Rural King truck graphics by TKO Graphix

I’m a 62-year old male. I blog and use social media for a living. My work, entertainment choices, and shopping habits don’t fit the accepted behaviors for my age group, being the boomers generation. One of my co-workers is a millennial, and nearly every time she reads something about her “demographic,” she takes umbrage with it. And yet advertisers continue to base ad campaigns on age demographics. The coveted male 18-34 demo is another example. Common sense should inform us that most 34 year old males have little in common with 18 year-olds, but it’s deeper than that.

Targeting Behavior is the New Demographics

Gauging demographics by age in advertising is based on outdated criteria. During the demographic heyday, 40 years ago, it was a vastly different world. There were less media choices for consumers — periodicals, radio, and only three TV networks. Product choices were also more limited. I recall my parents’ grocery carried two brands of peanut butter and one type of white bread. Lifestyles were more conformed and predictable; those who lived outside the norm often hid it by following the prescribed expectations for their demographic. This is not the world we live in today. Demographics seldom fit the buying habits of consumers.

In the JD Power White paper, The Death of Demographics (PDF), they clarify the point:

“Demographics have proven ineffective in pinpointing a buyer’s functional need. Consider a married, college-educated, 59-year-old white male with total household income in excess of $150,000 per year. This consumer might fit the demographic profile of the typical sports car buyer. But what if he takes his two grandchildren to preschool every day? Rather than a two-seat sports car, he would need a different type of vehicle that suits his particular need: one with more than two seats and possibly four doors, and perhaps a midsize sedan or crossover would be his target model. Clearly, this consumer would not fit neatly into an aggregated profile.”

Today’s media is fragmented, lifestyles are across the board, and product choices are nearly infinite. Traditional demographics don’t consider career changers, gift purchasing, or the adult child who’s moved back home. Behaviors such as buying habits and media consumption are better predictors than someone’s age. Shared interests and affinity groups tell us more than the year someone was born, and we have the ability to track behavior more than ever. Gathering information such as recent purchase history, website visits, and advertising viewed gives a clearer picture of consumer preferences than demographics ever did. If you want to know what someone will do in the future, look to what they’ve done in the past — not their age.

What indicators do you use for your marketing and advertising strategies, and how do you use them?

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to this blog or join us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus, and let’s continue the conversation.