Category Archives: drive-time zones

6 steps to save 31% of your advertising budget


If you spend $1 million on advertising each year, please don’t throw $310,000 out the window. Here’s a case study to show you how to stop wasting media dollars. Follow this path, your boss will think you’re a genius, and you will get more customers. It works for local, regional, and national advertising campaigns.

The map above shows a 25-minute drive-time zone around a retail location in Burbank, California. This is a basic estimate of how far people will drive, in a major urban setting, to get to a store. Now, let’s say this retailer was considering a promotion on cable TV. Here’s how the cable zones would overlay that driving footprint:


You can visually see the waste. Anything outside the yellow line is advertising spent on customers who won’t drive near your store. But how do you actually remove the waste? Take 6 simple steps.

1. List the ZIP Codes within each cable area, and the corresponding number of households
2. List the ZIP Codes only within the drive zone, and the households
3. Match the ZIPs
4. Create a business rule for how much waste you will tolerate — for example, any cable zone with fewer than 50% of households in the drive zone gets removed
5. Kill the cable zones in your media plan that fall below this threshold
6. Count up the before and after households, and you’ll see the savings.

Without this analysis, here is what a cable buy in the Burbank, Calif. area would look like. Mediassociates found that an untargeted buy from an inept media planner would spray 6.3 million households with cable ads, yet only 3.8 million of these homes would be in the driving range of the store — for 38.92% waste:

With a drive-time analysis, the cable buy would look like this: A targeted flight reaching 3.2 million households, of which 3.0 million are in driving range, for only 7.66% media waste. Cable zones highlighted in gray were removed from the media plan.

The lesson learned: If you have regional territories or retail locations, plot your media carefully. Doing so can save you 31% or more of your advertising budget. Without this media planning analysis, you might as well take one-third of your ad dollars and throw them in the trash.

How far will consumers drive to find you?


About 9 in 10 U.S. consumers drive to work, logging 3.7 billion hours a year plowing through traffic. This means if you’re selling something, chances are consumers will find you by car.

So if you own a retail store, theater, or coffee shop, you need to plot where your customers may come from. The best summary of drive-zone strategy we’ve seen is in Directions Magazine, which points to four basic approaches: radial studies that put concentric rings around your location; gravity models which consider the magnetic power of competitors who may pull customers to them vs. you; drive-time analyzes which plot driving distances in minutes via real roads, accounting for barriers such as rivers etc.; and customer-level data using point-of-sale information, customer databases, or prospect databases to determine precise, address-level spatial forecasting of store trade areas. Sexy stuff, eh?

We’re plotting trade areas now for several clients (the smartest data so far coming from a regional theater), but the client we really want to help is a little deli-coffee shop in a Mobil station off I-84 exit 14 in central Connecticut. These guys make the best breakfast sandwich in the world, created by a local cop and called the “Killer Miller”: Two eggs, hot peppers, onions, cheese, salt and pepper, and hot sauce, on a lightly grilled bun. They probably can’t afford media planners, so here’s a little gift for them: Readers, if you live in the map area below, you’re only 20 minutes from the world’s greatest deli. Drive on in.