higher personal income than the average Briton, and are voracious brand referrers of luxury goods such as cars, mobile phones and TV, audio and video equipment.

However, the downside of the lucrative demographic is that time-poor commuters are notoriously hard to target. Metro's recent Metro Moment study (March 2007) estimated that it has a one-hour window each day to catch commuters between sleep, socialising and shareholder meetings (the average start time of its readers' commute is 8.20am), while Metro and City AM are read, on average, for just 26 and 28 minutes each day respectively (sources: Metro, City AM/Brandface).

Clearly, such a concentrated timeframe means that campaigns aimed at commuters must be planned in sharp focus - advertisers must think beyond the stereotype of the pinstriped male clutching the FT to gain a rounded insight into the mindset of the modern commuter.

Timing and placement

Richard Bedwell, Target Group Index (TGI) consultant, says of the group: "Commuters' advertising exposure is very distinct from the average, as is their likelihood to be key influencers in a number of business and personal matters. All media will reach this group, but timing and placement are critical."

Steve Cox, strategic planning director for CBS Outdoor, adds that targeting consumers on the move will become even more crucial over the coming decades as the UK population becomes more mobile.

"Consumers are spending more time travelling; this is a fundamental sociological change, on a par with the growth of digital media," he says. "Advertisers must be aware of the opportunities this offers for reaching consumers in ways that have previously been unrecognised and unexploited."

The essential knowledge for any media buyer hoping to catch commuters' attention is the group's overall demographic and media profile (see charts, page 18). In London, by far the most popular forms of media are bus-side and underground advertising, according to CBS Outdoor's The London Commuter survey, which found that 73% of respondents preferred buses with advertising rather than without and 87% preferred the Underground to carry ads. By contrast, commuters watch less TV than the average Briton (1.6 hours per day) and spend just 0.8 hours per day listening to the radio (source: Titan).

Understanding how commuters' moods change over the course of an average day is also significant. While business travellers are more alert than average, their concentration levels - unsurprisingly - dip towards the end of the working day. In the morning, 71% of the respondents to Metro's survey agreed with the statement: "My mind is switched on and I'm using my brain when reading a newspaper"; by the evening, this figure dropped to 61%. Respondents used words such as "ready", "refreshed", "receptive" and "less stressed" to describe their morning mood, and "drained", "tired", "flat" and "impatient" to sum up their evening mindset.

Although CBS Outdoor's survey revealed a similar range of commuter emotions - from tired, impatient and irritable to calm, alert and daydreaming - the study showed that Tube users are less stressed than is widely believed, and that boarding the Tube actually induces calmer feelings. On the platform, the top two emotions reported were "tired" and "calm", at 28% and 23% respectively; once inside the carriage, 31% called themselves "calm" and 26% summed up their mood as "tired".

Meanwhile, a 2006 survey from the IPA's TouchPoints initiative, which sampled 420 respondents from Greater London, found that commuters are in the worst mood in the morning, with their frame of mind typically mellowing over the course of the day. The TouchPoints research revealed that travelling has a negative effect on people's moods - apart from the evening commute, when travellers' thoughts turn to relaxation, as illustrated by the early evening peak in online spending.

Commuters - who are most heavily clustered in Greater London, followed by Yorkshire & Humberside and North West England - are 93% more likely than the average adult aged 18+ to worry about work during their leisure time, 73% more likely to drive fast and 67% more likely to use their credit card mostly for business, according to TGI (2007 survey). Other key commuter attitudes are a tendency to favour innovative, eye-catching cars; to like having control over other people; to spend little time preparing food and to wear designer clothes.

With a high tally of credit cards - owning four or more is common - and expensive tastes in holidays and cars, it is no surprise that brands achieving good cut-through in London Underground carriages are travel companies, financial services, online betting operations and mobile phone operators (source: CBS Outdoor).

In addition, commuters are dynamic citizens: more likely than the average individual to have undertaken a major life change in the past 12 months. For example, the group is 112% more likely to have bought a house or flat within this timeframe, 75% more likely to have moved jobs and 79% more likely to have got married.

Delving further into the younger end of the commuter spectrum - the crucial 25 to 34-year-old urbanite demographic - is Metro, which joined forces with the Future Foundation to compile the Great Expectations study, published in late 2005. Katharine King, the free paper's research director, says: "Metro took a step back from looking at its young urban audience as just consumers and tried to understand them in a more generic way; we wanted to understand what drives their hearts and minds."

Meaningful experiences

In essence, the study revealed that today's young urbanites want to fill their lives with as many meaningful experiences as possible - seeing the world, maintaining a large network of friends and finding true love in the modern world - while gaining as much fulfilment from their career as possible. In this way, young urbanites cram as much as possible into their lives and are constantly aiming to better themselves.

King adds: "The key for brands to remember is that a young urbanite's life is a work in progress. They have high expectations, an optimistic outlook and a love of brands and choice. In order to win favour, brands need to tap into these expectations and show how they can help young people along their journey."

Another important subset of commuters is the City AM audience: an ABC1 daily readership of 100,000-plus workers from the City of London and Canary Wharf. City AM is currently presenting agencies and advertisers with the results from three new pieces of research: an online poll conducted with Igloo, a street interview survey of 530 readers conducted with Brandface, and a study of 111 of the readership's highest earners - those pocketing more than £200k per year.

According to Jens Torpe, chief executive of City AM, the newspaper has improved its readership profile in a number of ways over the past year. In the 12 months to May 2007, the proportion of management-level readers has climbed from 50% to 60%; the average income of readers has increased from £77k to £87k; and the average age of the City AM audience has increased from 36 to 38. Torpe says: "We have made inroads into the higher earners; we are now read by more senior people."

Early findings from City AM's online survey of 542 respondents, conducted in May, throw up interesting insights into the lifestyle of its 78% male audience. When City AM readers are not working - the most common professions are banking and finance (40%) followed by business services (8%) and media (8%) - their favourite leisure pursuit is eating in restaurants, as voted for by 90% of respondents. But not just any restaurant: preferably Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, named as the top restaurant of all time by 19% of respondents, followed by The Ivy (16%) and Nobu (14%).

Preferred brands

The affluent sector's preferred brands are, unsurprisingly, high-end names such as Tag Heuer (36%), Breitling (33%) and Omega (32%) for watches; Audi (63%), Mercedes (56%) and BMW (54%) for cars; and Chanel (36%), Prada (33%) and Gucci (29%) for ladies' fashion. However, the favourite men's fashion brands are less predictable: after bespoke tailors (41%) and Armani (36%), almost one in three (31%) respondents said their favourite clothes label was M&S Autograph.

Another surprise is the amount of media City AM readers manage to consume, given their long working hours. The group spends, on average, 81 minutes per day surfing the internet at home (where 88% have broadband); 46 minutes listening to commercial radio; and 98 minutes watching TV. The group's choice of films is also revealing: reflecting City AM readers' overwhelmingly male bias, the most popular movies of last year were action films and thrillers such as Casino Royale, Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others).

Meanwhile, CBS Outdoor, which has repositioned itself in recent years as a company with expertise in "capturing and captivating consumers on the move", is set to publish its largest piece of research to date in October/November this year: the £50,000 Britain on the Move national study, conducted with the Future Foundation, which aims to provide "a comprehensive picture of how consumers travel around Britain, and how social trends are influencing the nation's travel behaviour".

James Gough, project manager, says: "The rationale for this study is to establish a far greater understanding of the travelling public: insights into the behaviour, profile and attitudes of this audience."

With the number of daily passenger journeys into London alone forecast to rise from 27.2 million to 31.2 million by 2025 (TfL Transport 2025 report), the UK's commuter class is one that advertisers cannot afford to misunderstand.

- "87% of commuters prefer the Underground to carry advertising" - Source: CBS Outdoor

- "Commuters are 93% more likely than the average adult to worry about work during their leisure time" - Source: TGI 2007

- "90% of City AM readers voted for eating in restaurants as being their favourite leisure pursuit" - Source: City AM

- "There will be 31.2 million daily passenger journeys into London by 2025" - Source: TfL.

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