February 12, 2014

Cats Who Want To Be Dogs

Today we'll be chatting about one of my favorite subjects: stupidity.

Typically my stupidity rants center on digital stupidity. But today we'll be talking about good old-fashioned traditional stupidity.

A significant part of what I am doing these days is trying to explain to marketers the silliness of ignoring people over 50 (they are responsible for almost 50% of consumer spending, but are the target for about 5% of advertising.)

A perfect example of this occurs in the automobile industry where the facts and the practices are in complete opposition.

People over 50 buy 62% of all new cars, but are not in any auto maker's media target. Auto makers typically buy 18-49 years-olds or 25-54 year-olds.

In other words, auto sellers direct about 100% of their effort at 38% of the market and about 0% of their effort at 62% of the market.

Even more remarkable are "youth cars" like the Ford Focus, the Toyota Scion, and the Chevy Cruz. These cars are targeted at 18-34 year-olds. And yet 18-34 year-olds buy only 12% of these cars -- 88% are bought by older people.

When I describe this anomaly to marketers and agency people, I often get the following response: "Yeah, but older people want to be like young people."

Now, this may be true -- I doubt it*, but it's possible. But it's irrelevant. Here's why.

Let's say these folks are right and older people want to be just like young people. That is still no reason to target young people. Young people don't buy cars. Showing young people in an ad is one thing, but targeting young people makes no sense at all.

Let's create an analogy.

Let's say we want to sell milk to cats. Cats love milk and they drink 90% of the milk. Dogs don't buy much milk. They only buy 10% of the milk.

But here's the catch: cats want to be like dogs. So the way to convince cats to drink our brand of milk is to tell them that dogs like it. Okay, maybe there's some logic here.

But why would you target dogs? Targeting dogs misses the milk drinkers -- cats. We are confusing message strategy with media strategy. Maybe we need to show dogs drinking our milk in our spots to influence the cats. But in order to influence the cats, the spots need to be seen by cats. Not dogs.

In the same way, even if it is true that older people want to be like young people, the message needs to be seen by the people who buy cars -- older people.

This is not rocket science. It's not even kindergarten science. It's fucking logic and it is completely lost on the dimwits who call themselves marketers.

* This may be the oldest and perhaps dumbest  fairy tale about older people. Do older people want to be youthful? Yes. Do they want to be like young people? No. This is a crucial distinction which seems to be completely lost on marketers. People over 50 have their own idea of what it means to be youthful, and I promise you it has nothing whatever to do with Justin Beiber, Miley Cyrus or the young, hip doofuses we are bombarded with in advertising.


Tim Latham | Schools Marketing said...

Firstly, I love your posts.

But on this point I suggest a contrarian to the contrarian view. If you know that 88% of these cars are purchased by older people then presumably that figure comes from research carried out by the car makers or at least is a figure readily available to their marketing departments? One could interpret 88% being sold to older people as rather successful marketing so is it possible:
1. they know they have a large "older" market
2. their marketing & targeting is working to help them achieve 88% older sales - so keep on doing what your doing, if it ain't broke don't fix it.
3. adjusting even the targeting more towards older people might alienate those older people because they want to see themselves as not driving a car targeted at "older people"

Who knows where the truth lies but 88% to older clients sounds pretty good and these are cars that are selling in some volume.

Just a thought.


JNJ said...

Yes, people over 50 buy a lot of cars. But they also buy a lot of cars FOR young people. Bratty teenager sees car ad, wants car more than anything and hassles mum and dad until they buy it. It's like advertising toys for kids. Kids don't buy toys. But they see toy ads, WANT toys and scream and stamp their feet until their parents buy the toys. I have no stats, but I wouldn't be surprised if over 50s bought the most kids' toys. Does that mean we should target more kids' toy ads at them?

Jim said...

We occasionally stumble over the truth but most of us pick ourselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. Churchill

Jim said...

If over 50s are buying their kids cars are they most likely buying them second hand cars?

Culturally do millennials seeing owning a car differently to baby boomers?

Or is it because they don't have the cash or credit ratings?

Or is it just too easy to say you don't want something because you cant afford it?


kylerohde said...

Bob, I think your points are valid, though I have to correct your saying that the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze are "youth cars". Those cars are part of the C-segment of cars that is the prototypical family car in Europe and though they're not that in the US, the segment is growing and being purchased by a wide audience, and the targeting reflects that.

Scion is a sub-brand of Toyota, not a car made by Toyota, but that one most definitely was targeted to Gen Y and has been a huge failure, with the average age of the buyers somewhere in the late 40's and a product strategy that's miles from where they started.

Again though, I agree with what you're saying. I can't remember the last time I saw someone over the age of 50 driving a car in an ad, besides the occasional celebrity endorsement like John Slattery with Lincoln.

Andy said...

I'd sign up to buy pretty much any car if it came with a guarantee that I wouldn't have to see any more media tripe about Justin Bieber :)

Don Marti said...

It's not that marketers ignore older people, it's that _legit_ marketers ignore older people. The kind of bottom-feeder marketers who buy scammy Facebook ads pay plenty of attention to older people.