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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nanotargeting?

In the past, I've ranted a bit about marketers "over-targeting" to the point of stereotyping, with the effect of alienating a large portion of the customer base. In a recent book chapter I used the example of car ads that seem to cater exclusively to 24-30 year old males, yet in my real world travels I see plenty of 50-year-old women driving that vehicle. This tendency was just confirmed for me as I trawled the (apparently, only available, if you go by what comes up in a search) car forums online. A car that I would want/drive is (if you go by the online image) actually more suited for the "tuner" set of punks who subsidize vehicle purchases by paying zero rent to live with their parents. Actually, if you're online, it seems that nearly every car is owned or driven by these people. It makes you want to buy a Cadillac or a Buick Riviera just not to be associated with them.

Anyway, further to my quest to be nonplussed by ads I see on a daily basis, I opened the Globe and Mail yesterday to see a half-page green-and-purple print ad for E*TRADE touting Canadian investment RSP (retirement savings, similar to an IRA) accounts. The differentiator was fewer fees, so with the two-fifty you'd save every month, the premise is that your wealth will grow faster. Really.

The headline, in giant block letters, was:

GET THE SPORTS CAR BEFORE THE BALD SPOT.

Now I have no personal exposed skin in the game (no bald "spot"), so no personal animus. I like sports cars just fine.

Let's start with the logical problem of your wealth growing fast enough to get a sports car "before the bald spot" (whatever that means). The money is going into your retirement account. To keep it tax-sheltered, it must stay there. The idea is to keep it there until age 60, 65... something like that.

Moving on, I'm pretty sure they've also let out the entire female audience with this headline. By combining "sports car" and "bald spot" in the headline, they've deftly conveyed (ok, entirely transparently revealed) that their "research" shows the audience they're targeting is male. But by doing so, they just untargeted (turned off, however mildly) the women.

Now as for the premise that you're in a race against time to save up enough cash to get that hot car (you know, to impress the chicks), and the bald spot thing would really put a damper on your overall hotness and sporty satisfaction level. Male pattern baldness (MPB), which does not affect all men, typically starts to kick in around age 25 - or milder forms, after 30. That is to say, most MPB dudes are going to have a bald spot by age 28-32.

The "corporate promotions" announcement that happened to be right next to this ad actually showed a picture of a successful exec moving up the corporate ladder. He was late 40's looking, and had a full head of hair! For him, a double win! Any car he wants... *and* hair!

In essence then, the E*TRADE ad has decided to target youthful investors (suffering from potential MPB) who expect to be able to save enough to buy a $50,000 car (one dollar at a time, through lower fees), in time to beat the bald spot.

Target audience: high-earning males, age 22-24.

People alienated: all women, and nearly all men with money to invest.

Once again confirming to me that some of the people supposedly helping companies with advertising are hurting more than they help.

Someone might counter that the line was meant to be funny. But block letters
are rarely funny. Maybe a hilarious photo? Of some silly, oddly-dressed *old guy*? (Age 32?)

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