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Yahoo and OMD Unveil Findings of Internet Deprivation Study

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Yahoo and OMD today unveiled the findings of an Internet Deprivation Study examining consumers’ media habits and their emotional connection towards the Internet.

All participants in the qualitative portion of the study found living without the Internet more difficult than they expected, and in some cases impossible, because the tools and services the Internet offers were firmly ingrained in their daily lives. Participants found that many daily activities were impacted and impaired, including booking travel, checking sports scores, communicating with friends and family, and paying bills. Nearly half the respondents in a complementary quantitative study indicated they could not go without the Internet for more than two weeks and the median time respondents could go without being online is five days. The detailed findings of this Internet Deprivation Study will be discussed in-depth today at a Yahoo/OMD joint event for marketers at The Harvard Club as part of New York’s Advertising Week.

“This study is entirely indicative of the myriad ways that the Internet, in just ten short years of mainstream consumer consumption, has irrevocably changed the daily lives of consumers. This is true to the extent that it was incredibly difficult to recruit participants for this study, as people weren’t willing to be without the Internet for two weeks,” said Wenda Harris Millard, chief sales officer, Yahoo!. “Deep ethnographic research like this enables us to do much more than look at consumer trends, it allows a rare glimpse into the reasons consumers make the choices they do and how they are emotionally impacted. We can then help marketers apply these insights to reach their target audiences.”

The qualitative portion of the study, fielded by Conifer Research, consisted of an ethnographic study in which participants chronicled their lives without the Internet for a period of two weeks. The study provided a deep view into the emotional connections consumers have with the Internet as the medium that helps them drive their lives. Regardless of age, household income or ethnic background, all participants in the ethnographic research study experienced withdrawal and feelings of loss, frustration and disconnectedness when cut off from the online world. Users described their time offline as ‘feeling left out of the loop,’ having to ‘resist temptation’ and missing their ‘private escape time’ during the day.

A complementary quantitative study was fielded by Ipsos-Insight and showed the Internet as the communications and research medium of choice. In the quantitative portion, 48 percent of Ipsos-Insight study respondents indicated they could not go without the Internet for more than two weeks. The study also further illustrated the concept of the “digital divide,” as three quarters of respondents agreed that the Internet gave them an advantage over those who did not have or use the Internet, such as lower prices, quicker service and more convenience.

“This study demonstrates that a disconnection from this networked channel can create a buzz worthy of ‘The Sopranos’ on a Monday morning,” said Sean Finnegan, director, OMD Digital. “OMD is already implementing the insights gleaned from this simple yet non-intuitive study into our Checkmate planning process, enabling the brands that we represent to further capitalize on their audience’s use of new media.”

The participants’ reactions were captured at different stages throughout the two-week study period and supplemented with video and written diaries. The video diaries captured the behavioral, emotional and cognitive changes that occurred during the deprivation period. Three key themes emerged from the study: ‘the Internet security blanket,’ newly developed and managed social networks, and comfort with use in the workplace.

Internet as Security Blanket

“The Internet has become a major part of my life. Every day of life without the Internet is frustrating.” Glecia H., study participant

“We couldn’t plan a weekend getaway.” Kim V.

Internet users feel confident, secure and empowered. The Internet has become, to some, the ultimate symbol of modernity to the point that participants were hobbled without convenient access to routine information like maps and telephone numbers. The pervasive nature of the Internet is such that participants often forgot or lost the desire to use “old fashioned tools” like the phone book, newspapers and telephone-based customer service.

The degree to which consumers find Internet tools and services pervasive in their lives indicates that marketers can use this as an opportunity to integrate consumer’s online experiences with their offline environment. For example, the study showed that participants researched detailed information on products during their decision-making process before going to the store to make a purchase. The Internet afforded them the opportunity to comparison shop, research features and find out if items were in stock.

A 21st Century Social Network

The survey findings demonstrate that a larger circle of social networks have developed as a result of Web access.

“I haven’t talked to people I usually talk to and have been tempted to go on instant-messenger because I feel out of the loop,” said study participant Kristin S.

“I’m starting to miss emailing my friends — I feel out of the loop,” said study participant Penny C.

According to the research, communications figured most prominently in the withdrawal process, demonstrating a new social network paradigm. The study shows that the Internet affords people the ability to overcome time and distance and to manage communications with a larger social circle, thereby creating an effortless community. Participants in the study found they missed the ability to exercise control over the pace and content of communication with different layers of friends and families. As a result, during the deprivation period, participants’ outer circle of relationships suffered.

This new form of community enables marketers to reach consumers through a medium where they are deeply engaged in one of life’s most basic tasks – communication. This deep engagement with the medium for socializing and community extends to other activities online, thereby giving marketers key opportunities to reach consumers.

Internet in the Workplace

“I miss the private space the Internet creates for me at work.” Kim V.

“I’ve been taking physical breaks instead of online breaks at work. The difference is that I can’t get right back into what I was doing,” said Ryan V.

Participants used the Internet to condense everyday activities and shorten the time and effort required to do things from looking up a phone number to finding directions and keeping track of bank balances. The Internet afforded participants the ability to move quickly in and out of their roles between work and personal duties. Without access, they felt exposed in their everyday working environments. Despite the fact that they may need to call friends to make arrangements or read the daily newspaper to find out news, participants expressed that they looked unproductive and lazy to their colleagues when engaged in these activities using traditional means. The Internet helped them conceal these activities and helped them do it much faster. Additionally, Ipsos-Insight poll findings indicated that 47 percent of respondents felt the Internet made it easier to manage personal and professional relationships.

The survey findings provide additional insights to marketers that the Internet offers multiple entry points into a consumer’s day, giving them a unique opportunity to tailor how they reach consumers. The multiple touch points indicate the need to communicate the right message to them based on a time they will be most receptive to that message.

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Yahoo and OMD Unveil Findings of Internet Deprivation Study
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