Definition and Usage of Demographics

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One of the most important pieces of any advertising campaign is aiming it correctly. At the end of the day, brilliant dynamic creative work and high-end budgets are wasted if they are targeting the wrong people. If you're in the business of making the best, and most comfortable, motorcycle seats the world has ever known, you know just who you want to connect with - people who ride motorcycles.

But life is not always that easy. What if you have a product or service that has much broader appeal? After all, everyone eats food and drinks water. Then, it's not so cut and dry. Aiming an advertising campaign at everyone is an impossible task unless you have an enormous budget and a media buy that would dwarf anything Coca-Cola or Nike have ever done.

At this point, demographics can play a huge role in your campaign. You can use them to focus, targeting a specific segment of the population; one that will give your ad campaign the best bang for its buck. But first, let's quickly dive into the nuts and bolts of demographics.

Basic Definition

In advertising, marketing, research, politics, and many other areas of business, demographics are used to target a specific segment of the populace. Traditionally, demographics provides information based on factors that can include, but are not limited to:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Income
  • Education Level
  • Occupation
  • Marital Status
  • Home Ownership
  • Nationality
  • Pet Ownership
  • Place of Residence
  • Political Affiliation
  • Religious Affiliation
  • Number of Children

The number of factors used in demography, the study of demographics, can vary greatly depending on the kind of research being done. Therefore, this list can grow considerably, be more focused on certain factors or subsets, or can become much broader.

Demographics in Advertising

At the beginning of any good advertising campaign, there is a strategy meeting. At this meeting, there will be discussions on the product or service being advertised, the budget, the timing, the tone of voice, research findings, and of course, target audience. This is where demographics comes in.

A target audience in a creative brief is essential for any campaign. The creative advertising agency MUST know who the product or service is going to be marketed to. There are usually three ways that this is approached:

  1. A Specific Person is Created - BEST WAY
    Using data from the research, information from the client, and an analysis of the product or service, a specific target audience character is developed. For instance, when selling a certain type of beer, a target audience may be created focusing on a man called Jack, who is: 36 years old, has a beard, works at a car plant, has a wife and two kids, drives a truck, loves barbecues, listens to country music, and plays pool in his spare time. This is someone the creative department can very easily picture, and create a campaign to appeal to this man. The hope is then that by appealing to this man, you appeal to a certain segment of the population.
  1. General Target Audience Information is Used - ACCEPTABLE WAY
    It is not as good as creating a specific target audience because it is hard to have a conversation about the product or service with a broad spectrum of the population. For instance, men aged 28-45, with a full-time job, a car or truck, into sports and music. It opens up the conversation to way too many people, and as such, the campaign can suffer from being too generic.
  2. Almost Everyone is the Target - AWFUL WAY
    Sadly, this is not something you ever want to see in a creative brief. But, that doesn't stop it from making an appearance. Very few account directors would dare write "everyone" under the target audience heading, but they will find ways to include almost everyone. It can go like this:
    Primary Target Audience: Men and women who do grocery shopping, between the ages of 18 and 49. Low to middle income.
    Secondary Target Audience: Anyone else who shops in grocery stores, between the ages of 8 to 80. Any income level.

    That may sound far-fetched, but that is lifted from an actual brief that was written for a well-known frozen food chain in the UK. That helps no-one. Ideally, you want to be able to sit and think of the exact person you're advertising to, right down to how they dress, what they smell like, and whether they take sugar in their tea. Generalization helps no-one.

    Utilizing demographics in the preceding two ways can highly impact the success, or failure, of an advertising campaign. If the research is incorrect, or the assumptions a little off, the demographic information can actually cause a campaign to crash and burn.

    For instance, research may suggest the product should be aimed at older white males who own their own homes and are happily married. But, in actuality, the testing of the product or service produces significantly different results, showing that the actual users of this product are younger, single, and race is no issue. By targeting the wrong demographics, the campaign funds can be depleted quickly, and the advertising can call on deaf ears.

    For this reason, it is often wise to test the product early on different demographics and use this information to dictate the target audience of the campaign being created.

    However, it should be noted that although focus groups can help determine the kind of people who will use the product, or what they would do to improve it, focus groups can play havoc with actual advertising campaign creative. Often, they are too small a segment of the chosen demographic to give an adequate response, and may often be swayed by a poor focus group host, or an overly-aggressive member of the group.