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Why Only Stupid Marketers Use Age As A Demographic

Sometimes I can’t resist a post that will result in a few irate responses. This is likely going to be one of them. It is essentially about my distaste for something that I have seen far too many marketers blindly rely on … age statistics. Just about every web site that tries to sell advertising reports on the age stats of their visitors. Television programs report on their ability to reach wide demographics whether it is the "coveted" 18-34 males or moms from 25-44. Let’s face it … this is a pretty idiotic way to report and to target for lots of reasons. Here are just a few off the top of my head:

  1. People are age shifting and not living lives based on their ages.
  2. The top end of a demographic (34) has almost nothing in common with the low end (18).
  3. Age demos leave out influencers, gift buyers and others for whom a message may be relevant, but don’t fit the age requirements.
  4. Focusing on age can take you away from emotional or relevant benefits.
  5. People lie about their age all the time.

Now let’s focus on a secret that smart marketers already know. Age doesn’t matter. What matters is relevance. Of course, there are some types of messages that work better for teenagers and others that work better for moms. But my argument is that if you find the right 25 year old that thinks like a teenager, or a 36 year old mom (who may technically be outside your age demographic), then that’s a good thing. So here’s my open question … should marketers stop thinking about age demographics and refocusing on methods of targeting that actually matter such as interests, affinity groups, location, and others?

23 thoughts on “Why Only Stupid Marketers Use Age As A Demographic”

  1. Hi Rohit,

    Very interesting post indeed.

    Infact at my employer, we have already stopped talking to “18 – 34” and are trying to come up with a new way to segment and target customer based on lifestyle and interests.

    It is still under development and yet it is delivering awesome results.

    Hope to share once things take shape.


  2. It’s not just the websites that sell them, it’s the advertisers who ask for that demographic when buying adspace. Or perhaps not advertisers, but the middle men on their behalf.

  3. Great point — and the fact that I’m here reading and commenting on your blog post just goes to show how very differently people within the same age demographic are thinking. I probably have much more in common with the 30-year-blogger than I do with the average college student in terms of how I spend my time, but marketers still try to pigeonhole us into the same category based on age.

    -Teresa, UC San Diego student, age 19. (Not that it matters.)

  4. I think that it’s mostly a matter of information availability – every media channel’s already reporting on age, so marketers use it.
    As more information on audience/consumer interests (what you call “relevance”) becomes available, smart marketers use it gladly.

  5. I agree with Elad that sometimes the issue is that age is a data point that is reported on so people end up using it because it is there. If smart marketers stopped using it (and I for one think it is completely useless) then the media folks might wake up and start tracking something different.
    April (who is WAY older than Theresa – not that that matters)

  6. I like how blunt the title is. We need more “Why Only Stupid Marketers” posts, not to hurt people’s feelings, but point out things that are widely done and don’t make sense.

    I was at StumbleUpon’s campaign launch tool the other day, and noticed that integrated with the site’s list of interests, it lets you choose very specific interests to target.

    We don’t often enough see the “faces behind the demographics”, and that ends up reducing people to numbers… and then they aren’t people at all.

  7. I would say age by itself maybe insufficient information to deploy a strategic marketing campaign. However, coupled with other demographic and psycho graphic information can be a powerful tool for a marketer. Think of pharmaceutical or healthcare industry. If they are trying to promote a particular drug or an aged defying lotion or something of that sort, they need age as one of the primary factor to determine their target market.

    Samuel Thimothy
    VP, Sales and Business Development

  8. Hi Rohit,

    Great post. Age has always seemed a silly way to differentiate people. Not sure why anything thinks a 35-year-old male and a 45-year-old female are magically different than they were one day and one demographic data box earlier. Who they are, and how what you say/do/offer, is what counts.


  9. I agree that it is myopic to rely on age alone to segment the consumer base, especially given how much information about consumers is available via various media channels nowadays. Perhaps back in the days when TV and radio were the only channels to connect with consumers and the means of collecting consumer data were equally limited, setting a broad demographic category like age group worked – clearly, this approach is long outdated.

  10. Right on here Rohit! Even if marketers are going to take age as the be all end all segmentation device, they’re clearly not looking at the world around them. The boomers who were once their target audience is well beyond ‘impulse’ purchases and far into long term planning, while at the same time, the Millenial generation is a completely new and must be targeted differently audience. Relying on ‘traditional’ marketing techniques no longer work. Age factors rank right at the top of that list.

  11. I agree with you that the broad use of age as a demographic is irrelevant. Not only that but I really have always had a hard time with it anyway.

    That said, age can have significant relevance once to the message once you’ve determined your market. For instance, if I’m targeting snowboarders in Vancouver (which I do), the message will differ based on age for the best results. If I speak to 13-18 year olds the same way I speak to 30-40 year olds, it’s not likely to have the same effect. Further, if I speak to the over 50 in the same voice, the message becomes almost entirely lost.

    It’s about micro-segmenting and it’s the way to generate the best results whenever possible. Of course, with broadcast and traditional media that is becoming harder and harder to do, and I think that’s what accounts for less and less budget being allocated there, at least in my case.

  12. I feel you Rohit! This is so outdated, it’s not even funny. I, most of the time, wonder how, in this day and age, with so much information available, marketers still focus on something that does not matter… and I’m even more surprised at the high positions these same marketers hold. Seems to me they’re out of touch…

  13. I completely agree with this article. It is one of the most infuriating things about targeting and it is largely irrelevant. Many people have commented that we use age demographics because it is a readily traded piece of information, particularly across media. I would also suggest it is because it is easy to define and collect, and a lot of marketing professionals are lazy. Age will continue to be used as an ‘important’ demographic until we say we are not interested and ask for some more compelling insights like mindsets for example.

    Time for me to practice what I preach and let a client know that the research project I am working on will not include age segmentation (gulp!).

  14. Carry out marketing based on relevance? Are you mad, man? That’d mean people would have to do their jobs properly, as opposed to taking the “one size fits all except the ones we don’t care about” approach. Now where’s the fun in that? 😉

    Great post, obviously – here’s hoping marketers take notice.

  15. Carry out marketing based on relevance? Are you mad, man? That’d mean people would have to do their jobs properly, as opposed to taking the “one size fits all except the ones we don’t care about” approach. Now where’s the fun in that? 😉

    Great post, obviously – here’s hoping marketers take notice.

  16. Great post and so very true. I get an email and a text from my GRANDMA daily. Interactive media has definitely stretched the old assumptions of age being a key demographic and dictating how people act/buy. Just saw a relevant article go up on Marketing Vox today about how Youth is no longer defined by age:

    Thanks for the great post.

  17. Age is becoming less important? True. And something all marketers are – should be – aware of.

    Age matters sometimes. On other cases, the most part in fact, psychographic variables are the key. It doesn’t matter if it is a twenty-year-old but some behaviours that make the individual a target to our site/company.

    Lisbon, Portugal


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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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