I often read free magazines targeted to specific sub-groups or demographics, specifically those that I don’t belong to myself. I find that it helps me understand different perspectives (even if I do get weird looks reading them at coffee shops), but it’s also very interesting from an advertising and marketing perspective to see the advertisements targeted to these groups.
One thing I’ve noticed is, especially with these magazines, it’s very easy to tell who created an ad specifically for the target market and who used one of their regular ads.
Realtor ads in magazines targeted towards the LGBTQ community that show a happy heterosexual couple.
Restaurant ads in magazines targeting Hispanics showing a group of non-Hispanics dining at the restaurant.
Especially when next to ads that are very targeted to the target market, the generic ads seem like a half-hearted attempt to connect to the target audience or that you don’t understand the target audience, which means it very likely will cause more harm than good.
Plan and budget advertising design for specific target markets
If your company plans to advertise in spaces for specific sub-groups or demographics, be sure to include in your budget and project management plans the necessary time and resources to develop specific ads that speak to the target audience. It may sometimes be as simple as changing a photo, but if you want to be truly effective, you need to start the development process from scratch and develop something that specifically speaks to the target audience.
On a recent trip to London, I entertained myself on long tube rides by analyzing their advertisements. What struck me most was the lack of diversity in their ads. Here I was, in one of the top 10 most diverse cities in the world, and about 90% of the people featured in ads where Caucasian. This reminded me of the advertising diversity conundrum that we all face:
Do we utilize people who will sell the most for us and not worry about representing who buys our product?
Do we accurately represent the population where we are advertising?
This stance usually means, if 33% percent of people in the population are one group and 40% another, then 33% of the people in your ads should be of the first group and 40% of the people in your ads should represent the second group.
Do you make sure and represent as many diverse groups as you can in each communication?
An example of this stance in execution: a college recruiting brochure should have one person from each racial group, one person that is a non-traditional age, one person with a disability, etc. Another recruiting brochure should have a similar mix.
Do we do some form of combination of the above? Or something else?
But it gets even more complicated than that. Some particular diversity in advertising conundrum questions I’ve faced in my career:
– Where is the line as to which groups should be represented? By putting one student, who was Native American, in one ad over the course of one year, we were over-representing the number of Native Americans who attended the college I worked at. But if we hadn’t included him, the Native American population would have been underrepresented.
– “Non-traditional” age students don’t respond less to ads with only “traditional age” (18-24) students in them. But traditional age students are less likely to respond to ads of non-traditional students. So, should we still put non-traditional age students in ads?
– I once conducted a focus group at a university where a student complained that, by representing every group in all of the recruiting brochures, the university had falsely given the impression that the campus was incredibly diverse. He was very disappointed when he arrived and found the campus a lot less diverse than he thought based on the brochures. Should the university stop this practice?
– It’s hard enough to get students to show up to photo shoots, how do you responsibly and ethically get a diverse mix of students to show up?
– What about other forms of diversity that are valuable, but hard to see in a five second ad? For example, veterans are an important part of every college campus, but usually don’t go to class wearing their uniform from when they were in the service. How do you accurately represent them in your ads?
These are not easy questions, but they are questions we all grapple with. How do you handle representing diversity in your ads? Which philosophy do you think is best?