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A Marketing Lesson From The Most Depressing Magazine Ever

IMB_ReadersDigestI'm not really sure when I started getting Reader's Digest delivered to my home, or even if I subscribed to it. I am a sucker for magazines and always have been. So chances are I subscribed thanks to some sort of Grouponesque deal that I found online. Call it a marketing weakness, but if I get a magazine in the mail I can't help opening it. I always flip through – and I look mainly at the advertising.

The problem when I did that looking through Reader's Digest is that I started to get depressed. I mean every other ad is some sort of pharmaceutical reminder of my own mortality. There are vein problems, bone problems, heart problems, memory problems and all kinds of other stuff that will go wrong. And just in case that wasn't depressing enough, there's a full two page spread on how I can buy "government issued gold coins" for only $175 each. I'll stick with my government issued quarters, I think. At least they're only 25 cents each.

Still flipping through the magazine got me thinking about what a missed opportunity this is. Don't older people travel and stay at hotels. Don't they buy DVD players and digital cameras? Aren't they interested in new ways to connect with their friends and family online? Of course they are. But the ads in Reader's Digest are an example of the stereotypical way that many brands approach their marketing.

They assume that people in the older generation are only concerned about health issues, so that is what the majority of the ads focus on. The same thing happens with almost any demographic, younger or older, male or female. When everyone targets their advertising based on a standard demographic like age, they all land in the same place.  It is the single biggest reason why most marketing looks like noise.

In contrast, remember when the Wii first came out? It was the only gaming console that focused on families and moms instead of hard core teenage gamers. They stood out. It is an easy example since they had a game changing product (pun intended!), but the lesson is an important one. There is a real value to thinking outside the demographic. Not to mention it would make Reader's Digest a lot less depressing.

5 thoughts on “A Marketing Lesson From The Most Depressing Magazine Ever”

  1. Try reading Saga magazine it is more positive.
    However with that said readers digest is a profitable little vehicle, for me its the raffle style marketing that puts me off.
    Do they still do “it pays to enrich your word power” quizes?

  2. Good point. We shouldn’t generalize our market. Like you said, for the older generation, it is not all about sickness. We should try to learn and study more about our target market.

  3. Bravo and yes, indeedy. My website, MidLifeBloggers, has an audience that are Boomers and beyond. I just wrote a post today about branding in which I sent small feelers to smart marketers about how they could partner with my site: makeup, skin care, fashion, household goods, etc. etc. etc. Not a Depend or Erectile Dysfunction med in the lot. This narrow vision is a function of lazy analysis: it’s much easier to continue promoting the received vision of the 1950s then to actually market for the 21st century older generation. It’s maddening, frustrating and very stupid of the marketers. We are the people with the most discretionary income, after all.

  4. Social media and mobile marketing has taken governments down this past year. That’s a significant impact on society and not just the US. Readers Digest should stay current with the trends. The latest advances are being taught in major University s now.. Take a look at this top University’s advanced social media training curriculum to gain perspective.


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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