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Within Reach

  • December 3, 2001, 12:00 AM EST
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I am stuck on the Hollywood Freeway on a cold, rainy day behind a Land Rover with blacked-out windows and a cartoon decal on the back that shows a snarl ing kid taking a whiz. I expect to be staring at this yup mobile and its juvenile automo tive art—a surf wear logo, I believe—for at least another 45 minutes.

Which gives me plenty of time to reflect. And I realize the four-wheeled pain in the ass in front of me might give some clues about the real reason a lot of advertising doesn't work.

Advertisers know all about fragmented media. They don't know enough about fragmented consumers.

For sure, they recognize that we have endless choices. That we are in control of the ever-multiplying array of media we are exposed to every day. But what's needed is real insight into how that choice and control change us.

They change us the same way they have changed the media. We are demassified.

This, of course, is why marketing to demographics doesn't work as efficiently anymore. But the obvious response to that—crafting media plans and creative based on lifestyles—is equally futile. Because each of us is now a market of one.

Companies trying to reach the guy in the Rover might look at his demos and lifestyle and buy time on A&E or sponsor a tennis tournament. What they ought to buy, judging by what he sticks on his luxury sport utility vehicle, are Saturday morning telecasts of surf contests in Maui.

Or look at me. Demographically, I'm not even worth spending money on. In terms of lifestyle, you might think to entice me with an on-premise bar promotion. But if you knew more about my mind-set, you'd know that on Tuesday nights I am the opposite of my demo or lifestyle cohorts. I am, in fact, a fanboy, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And don't even get me started on the musical episode, because I'll break down and cry.

If you knew me as a demassified individual, as a market of one, you'd forget my penchant for dimly lit bars and bad scotch. You'd ignore the gray in my hair and the extra pounds. You'd advertise on a TV show only 12-34s are supposed to like.

All the talk about relationship marketing and one-to-one communication is just vapor, because those concepts are mostly honored in the breach. Under the current model, buys must still be made by demographics. Research must still strive for results in aggregate.

With all the vaunted technology that advertising brings to bear, we still haven't really figured out how to reach people as individuals. How to reach them through their minds instead of their demographics or their lifestyles. Through what they care about instead of what they're supposed to care about.

Optimizers won't do it. Focus groups are mostly just exercises in creative collective lying.

Perhaps media people ought to act a little more like creatives. Get out on the street. Talk to people. Pay more attention to the "outlyers" on both ends of the tabulation charts. Borrow some of the account planner's tricks.

Or maybe just make some phone calls and see what people put on the back of their cars.