Why ‘If It Bleeds, It Leads’ Is Actually Good for Local Advertisers

    by D.J. Cavanaugh
    July 20, 2016

    The following piece is a guest post from CivicScience. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.

    Local news organizations have been pegged with the “if it bleeds, it leads” descriptor for years. The reason, quite simply, is the evidence at hand. Local content tends to be focused on fires, tornadoes, shootings or salacious acts by prominent figures.

    But local news outlets have reason for this style of content – it works. The more salacious, the better the ratings.


    Ratings show consumers are watching, but do they really like the “rubbernecking” kind of news that sometimes feels, well, in bad taste? CivicScience has been studying media habits of U.S. consumers for many years. Recently, we heard from more than 4,500 U.S. adults about the type of news content they are most interested in seeing/reading/hearing.


    By far, the most popular answer was breaking news such as crime and fires. OK, so if the news organizations are giving the consumers what they want, what’s the problem?


    Well, perhaps the advertiser has standards of taste and is potentially worried that association with rubbernecking is bad for the product or company brand.

    Maybe the advertiser would be better off focused on categories of content that are less bloody, like lifestyle, entertainment and events news. So the advertisers might try a niche publication or website, something that doesn’t bother with the breaking (bloody) news of the day. But remember that lifestyle and entertainment can include stories about the Kardashians. Not such a far cry from a train wreck.

    Taste is a mixed bag, whether your news stories are at a local or national level. Highbrow advertisers can miss a big opportunity avoiding the local outlets, for a few reasons.

    First, breaking news of BOTH the local and national level is often something consumers go to their LOCAL outlets to access.

    CivicScience discovered this recently in a survey that asked people where they go first for the day’s biggest headlines, the ones that everyone will be talking about tomorrow around the water cooler.

    Of the 94 percent of respondents who say that breaking news has some or much importance for them, local news sites are in close competition with national news sites. Talk about a value! Most advertisers wouldn’t have the ad budget for a national buy, but the content feed isn’t so different (both local and national news outlets provide breaking national news) and it would seem that the consumer is almost as likely to learn about it from a local outlet as from a national one.


    “National News” outperforms “Local News” by 5 points, sure, but with major events like terrorism, national politics and other “national” breaking news, the fact that “Local” achieves 41 percent is very impressive. This is good news for the local stations and their advertisers. The advertiser’s brand is likely to be associated with the top news of the day nationwide – what everyone is talking about – and not necessarily the sad or senseless local tragedy that the news station may have cheapened with sensationalism.

    And there’s a second, potentially more important reason local advertisers might want to keep an eye on the potential of local advertising. Consumer preference for local goods tracks with a love of local outlets.

    CivicScience learned this by taking its research a step further to also ask the question “How important is it to you to shop at locally-owned establishments?”

    This following graph shows how people who answered one question (Where do you typically go first for breaking news?) were likely to answer another question (How important is it to you to shop at locally-owned establishments?).


    There were nearly 7,000 common respondents to the two questions, and the data clearly shows a strong correlation between a go-to-local-news-sources-first answer and a stated desire to shop at locally-owned establishments (84 percent).

    This finding shows that local media consumers – those who go first to their local news stations for all kinds of breaking news, even national breaking news – are more likely than the general consumer to believe in supporting local businesses.

    So, if you’re an advertiser and your ad rep suggests a new run of ads, and you feel like telling him/her to shape up the content to be less sensationalist, remember that the research supports more crimes, more fires, and less lifestyle, less trends. These outlets are trying to give the customers what they want, both viewers and buyers, and they have increasingly valuable ways to test what’s resonating.

    Local media outlets have seen a continuous decline in national advertising spend and rely greatly on locally-owned business for their growth. But they also have a lot to offer advertisers – a venue that provides national news as well as local, and a customer base that’s committed to shopping locally.

    Finally, advertisers should remember that breaking news is LIVE and that means that the viewer has usually not “time-shifted” the program to watch it later on their DVR and skip the commercials. If you’re an advertiser, you don’t want to be skipped over. Local may also be more on your side in terms of skip-proofing. That’s a lot of reasons to keep local on the radar when it comes to the ad buy – perhaps the increase in business will help advertisers stomach some of the goriest local coverage.

    D.J. Cavanaugh is the senior vice president of business development at CivicScience, responsible for helping the company grow sales to publishers and marketers looking to gain deeper consumer insights to help grow their business. Prior to joining CivicScience, DJ spent 15 years as President & CEO of Matrix Solutions, the leading media-specific CRM, data and reporting platform for media outlets and network sales organizations. DJ also has extensive experience working directly in advertising sales, with experience in both Television and Radio sales management. DJ is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

    Tagged: civicscience local advertising local news

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