The Demographics Debate

By Jeffrey Hunter, Consultant

Demographics seem to be under appreciated in marketing and market research these days. There are any number of articles and conference presentations with fairly provocative titles. The magazine Marketing Week named “post demographic consumerism” one of its 2015 trends.  A brand planning/research conference presentation held several years ago was titled “Not Demographics”.

The arguments against demographics in marketing and market research are fueled by the digital age and big data. Media planning and brand segmentations can now be driven by individual behavioral data. Demographics may still be relevant to traditional TV planning, and media plans that include print and radio, but even these are evolving; think of the trend towards programmatic TV advertising buying, which focuses on the audience rather than media platform or low cost impressions. Segmentation schemes become much more dynamic in this world, and it is easier to identify changes in behavioural preference and respond more quickly than is the case with demographics. “Real time segmentation” has entered the vocabulary.

There is grudging acknowledgement that demographics still have relevance for certain media and in certain product categories, but it is not a topic that generates excitement.

The Short View & The Long View

Marketing and market research have a long history of forcing false dichotomies and discarding useful things; proverbially “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” This may be another such case.

A review of most of the articles and presentations that argue for the new world at the expense of the old seem focus on the relatively short term; next week’s deals, next year’s media plan. But these are not the only purview of either marketing or market research. While short term “wins” can contribute to long term success, it is equally true that the choices we make for our longer term strategy have an impact on what we can achieve next quarter and next year. This is one area with ample evidence that demographic variables are still essential.

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