Video and Death by Demographics: SXSW

This year’s SXSWi was again amazing, despite the long lines and the lack of sleep that pervade everything. I was particularly inspired by a session I attended on Monday Morning called “Death by Demographics: Killing Off Your Ad Budgets” with Ann Zimmerman from WSJ, Joe Magnacca from Radio Shack, Todd Morris from Catalina, and Bonin Bough from Mondelez (Oreo). Bonin was the highlight of the session, making jokes that had the whole audience in stitches. But as someone immersed in the branded video realm, I couldn’t help but feel that there was a final conclusion about video that the panel didn’t get to.

The brilliant theory that was the focus of the session was the idea that demographics — the bedrock of advertisers for decades — don’t work that well anymore. A thirty-eight year old female might be a small business owner and a twenty-five year old male might be a stay-at-home dad depending on their background. Bonin called it “culture vs cluster”, explaining that the culture of the person you are marketing to is far more important than their age, gender, and other demographics.

Brand advertisers have much better data at their fingertips nowadays than they did in the heyday of demographics. Consumer chatter on social media, purchase history, and other trackable metrics can shed much better light on what individual consumers want. The job of the marketer is to use that information to create a relationship with the consumer, to create content that is relevant to the consumer.

The panel did talk about video media, and their take on it was that traditional television advertising was a necessary evil. TV ads aim at demographics, you can’t track them, you have no idea if people skipped or ignored your ad, but when you combine television advertising with more targeted marketing you can increase the overall ROI across those platforms.

The panel also talked about how well video fits the culture model. Video is inherently cultural — more cultural than any other form of marketing. And yet they are still relying on demographics in video. Why? Because that’s all they think they can get with broadcast television.

Online video provides brands the opportunity to specifically target the culture of the people who buy their product. And by the very nature of entertainment, those people are ten times more likely to share entertaining videos with other people in their culture than any other piece of marketing material. Clearly, the next step for brands that are marketing by culture instead of demographic is to use video the same way.

Some brands have already done an excellent job of creating video content that marries their brand with an emotional, cultural message that viewers flock to: BMW’s The Hire series, Degree’s The Rookie, Kmart’s First Day, Intel’s The Beauty Inside, and my favorite, Hell Pizza’s Deliver Me to Hell. I’m looking forward to the next great video stories coming, not from Hollywood, but from my soon-to-be-favorite brand.


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