Eileen Davidson on a recent Soap Opera Digest cover

Eileen Davidson on a recent Soap Opera Digest cover

I got into a spirited conversation about soap operas last weekend in Montauk with a bunch of old friends. They were surprised to hear there were only four soaps left on the air, and asked me, “What happened?” (I wanted to just hand them my book “Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter” but I thought that would be rude.) A big discussion followed that dovetailed into advertising, and I desperately tried to change their minds about soaps and viewer age.

Sensing defeat, I zeroed in on Brock Bair, who has had a long career in marketing and advertising and is currently Chief Marketing Officer of SmartLunches.com. But his main claim to fame in OUR world is that his mother named him after a character on The Doctors (Brock Hayden), so who better to turn to?

Okay, Brock: Why don’t soap execs value people over 54?

“I wouldn’t say they don’t value them,” he responded, “but the most valuable group for advertisers is people in their peak earning years with the most discretionary income.”

Which is considered to be ages 18-34, then 18-49, and lastly 18-54.

“Media outlets are selling access to the attention of a certain audience, and some are more valuable on a macro basis than others,” he added.

A macro basis?

“Meaning, ‘I’m putting my wares out there to the world and I know there are more people who want to buy what I’m selling in the 18-34 audience.’ That is considered peak earning. That doesn’t mean there aren’t companies who want viewers over 34 – or over 54 for that matter – but there just aren’t as many.”

I completely disagreed with that, as you might imagine. I think people in their 30s are struggling to build careers and families and actually have LESS discretionary income. By their 50s, most people are well into their careers and their kids are grown. Shouldn’t that be the most desirable ad target?

“It’s supply and demand,” replied Brock. “Advertisers think, ‘I can charge more for that audience, therefore it makes sense for me to try and mold my product to that group.’ Soaps tend to skew older as a culture. It’s a saleable audience, but not the most in demand.”

That’s bold talk for a guy named after a soap character.

“All viewers are valuable,” Brock clarified. “It just depends on who is trying to sell something to them.”

“Soaps are an interesting case because they were created for nothing but advertising,” he added. (Hey, maybe he did read my book!) “They were little operas between the ads for soap, and it worked.”

I then asked about the rumor that advertisers don’t want older viewers because they think they are set in their ways and won’t change their buying habits.

“I don’t think that’s true anymore,” he said.

I cited tooth whitening toothpaste as an example of a product that didn’t exist when 50 year-olds were growing up but is now in every medicine cabinet – what about that?!

“The problem with your questions is you’re trying to apply global rules of thumb to specific situations,” he tried to explain. “When a network says they want to attract an 18-34 demo, that’s because there are more companies trying to sell to that age group so there is more demand for that advertising.”

Which I still don’t get. Look at Eileen Davidson, currently the hottest thing on Daytime starring on TWO soaps (as Kristen on DAYS and Ashley on Y&R) at the tender age of 55. And Jeanne Cooper (Katherine) was one of the most popular characters with young people during her entire run on Y&R. What about that?!

Brock had grown weary of me by that point, and I realized I was trying to hold him accountable for all the short-sighted network execs who canceled soaps before their time because of some wrong-headed numbers game. (Katie Couric couldn’t possibly have drawn a more desirable or loyal audience than All My Children and One Life To Live. And don’t even get me started on reruns of Jeopardy in OLTL’s old time slot.) So, I let him out of the head lock (ha!) and asked for something positive to end on.

“If you consume things,” concluded Brock, “you are valuable.”