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CBS Wants To Kill Demographics, Marketers Should Help

IMB_CBS_DavidPoltrack "There is no link, none, between the age of the specified demographic delivery of the campaign and the sales generated by that campaign."

You would expect a conclusion like that to come at a consumer rights type of event. Perhaps even at a social media event with marketers who are fighting the status quo and encouraging others to think differently. But when this point of view comes from CBS Corporation's Chief Research Officer David Poltrack – it is downright revolutionary. At an event earlier this month, Poltrack presented findings from new research that he conducted along with Neilsen that challenges some very long held assumptions about not only TV advertising, but about advertising and marketing itself.

Among the conclusions the report shared – according to an article in AdAge:

  • "Reliance on the 18 to 49 demographic is hazardous to all media and marketers, partly because it doesn't strongly correlate with purchases and partly because it's declining fast."
  • "A growing amount of data that matches audience measurement with purchase information shows that using demographics to target commercials is 'essentially invalid,' Poltrack said, 'resulting in a misallocation of television advertising investments.'"

It has long been a dirty little secret in marketing that the targeting that is used throughout much of media buying is based on information that is readily available instead of information that is most important. As technology starts to bridge the gap and offer better insights into consumer behaviours, attitudes and intentions – why should the industry still rely on old and outdated demographics to determine where and how they spend on media?

Apart from a few situations (like targeting 18-19 year olds because you know many of them are preparing to head off to college, for example) age based demographics ARE completely useless. Social media and digital advertising has already been leading the way with methods for buying media that are inherently more focused on behaviour (keyword text advertising) or attitudes (targeting by interests on Facebook). It's about time that marketers had similar options for a more sophisticated way to target who they want to reach through other mediums such as TV.

The temptation from the industry may be to dismiss this research from CBS as being self-serving or flawed in some way. The smart marketers will get behind it immediately. Ultimately we all should.

6 thoughts on “CBS Wants To Kill Demographics, Marketers Should Help”

  1. This article struck me as a little Onion-esque. I’m sure others noticed the Chief Research Officer’s last name – “Poltrack.” Great stuff.

    Anyway, I think the definitive “no link, none,” – and the trailing “none” is helpful here because I almost missed the meaning of “no link” initially – is at the very least overstated.

    Or perhaps the idea that simply throwing an ad up in front of a bunch of 25 – 34 year olds will somehow ensure a specific sales number is the real problem here. I’m sure there have been companies that went with a similar strategy (and many ad execs), but haven’t most folks moved on to understand that TV or print advertising is only the first step in what is now truly a sales process?

    I can’t think of a single product I purchased in the last 10 years because I saw it in a clever ad on TV. But I will say that the clever ad, which presumably was aired during Adult Swim for a reason, made me aware of the product in many cases. This in turn led me to research the product online – both for price and user reviews – which ultimately resulted in a purchase decision.

    Now I’m sure Mr. Poltrack has regression after regression proving no correlation between demo targeting and sales numbers. Great. Maybe that analysis is dead-on, but it misses the point. There is value in understanding the make-up of a specific audience that will in turn, at some point, increase the likelihood of your product selling.

    So the idea that targeted demo advertising had no link… none, in the process of selling me a product is simply overstated.

    Maybe I’m the outlier. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  2. I agree with you, Chris. I do not think you are an outlier on this one.

    I agree that to say that there is no link is over simplifying the point. While the post does state there are a few specific cases, the kids heading off to college example, I think age demographics do have their place. Age demographics is certainly not a be all and end all, but can be a significant starting point for narrowing down your target audience and the medium you choose to reach them.

  3. This is a very interesting post. I am a strategic communications major and in most of my marketing classes we learn the importance of targeting to specific demographics. I can definitely see how this type of targeting is outdated, especially now in the era of social media. As social media continues to popularize, I agree there will be a decrease in demographic targeting, and an increase in behavioral targeting.

  4. I agree that demographics aren’t always correct, however there have and will continue to be fortunes made by those who use “criteria” to “aim” thier makreting dollars carefully choosing the market, media and message. At the same time there will be billions lost by those who are foolish to believe it’s all “dying” – choosing your target always helps, it’s just not always as accurate as we marketers would like it to be.


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