Personally, I love to spread a thin coat of paste on the cpu. Maybe it isn't the smartest/best way, but for right now..... it is my way. I wouldn't recommend for anyone to do it that way because of the potential air pockets over the pea method, but I've never had problems with overheating using it (If it ain't broke for you, don't fix it).
The 'Pea Method' might get majority of the votes on how to apply compound. No, not all the methods aren't the same.
You are 100% correct, the thicker TIMs like for instance IC Diamond, respond best with the pea sized method, to naturally spread under pressure with if possible no air bubbles.
Thinking that method is air bubble free though, can be a serious false illusion, if there is a small air bubble in what's actually injected onto the CPU, that you are unaware of.
When you see website testing they don't bother to tell you how many seating attempts they made before they took their pictures, have you ever considered that?
It may have taken ten seatings to get that perfect footprint which you assume you'll get the first time, my advice is, apply, seat, pull, and inspect the footprint so you know exactly what's going to happen underneath your heat sink.
Thinner TIMs like for instance Artic Cooling MX-4 spread extremely easy and do not require the clamping pressure the thicker TIMs do, and is an excellent candidate for the pea for AMDs large heat spreader or BB or BB+ sized method for Intels 1155 size of heat spreader, but you still need to inspect the footprint before you put it into operation.