Audience Research

Before an agency can target an audience they need to know who the audience is and what their likes and dislikes are. There are many different ways of defining an audience, from the simple ABC of UK social class (whereby the C2Ds are the 'mass market'), to the streets where people live, or an elaborate lifestyle classification system such as VALS.

Advertisers need to classify individuals as belonging to a group, in order to be able to discuss them, or analyse their needs. Audiences can be classified by age, as in this example:

Or by income - here are some of the advertisers' acronyms from the 1980s (when labels ending in 'ie' were all the rage) which have crept into common parlance:

Yuppie Young Urban Professional
Yummie Young Urban Mother
Dinkie Dual Income No Kids
Sinkie Single Income No Kids
Minkie Middle Income No Kids
Poupie Porsche Owning Urban Professional
Swell Single Woman Earning Lots of Loot
Guppie Green-sympathising Yuppie
Bobo Burnt Out But Opulent
Woopie Well Off Older People
Jollies Jetsetting Olders With Lots of Loot
Glams Greying Leisured Affluent Middle Aged
Deccie DIY decorators who drag, stipple & marble
Slappie Stripped Pine Laura Ashley People (-???)
Dockney East Docklands (ie paid a lot of money for their flat) London Yuppie
Tweenie Between 5 & 12 years old
Grey Panthers Senior Citizens with opinions
Empty Nesters Couples whose children have grown up and moved away


For a 21st century profile, check out this story from The Observer on Geezers, Britain's newest category of consumers.

Identity Through Brand Choices

Another way of categorising consumers involves taking a couple of their key brand choices (car, phone) and predicting their behavior and tastes from these. Thus Mondeo Man comes to represent the "everyday man in the street", and generates a lot of newspaper column inches, particularly around election time.

Sometimes the profiles built up by companies can be quite denigrating and scathing towards consumers, like the 12 reductive categories in this leaked Phones4U marketing document. Are you happy being described as a potential iPod Babe or Top Gear Tiger?

Are You A Top Gear Tiger or an iPod Babe?- The Register

Then come classifications by ethnicity, location etc. One system, known as ACORN (a Classification of Residential Neighbourhoods) defines target audiences based on the type of housing in that street.

Once an advertiser has decided which category of audience they are trying to reach, they must gather data on that category's behavioural choices, employing a mix of psychology, anthropology, sociology and statistics, thus turning advertising into a science, of sorts.

Audience research is a vital part of any campaign, and is these days a painstaking and complex process. Research must take into account current and predicted trends, consumer values and how these drive popular culture. The world is constantly changing - changing family structures, the level of average incomes, and globalisation all have an effect on what people can and will spend their money on. Audience research is the start of any marketing campaign, as manufacturers ask the question "What will people buy?" rather than asking "Will they buy what we sell?".

Research Techniques include

Biographies— some agencies create a biography of the target customer of the product they are campaigning for, detailing his or her education, status, lifestyle, aspirations and attitudes towards the world they live in. This is an extension of the Personality Type theory of Jung which suggests that there are normal differences between the attitudes and behaviours of healthy people, simply because they react to stimuli and process information in different ways. When advertisers create an ad they talk as though directly addressing that one consumer and their needs. Quite often the ads will feature a model who resembles the target consumer - or a slightly more glamorous and successful version of who they perceive themselves to be.

Diaries — it is common practice to get test groups to fill in a diary detailing their media (and other) consumption habits over a period of seven days. Whilst this produces a snapshot of listening, viewing, reading (and eating) habits, it is only as reliable as the test subject. The diary system known as RAJAR is used to measure radio audiences in the UK, but there is dissatisfaction with this, and electronic metering devices (such as wristwatches) look to be the way forward.

Market Research Companies - before targeting research about a specific product, agencies will check the data about general trends in the population as gathered by research companies such as MediaMark. The items people purchase on their storecards, or using points-gathering cards such as Nectar give information on consumer habits which can be used by big market research databases.

Questionnaires - the simple Q&A format which asks a set of questions designed to indicate likely choices. Read more here. Institutions such as the Stanford Research Institute pride themselves on the scientific nature of their questionnaire approach, and offer a "consumer psychographic segmentation system [which] offers a rigorous and scientific treatment of the psychological differences and similarities between consumers and analyzes how these differences and similarities affect consumers' choices". This gives agencies information about who they are advertising to, and where and how they may be reached by advertising.

Media Buying

As well as indicating appropriate content for advertising, research dictates media planning - which media will the ad appear in, and how many times.

Advertising Media - A comprehensive overview from Hairong Li, Michigan University

Further Reading