It’s Not Whom You Reach, But What You Say
By Renny Tirador, President/Executive Creative Director
Just as too much wind can take the edge off a perfect golf stroke, too much science can take the creativity out of advertising. With the popularity of placing consumers into neat, descriptive boxes, it’s important to remember that advertising is both an art and a science. In fact, overtargeting is one of the reasons why many ad campaigns fail. Sometimes ad agencies and their clients get so caught up in conducting and analyzing research to determine the right target audiences that they overlook the importance of crafting the right messages.
While ad agencies should do their homework to target specific audiences, the assumption that reaching the right people automatically makes a campaign successful is far from the truth. Today, many business owners are frustrated with the results of their advertising campaigns because they try to make them purely a science. The fact is that successful campaigns are those in which advertisers and ad agencies focus on working together to create the right messages.
The average consumer receives 3,000 verbal messages per day, but some messages cut through the clutter and resonate with recipients. Is this because these messages reach the right people or because they say the right thing? After 20 years in the advertising business, I’m convinced that it’s not whom you reach, but what you say.
When it comes to targeting consumers, the key methods of market segmentation – a priori and post hoc – have inherent flaws and gray areas. Breaking out consumer groups into generally accepted classifications through a priori segmentation is generally effective, but it has pitfalls. Demographic data is often too broad in scope; geodemographic data usually lacks specific details about individual households; household-level data may not be updated frequently enough; and psychographic data is difficult to target and may be subject to stereotyping. Likewise, purchase groups change so often that data obtained only a few years ago may not be true today.
To form post hoc market segments, researchers must select the right variables to create reliable baseline studies. Variables such as product usage patterns and brand preferences can be tracked, but others, such as brand loyalty and price sensitivity, are less predictable.
Clients may have large budgets for conducting market research, but there are some circumstances in which segmentation is not useful. For example:
- The target audience is so small that marketing to only part of it is not profitable.
- The product category is a commodity that does not have distinct advantages over the competition.
- One brand dominates the marketplace, and all users make up the relevant set that would be targeted.
- A few frequent buyers generate most of the sales volume, and they are the only relevant target.
Once advertising agencies and their clients agree on how to obtain market data and conduct the research, they can spend a great deal of time analyzing the data before deciding on a campaign strategy. Too much data or lack of agreement about how to interpret the data can paralyze action and stall programs in the research phase.
One way to move the campaign forward is to focus on the key messages. There is still something to be said for a simple, stand-out tagline, stunning photography and powerful graphics. A campaign that lacks pizzazz may be backed up by dozens of pie charts showing that it’s reaching the right consumers, but it will likely fall flat.
When a creative team is caught up in a web of research, it can find its way out by remembering that consumers are more alike than they are different. Creative genius transcends market segments. Ad campaigns with the right combinations of images and words create emotional connections to products or services and seal them in consumers’ minds. They rise above the thousands of messages competing for attention and become top-of-mind brands.
Renny Tirador is president and executive creative director of OutOfTheBlue Advertising, a full-service advertising agency located in Miami that helps companies with all aspects of brand development. The agency’s diverse creative team consists of professionals with more than 20 years of experience in the South Florida advertising, marketing and media industries.