Definition of Demographics and Uses in Advertising

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One of the most important goals 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 target 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 isn't always that easy. What if you have a product or service with a 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 has ever done.

At this point, demographics can play a huge role in your campaign. You can use them to focus yourself and target a specific segment of the population — one that will give your ad campaign the best bang for its buck.

Before you do that, dive into the nuts and bolts of demographics first.

Basic Definition

Demographics are used in advertising, marketing, research, politics and many other areas of business 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 or gender
  • Generation: This is important in the digital age, especially if you're targeting certain groups like Millennials, who are very savvy on social media.
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status: Married, single, separated and divorced people tend to have different spending habits, so this information can help push your campaign in the right direction.
  • Number of children
  • Nationality
  • Income: Income levels will tell you just what kind of buying power people have and give you insight into the kinds of things they buy.
  • Education level: The highest level of education received by people in the group. This can also provide a window into how and what people buy.
  • Homeownership
  • Place of residence
  • Occupation: Some advertisers ask for specific occupations while others may group them by industry.
  • Pet ownership
  • Political affiliation
  • Religious affiliation

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 can be used for a number of different purposes including in advertising. The information and data can also be used for political, social, and cultural purposes.

Target Audience Based on Demographics

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, the target audience. This is where demography 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 this is approached:

  1. A specific person is created. This is deemed the best approach. 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 picture very easily, and create a campaign to appeal to this man. The hope is by appealing to this man, you appeal to a certain segment of the population.
  2. Using information about a general target audience. This is considered an acceptable method. 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 to 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.
  3. The worst possible way is to consider everyone a target. 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 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.

Using demographics in the preceding 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.

Using Focus Groups

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 the actual users of this product are younger, single, and the race is no issue. By targeting the wrong demographics, the campaign funds can be depleted quickly and the advertising can fall on deaf ears.

That's why you'll want to test the product early on different demographics and use this information to dictate the target audience of the campaign being created. Many advertisers do this by hosting focus groups. This is a diverse group of people made up of different demographics chosen to test and discuss a product before its launch.

By leading a focus group, you can talk directly to customers to see how they feel about a specific product or service before it's available to the public. You should make sure that participants are opening up and fully engaged in order to get the best possible reaction, otherwise, you lose value in their opinions.

But 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.

The Bottom Line

It just isn't enough to say that your product is "good for everyone." Even before your product or service hits the market, you'll want to test it out and collect as much data on who it best serves. Go through the demographics of your target market and define your customer. Only then will your campaign, and product, be a success.