May 2, 2015

The end of demographics – don’t give up on them just yet

Ever since I started working in marketing (some 15 years ago), there have always been articles popping up now and again about how demographics just aren’t relevant any more and that instead we should think about more diverse and exciting ways to group and understand people. Well, as with any categorical statement, it’s possible to find some things which jiggle around and make the situation appear less black and white.

Let’s start with some examples of products which are explicitly going for a particular demographic. I have found a rich seam of manifestations in Romania, perhaps as there is less interest in playing around with established stereotypes and more of a need to establish those stereotypes in the first place to ensure the right type of consumer becomes your customer. There’s a yogurt brand in Romania with the fabulous name of Zazu Max, as well as a beer brand, Bergenbier which has campaigned for a ‘Man’s Day’ to balance out the existing Women’s Day. And of course we mustn’t forget Yorkie, which has had a bit of a troubled relationship with its ‘for men/not for girls’ stance.

And when it comes to women, it’s not even clear that businesses are even able to target them correctly, let alone move on from thinking in terms of gender. The recent This Girl Can campaign from Sport England comes to mind, which has demonstrated that talking to women about physical activity can involve taking a very different approach to the sleek and slick approach which many sports brands use. All the chatter and excitement This Girl Can has raised demonstrates that bothering to properly understand women and address them in a way that resonates with their true concerns is still important. And I haven’t even got started on the never-ending ‘real beauty’ stories which Dove is using to engage women.

Age is another interesting area. Here some of the standard statements which tend to get trotted out might say we don’t act our age anymore and thus age-based approaches aren’t relevant; and then again, we also hear that there is a dearth of advertising which shows older consumers for what they are. Instead young models, who alienate rather than inspire, always crop up.

There have recently been a rash of adverts which do show women d’un certain age and which don’t try to pretend that being of that age is anything other being of that age. L’Oreal has used older women to general acclaim. Or perhaps we are in fact seeing this ageing trend going too far and it’s working in reverse, where ‘elderly models’ are used to make younger oldies feel more sprightly. The below quote from a recent Guardian article on the Celine advertising using Joan Didion explores this idea:

“Much of the appeal of Céline’s campaign lies in the fact that it speaks to the label’s key target market – affluent women in their 40s and 50s – who appreciate the fact that they are open-minded and edgy and educated enough to get it. These women are sick of being bombarded with images of dewy-skinned youth, and will drink up suggestions that 80 is the new 18. Céline’s campaign is classy, of course, and respectfully celebrates a woman its creative director admirers. But there is something about the wider trend for casting older women to make middle-aged and younger women feel great that feels rather cynical.”

As someone who is now getting close to undeniable middle-agedom, I know that I should be paying more attention to those wrinkle cream and hair dye adverts. I need to acknowledge my own demographics.

I can't ignore the sands of time

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