Audience Targeting And Why The Industry Needs To Do Better

By Niki Grant, Director of Search, The Kite Factory

Despite gathering significant momentum in recent years, the concept of diversity seems to remain a separate workstream for many businesses, as opposed to manifesting itself as a significant shift in policy, process, and approach. I am a huge fan of the Malteser ‘Look on the light side’ campaign, which included individuals with notable physical differences within the casual context of the narrative; not as the exception to ‘the rule’. Whilst on the surface I am the epitome of the ‘UK majority’ (white, middle class) my other half is mixed race and I manage several invisible disabilities; I certainly feel more of an affinity with brands who don’t automatically assume we’re all white, blonde, straight, slim, active, and laughing whilst we eat yogurt (why the mindless grinning in all the yogurt ads?).

So why are we making so little headway in providing these diverse audiences with relevant messaging? If brands use the image of minority audiences without providing any value-add to those same audiences this falls under the bracket of exploitation.

There is a wide array of black-owned brands in the UK. And in many instances, these brands can absolutely be advertised to broader audiences (such as makeup brands with a wide range of foundation shades), but for some business – such as Soul Cap; a black-owned business which makes swimming caps specifically designed to accommodate afro hair – there would be no interest in targeting white, straight-haired women. As with any other inaccurate targeting, this would cause the brand to suffer financial inefficiencies, lower engagement rates, and potential backlash from consumers who consistently receive messaging which they will never be inclined to act upon.

Whilst businesses such as TGI are getting up to speed and including audiences across a wider spectrum of race and sexual orientation within their platforms for more ‘inclusive’ media planning, it’s important to keep in mind that each of these attributes is made up of millions of people. We are still woefully bereft of options to actively target these audiences with relevant messaging within digital advertising. This not only hinders consumers, but also the owners of black-owned or LGBTQI+ owned businesses looking to identify kindred spirits.

There are currently no options to target users by race, sexual orientation, or religion through platforms such as Google and Facebook, however, gender (as an increasingly complex social construct) remains freely available but with limited variation (E.g. male/female/other).

If you’re promoting a Pride event, how can we reach an audience of LGBTQI+ individuals and allies without sexual orientation targeting? If you’re Soul Cap, how do we reach our target market without ethnicity targeting? For Halal brands, how do we reach the Muslim audience that these brands cater to?

I’ve got the unfortunate answer for you, and it’s not pretty: stereotyping.

Marketeers will often resort to targeting users based on their interests, conversation topics, location, and media consumption habits. Imagine knowing as a member of the LGBT community that you had been targeted with an ad for Pride or Stonewall based on the following criteria:

Interests: Theatre, fashion, shopping

Location: Brighton, Soho, Liverpool

Conversation topics: Caitlyn Jenner, Eurovision, Ru Paul’s Drag Race

Now, please consider which one is more offensive; inclusion in an audience using a tick box with zero party data, (user-inputted data, from which the user can opt-out if they wish), or compiling an ill-informed generalization in a clumsy effort to be ‘inclusive’? In the above example, the latter only exacerbates sexual orientation stereotypes, whilst the former recognises sexual orientation as a valid element of an individual’s identity.

As an industry, we seem to be terrified of creating the means to target certain audiences through fear that these options would be used for nefarious means (For example, horrendous organisations claiming to ‘convert’ LGBT individuals), and I get that. However, following that logic, we would never have discovered fire through fear of arson. Yes, we need regulation to avoid abuse of the system, but heavily regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals and finance have shown that we can put policies in place to avoid discriminatory actions, for example requiring a justification as to why this particular audience is relevant to the product or service being promoted.

Media and marketing professionals are increasingly aware and focussed on their audience and how they can hold up their end of the bargain on value exchange, but how can we in good conscience ignore the 14% of the UK population from minority ethnic backgrounds or the almost 47% of the UK population who are non-Christian? Have you seen TV ads for Eid celebrations? Kosher meals? Yet there’s loads of advertising for vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-free items, despite only 1% of the population having coeliac disease, and only 1.6% consider themselves to be vegan.

When did we collectively decide that it’s more of a faux pas to advertise bacon to a vegan than it is to advertise alcohol to devout Muslims?

All audiences deserve relevant messaging, and fair value exchange. I can only hope that the likes of Facebook and Google facilitate this with transparent, considerate, and regulated targeting to bring these “hidden populations” to the fore.

And for anyone who values cash over diversity, it’s worth just remembering the BAME population in the UK accounts for £300 billion per annum, and an estimated £70 billion are earned and spent by LGBTQI+ people in the UK every year.