The Ad Contrarian

I’m much more interested in advertising than I am in marketing. But there are always a couple of marketing people, I pay particular attention to. These are Byron Sharp and Marc Ritson. They are both professors and both work in Australia. Sharp wrote “How Brands Grow” which really is a wonderful marketing book.

Ritson is one of the most entertaining and practical speakers and writers on marketing you’ll ever run into. Unlike me, they’re not only bomb-throwing blowhards with highly held, ill-informed opinions. These guys know things actually. They acknowledge a lot of stuff regarding the clown show that is contemporary marketing.

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But there’s a very important factor, they disagree on — the value of segmentation and targeting. At the chance of mischaracterizing their positions, let me be clear that these are my interpretations and words, not theirs. And this is my dumbass distillation of their positions about them. Sharp thinks that in mass promoted consumer product categories segmentation and targeting are often vacant exercises.

Ritson thinks that segmentation and concentrating on are one of the essentials of marketing. Sharp’s argument is that for mass advertised brands, growth is a function of just how many customers you can acquire, which the ultimate way to acquire as many customers as is possible is to market to as many people as possible. Sharp will a good job of convincing us that one of the features of leading brands is that they have a long tail of light users.

He asserts that the best way to acquire a long tail is by speaking with everyone. Ritson argues that nobody can afford to reach everyone efficiently. He’d say that without segmentation and focusing on, strategy becomes dangerously nebulous and press dollars get sprinkled lightly everywhere rather than focused where they can do the most good.

I’m somewhere in the center. I’m a big believer in mass media. But my experience in the real world of company life trained me that is often not practical and that someplace along the collection the truth of budget constraints will interfere with the desire to speak to everyone.

In other words, every budget decision becomes a focusing on the decision. So the key concern is what’s the most efficient way for a significant brand to use advertising dollars to acquire new customers? I really believe the answer is among their positions someplace. Towards the extent possible media should be used.

But it should be tempered with a bias toward targeting heavy users of the category. So when focusing on and segmentation are employed they should be based on behavior, not demographics, psychographics, or any other thingographics. As Prof. Sharp points out in his publication, heavy users in a category tend to be promiscuous – they often times use several brands in the category. Consequently, there is plenty of opportunity to draw in new users to your brand from within the portion of the population that has already been mixed up in the category. For instance, the dominant maker of soda in the U.S. Coca-Cola. But Coca-Cola only has about an 18% talk about of the market.

This means that 82% of the time people who drink soda don’t buy Coke. It appears reasonable to me that the best use of one’s advertising money is to invest it against the element of the populace that wants, and participates in the category but is not changed into your brand.

This can be an argument in favor of segmentation. However, it is not so easy to identify these folks because in mass advertised categories like carbonated drinks they tend to be broadly dispersed throughout the populace. With this I agree with Sharp. While I would love to spend all my ad dollars centered on actual soda drinkers, and heavy using ones particularly, it’s hard to observe how you can put up a billboard that is seen by these people. That leaves me in between both professors.