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« Bad for Your Mental Health | Main | Guest Posting -- Rick Darby »

August 25, 2003

They Know Too Much


I picked up a weird but interesting magazine over the weekend: American Demographics. It’s subtitle: “Consumer Trends for Business Leaders” describes the editorial content; the ads are mostly for companies offering what is termed “geodemographic segmentation.” One of its stories, “Street Wiser” describes how this works:

Gwen St. Clair can tell you exactly who puts the worth in Fort Worth…As special features manager in the ad department at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, St. Clair’s job is to help 40 or so advertisers—cosmetic surgeons, swimming pool builders, high-end audio entertainment retailers and the like—comb through the 240,000 daily circulation base…and beyond, to identify the crčme de la crčme among readers and non-readers in the nation’s seventh largest market….[T]his is where Panache comes in. Panache is the Star-Telegram’s lifestyles magazine, created to allow advertisers to zero in on affluent readers…Panache has been around for about six years, but it struggled at an anemic 16 pages until February of this year. At that time, it shifted from ZIP code to address-specific distribution along newspaper routes, landing at the homes of only those residents with incomes in the $100,000-plus range. The May and June issues suddenly swelled to 40 pages, thanks to a host of newly enthused advertisers…Selective insertion [a la Panache] is still [restricted to] a few pioneering newspapers, but the Star-Telegram’s unique use of it is due in large part to a market segmentation system—Claritas’ PRIZM—that offers the mailbox-by-mailbox specificity [that] Panache advertisers so crave.

Well, the next time you get some direct mail or other advertising that seems to know exactly who you are and where you live and how much tread life remains on your right rear tire, you know who to thank—or blame. (Well, at least you do in Fort Worth, although I must admit that Gwen St. Clair sounds a lot like the fake name some shady broad would use in a hard-boiled detective story.)

And let's not forget our favorite vendor, Claritas. Even though it's the dominant player in the geodemographic segmentation market with roughly 67% market share, it is by no means alone; its competitors are, in some ways, even more “sophisticated”:

Acxiom positions its Personicx system as the best for capturing purchase motivation and intent behavior related to key life stage changes, while AGS/Experian attempts to cobble an advantage for MOSAIC clients through aggressive alliances with media-consumption and purchase behavior researchers like MRI, Simmons Market Research, Scarborough and Media Audit.

Those alliances are aggressive, or so I imagine, in layering what is known about your purchasing and credit history on top of your neighborhood, educational credentials, and anything else a total stranger may want to take note of before pitching you to buy something.

And…get this…our friends at American Demographics are interested in blogs and those who read them! (Isn’t that hitting close to home?) According to a study commissioned by AD with research firm Ipsos-Reid, only 17% of American adults are aware of blogs, and only 5% claim to have read one. The awareness of blogs skews towards men; 21% of male Internet users report they’re hip to the blogosphere, while only 13% of women are. Financially, visitors to are either rich or poor; those making under $25,000 or over $100,000 a year are over-represented, while middle-income visitors are under-represented. (I hope all of you out there recognize yourselves; I'd hate to have to name names. And, remember: with Claritas' PRIZM, I can!)

According to Ipsos-Reid Public Affairs, while blogs can reach certain target groups with incredible efficiency, as a broad-band medium they don’t make the cut:

“Before advertisers will be interested, they’ll want to see more daily activity, [Thomas Riehle of Ipsos-Reid] says. “The blog culture remains a million miles away from being a profitable enterprise.”

Whew. That was close. I’d hate to think what a moral dilemma it would be if some horrible advertiser started dangling big bucks under our noses. As Oscar Wilde once remarked, I can resist anything but temptation.



posted by Friedrich at August 25, 2003


Sounds like I need to be advertising in this Panache thingy...

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on August 26, 2003 09:47 AM

Yeah, you had me running scared for a second there. It already makes me nervous having the GeoURL tacked to my blog. They (the demographics marketers) actually could come out and check the tread on my tires, as you say.

Posted by: Dixon on August 26, 2003 09:47 AM

This magazine posted an article in May that purported to track where the millionaires of the future lived, and identified the risk factors of the animal. Some were boring, like those currently making six figures while still in their 30s.

More interestingly, viewers of the science fiction show Babylon 5 were identified as a high risk group for future affluence. As Babylon 5 is, in my opinion, the best television show of all time, I can only approve!

Posted by: Robert Holzbach on August 26, 2003 02:13 PM

oh, never mind. I forgot. I'm not a millionaire. Why would they bother checking my tires?

Posted by: Dixon on August 26, 2003 02:19 PM

Well, it's not surprising at ALL to me that the typical blogosphere denizen makes under $25k or over $ only have enough time on your hands for this is you are underemployed or overmonied :-)

Posted by: David Mercer on August 27, 2003 03:36 AM

Incidentally, you can transfer demographics from political boundaries to irregular regions like a wireless network area or a certain distance around the path of a hurricane. This group at Berkeley provides voting districts in map format with election results tied to it.

Geodemographic data can quantify impressions you have living in or driving through an area, but the numbers can’t tell the whole story. For lead generation, the sales and marketing folks only need to be right a fraction of the time anyways.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is a term for software that links database information to features on a computer map.

Posted by: Matt L on August 27, 2003 09:51 PM

Heh. interesting that the blog demographic matches the MMOG (massive mupliplayer online game) demographic to a T. For those who dislike targeted advertising that's a nice boon since few people advertise to both groups at the same time :)

Posted by: Con Tendem on August 28, 2003 10:09 AM

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