Niche versus Mass Marketing

Let’s talk a little more about “Niche Marketing” and how the Internet plays a role in a wide and deep marketing strategy.

Almost 30 years ago the Ad Council, along with Keep America Beautiful, featured an ad campaign focused on the pandemic of littering across the nation. If you’re old enough you’ll immediately recognize what I am talking about when I mention that a Native American tears up at the end of the commercial. You might even recall the tagline, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it.”

Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody, the star of the environmentally-aimed PSA, even garnered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The campaign lasted almost 20 years.

Considered a noteworthy success, the ad captured an emotional, real issue with cultural America and managed to personalize the call to action so effectively that it essentially burned an image in our collective mind’s eye.

While not as emotionally stimulating, the “Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” toilet paper advertisements were a fun, guilty pleasure launched in 1986. Who didn’t recognize Mr. Whipple? And more importantly, who didn’t purchase one roll of Charmin, at least once, during those 20-plus years?

For that matter, who hasn’t heard of “Smokey the Bear?”

The point in citing these historic ad campaigns is to let you in on a secret. In spite of much of the rhetoric you read or hear today, mass marketing still works. Whether in radio, television or even in print, capturing a great idea and launching it to the masses can – and often does – have appeal. Of course, it’s not limited to past endeavors. Nike, Coke and Microsoft come to mind. The price point for a large ad campaign can be a significant investment. But the exposure of the campaign can have considerable impact.

A simple, single message consistently applied with every exposure to the brand.

But what of the flip side?

While large ad campaigns can have great mass appeal, they have certainly lost steam in direct correlation with unbridled Internet growth. Every year you see more advertising budget allocated to finding the next new thing; the next widget or online marketing innovation. And, at the same time, you see ad dollars for broadcast television and radio shrink.

The main reason for this exponential explosion online has been because of two main elements: the demand for marketing accountability, tied intimately to the measurability of Internet use – and the ability to speak specifically to individual users, tied to several types of tracking and analytics but mostly to consumer behavior and data mining.

The Internet offers the ultimate in a Niche Marketing experience in which you can personally speak to individual tastes on a colossal scale. Wide, deep and measurable. It is ostensibly an unbeatable combination.

At first glance it seems as though I am trying to play two hands here. How can a strong, single message marketing campaign survive in light of the niche marketing developments online? And, the converse, how can the niche marketing in a growing yet underdeveloped cyberspace have the impact of broadcast? One seems to argue that only the distinct, specific, single message will survive. Yet a couple of sentences later, Niche Marketing is promoted as a reasonable expectation for survival.

Well – what if I told you both premises are true and untrue at the same time?

Here’s the caveat that allows this to be the case: While permission marketing (the concept that by gaining the user’s interactive acceptance you’ve somehow accelerated the relationship), web consumer behavior tracking, and data mining is the next phase in advertising and marketing that speaks personally and “connects” with the consumer, it is by no means an exact science.

That is, with broadcast you know the commodity and what the payoff is. And so, even though goals are much more rudimentary in terms of what you seek with broadcast – a sheer numbers game – you at least know where you stand. You know that exactly this amount of people saw your advertisement.

With the web, things get much more nebulous. You can generate traffic, but what does that traffic mean? And more than that, does that meaning translate into real dollars?

Ultimately, both methods are reaching for building a better brand experience that satisfies the target’s emotional connection with your product, and in turn creates affinity and opportunity for awareness and financial rewards…be it through heartfelt images like a Native American saddened by the reckless abandon of a nation, or through a social network that allows you to comment with friends across the world.

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