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Dear advertisers, it's time to say goodbye to stereotypes

The media industry is evolving at a rapid pace. New technologies are changing the way that brands, agencies and content owners interact with their audiences. These changes are also calling into question legacy practices. One tradition that’s long overdue for retirement is the continuing reliance on audience stereotypes. This has become a flashpoint for the industry in 2019, driven in large part by Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules that came into force in January and were recently enforced against two adverts that were deemed to trade in harmful gender roles. 

It’s true that for too long, our industry has fallen back on old tropes and assumptions such as “men watch sports, like beer and play video games” when focusing the creative and buying strategy. We’ve likely always known that the world is more nuanced than stereotypes allow, but with more data available than ever before, we can now clearly see how limiting these stereotypes are. For example, regarding the above-mentioned male stereotypes about sports and video games, our data shows that 41% of visitors to sports sites are female. Further, only 55% of video game console and accessory buyers are male. That’s a far cry from the common perception that men represent the vast majority of the sports and gaming audiences.  

As someone who has devoted his career to helping measure advertising’s impact, I believe data is critical to making smart decisions.  

A great example came from Comscore’s own recent research, titled 'Stereotypes in Advertising: a help or a hindrance.' A typical advertising “truth” is that older, high income individuals in full time employment are the ideal target audience for luxury items. Since luxury items are more expensive, individuals most likely to buy them have high purchase power, which often correlates with increasing age. Seems obvious, right?  

The data tells a more complicated story.   

While there was an obvious correlation between household income and luxury shopping, life stage and age appeared to challenge the traditional stereotype. Looking at age, it turns out that largest spike for luxury conversion one occurred for adults between the ages of 30 and 34, remaining high for adults in the 35-44 age range. 

So, whilst brands, advertisers and content owners who focus on 55+ will be reaching a valuable audience, they will actually miss out on reaching their top converters by not prioritizing (or even excluding) the 30 – 44 age range. For any brand, that’s simply leaving too much on the table. 

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Let’s continue looking at the second part of the stereotype, and how it demonstrated another missed opportunity. The assumption that those in full-time employment are the most likely candidates to buy luxury goods missed the mark. As it turns out, part time workers were actually the biggest converters when it came to buying luxury goods. What’s more, homemakers came out on top for luxury shoppers. This could suggest a number of things, including that the spouses of wealthy executives who either stay at home or work part time are doing the real browsing and buying of luxury goods.  

The lesson? By targeting ads solely to high-income executives, you are likely to be missing out on potential revenue from other groups. 

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What does this mean for marketers and media companies? Ultimately, it’s time to walk away from relying on the supposed collective wisdom that underpins stereotyping. While legacy stereotypes might have been an effective form of targeting in the past (and even that’s debatable), today’s consumers have evolved beyond that. They’re too savvy, and they won’t hesitate to call out brands they feel have strayed from the correct path. Saying goodbye to stereotypes means leveraging the vast array of data available to brands, agencies and content owners. Looking at advanced audience indicators such as behaviours, interests, preferences and affinities will help ensure you reach the right audience and make the most of your advertising budgets. Those who don’t risk critically falling behind.  

Guido Fambach is executive vice president for EMEA and APAC at Comscore  

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