digital advertisers: stop targeting cultures by demographics in 2016

by: ashley osborne

i’ve been working in paid social media for about 8 months now. for 3 of those months, i’ve been promoting content from within the entertainment industry. paid social media is cool; you can build a targeted audience around engaging content, and you’re also paying for audience data that can help develop insights. before a single dollar is spent on a paid social media campaign, a well-developed strategy must be intact. developing a strategy requires an advertiser to explore, discover, study and learn about their target audiences. with over 70% of the united states’ population currently owning at least one social media profile, it’s vital that a strategist digs deep into their audience to discover the psychographics behind a user’s social media engagement. in 2016, it’s simply not enough to cluster people into groups, based on surface level demographics. the internet has broken barriers and boundaries between the ways we learn about the world around us. no two social media news feeds are the identical and 75% of all content we consume has been curated for our own personal interests.

for advertisers, the beauty of social media advertising is that we are now able to tap into the personal interests of our audiences and serve relevant ads to relevant people. facebook knows more about us than we sometimes realize about ourselves, and this allows them to better anticipate the content that you’ll take heed to from within your feed. no longer do you have to be located in china to learn about the history of the great wall; if you have an interest, you can feed that interest and develop that interest into a cultural knowledge. we are no longer culturally-confined based on our age, sex, race or location.

as the only black member of my team at work, it was interesting to me that none of my co-workers asked any me questions when it was time to advertise content with an “ethnic affinity” on various social media platforms. as a black girl who rocks and an avid social media user (+10 hours a day), i was able and willing to offer a first-hand point of view on urban and ethnic culture within the digital landscape. as i’m an entry-level coordinator on my team, i don’t spend a vast amount of time developing our campaign strategies or analyzing our campaign performance. however, i was surprised to watch my team follow-suit when our client had the not-so-bright idea to target all advertising efforts toward african-americans as the main demographic.

now, some people may read this and think, “ok, what’s the problem with that?” and that is what i’m here to address; to shed light on why this strategy is problematic and a poor investment, both for the way we think about people, within the world of social media, and ultimately, for your business.

first of all, it’s 2016! anyone who is still generalizing the elements that people experience and enjoy from within different cultures simply by their demographics is at least 15 years BEHIND the game and should consider taking a deeper look into humans and the internet in order to catch up with the times. there are no boundaries in the universe of the internet. digital advertisers must move past targeting by demographic and move into the space of analyzing people’s interests and behaviors. psychographics are dominating the social world. we have instant connectivity to people who tell live stories of diverse cultures and life experiences. thus, social media experiences are built around the user on a much more personal level, which makes an advertiser’s job more streamlined than ever.

spend money to put the right ads in-front of the right people. draw connections between human interests instead of solely using their demographics. realize that people are deeper than their demographics; we are creators, consumers and savants of our own unique and personal interests. i don’t have to be latina or hispanic to enjoy bachata music or learn about romeo santos. nor do i have to be african-american to enjoy rap music bars or a little rhythm accompanied by some blues. by limiting your audience by demographics, you ultimately limit your reach to the inside of a census box and miss people outside the box who may have a genuine interest and passion for your content. it doesn’t make $en$e to restrict your audience to the surface level of a human; after all, it’s advertising — we’re all about getting into the minds of humans. tap into the culture and discover the true audience that authentically connects with your brand. learn and observe the interests that transcend any physical barriers.

it’s no secret that social media is a game-changer. it’s definitely one of my favorite, vices one may say. it has broken boundaries that once restricted the media we consumed. in order for advertisers to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of this space, it’s important that we realize this shift of consciousness and start thinking of people in the most basic ways that make us individual and connected: our personal interests and experiences. learn these interests and guide your social media content strategies to connect with cultural affinities. otherwise, you’re just limiting your brand awareness, and ultimately wasting your budget in 2016. but you don’t have to take my word for it, just pull the audience size numbers of different interests from facebook’s data yourself.

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