Off Target

P&G made headlines last week when they announced they would be rebalancing their Facebook advertising spend away from targeted advertising. “We targeted too much, and we went too narrow”, as chief marketing officer Marc Pritchard put it, concluding that Facebook targeting was useful for time-specific advertising (like nappies for new Mums) but ultimately lacked efficiency. P&G’s TV ads, like the 5-Star Thank You Mom, speak to everyone. But its Facebook spend was way too specific.

thank you mom

At BrainJuicer, we’ve made no secret of the fact we aren’t huge fans of heavy targeting as a marketing practice. As a behavioural intervention it makes sense on paper – if you genuinely can guarantee that you can reach someone just as they’re about to make a relevant decision, why not get your brand in front of them? This is what makes Google Adwords such a great product, since search is as good an indicator of relevance and decision imminence as you can find. But targeting based on interests and histories – which is what most digital targeting boils down to – does not meet that criteria.

But the real reason we’re suspicious of digital targeting-based strategies is that they make one huge, and misguided, assumption.

They assume that the people who are interested in your brand, or heavily invested in your category, are its main source of growth and profit. Instead, in most categories, it’s light users and casual buyers that drive brand growth, because there are simply so many millions more of them than heavy users. Automated targeting tends to exclude these people – indeed, it’s designed to exclude them. So P&G are right: it’s not a winning strategy.

This question – how wide do you cast your net? – has implications well beyond marketing. It also affects the research you do, because of how people make decisions.

We believe that everybody approaches consumer decisions in the same basic way. For the vast majority of choices, their fast System 1 makes judgements which their slower System 2 backs up with available evidence. The key factors in these System 1 judgements are Fame (how easily an option comes to mind), Feeling (how happy it makes you) and Fluency (how recognisable it is). Building up your Fame, Feeling and Fluency – making yourself an easier, faster, happier choice – is the key to growing your brand.

What does that have to do with targeting? Our work suggests that the 3 Fs simply don’t vary that much by subgroup. There will be minor variations, but in general, if something comes readily to mind, is recognisable, or makes people feel good, that applies across most demographic divisions.

As a brand you are simply much better off investing to increase your overall Fame, Feeling or Fluency than you are trying to target one sub-section of the market. That’s why the research tools BrainJuicer uses work best with as wide a sample as possible, and why we generally don’t think close targeting and subgroup analysis helps brands much.


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