Marketing is the process of providing value to consumers through contact in a way that benefits the company. Advertising is one of the most common marketing techniques that use different media outlets to affect customers’ focus, desire, and decisions on such goods. The purpose of the ads is unknown to a significant majority of the targeted communities. Target ads are directed at the most welcoming viewers who exhibit specific characteristics. These characteristics may be either demographic or psychographic. The demographic targeting advertisements target people based on their ethnicity, gender, economic status, income level, education level, and age. On the other hand, psychographic target adverts focus on the consumers’ attitudes, personality, values, lifestyles, opinions, and interests (Alaniz 286) The success of advertisement was hugely influenced by the introduction of television and internet that now dominate the U.S. homes. This has replaced the traditional forms of advertising. The advertising agencies act as opportunists ready to take advantage of anything that serves their interests in increasing their sales and profits. The marketers realized that television was one of the platforms that could reach large audiences, both the young people and the old. Good marketers focus a lot of energy on trying to understand their target crowds by studying how they make decisions as individuals, groups, or organizations. For this reason, marketers borrow from the departments of sociology and psychology, as they are primarily focused on analyzing the human behavior and the forces that influence the choices of the consumers.
Adverts are developed to play with our conscious and subconscious desires and that is why they seem to sound intuitive. According to the Freudian theory, all individuals are driven by powerful sexual urges and this concept has been utilized hugely by advertisers. Sex is incorporated directly or indirectly in attempts to sell anything; this ranges from using beautiful female models in adverts to modification of the product packaging i.e. the shape of the Coca-Cola bottles. Extensive studies on targeted advertisements have been carried out using internet, radio, television, and print media to determine how they target minority groups. However, not much research has been focused on the outdoor advertising done through billboards, bus shelters, and storefronts. These outdoor adverts exist for all types of unhealthy products like alcohol and cigarettes positioned in areas with higher percentages of low income individuals and minority groups. Outdoor adverts on fast foods placed in Asian and Latino neighborhoods may be six times higher than the food outdoor adverts placed in African-American neighborhoods; this number of adverts is also 2-3 times higher than the number of food adverts in white neighborhoods (Kumanyika and Sonya 193). This implies that the minority groups i.e. Latinos, African-Americans, and Asians may be at risk of suffering from heart diseases, obesity, and other health conditions associated with high sugar, fats, and salty fast foods.
Figure 1. Advertising rates per neighborhood demographics
This study provides insights into the impacts of targeted advertisements on minority groups and low income neighborhoods. It further evaluates the patterns in advertisements disparities by neighborhood groups and income levels. A study conducted by centers of disease control and prevention indicated that the minority demographic groups in the United States are targeted by soda makers, fast food chains, and snack vendors. Almost 50% of African-American adults in the study were observed to be obese whereas over 20% of the children were also recorded to be obese. This study supported previous studies that obesity was associated with television watching rates. More children were recorded to be watching television in 2012 than in 2008. The research also indicated that African-American children were highly exposed to junk food related adverts.
Figure 2. Levels of different races exposures to junk food adverts
These study’s findings were consistent with research conducted by other scientists on the same topic. However, studies had previously concluded that disparities in minorities exposed to lots of adverts were attributed to watching more television which was not the case. The problem was in the type of television shows that the black and other minority groups’ kids watched. Advertisers were able to target them through this type of television shows. In comparison to the white children, the black children were found to spend most of their time watching African-American and youth targeted networks like Nick-at-Nite, Fuse, BET, and VH1. The researchers further established that these shows recorded high amounts of fast food advertisements.
Figure 3. TV networks food adverts per hour
The introduction of superior technology has allowed the marketers to track human behavior online; therefore, they do not have to rely on assumptions about the behavior of consumers. This has led to the customization of advertisements targeting specific individuals based on their technology. Targeted advertisements present huge psychological consequences that help improve the efficiency of these adverts as this influences the interest of individuals on particular products. Advertising researchers argue that all adverts are either emotional or rational which implies that they rely on either facts or emotional influence. However, in some cases, a combination of both facts and emotion can be used i.e. a rational advert can be said to be beautiful and we know that beauty influences emotions; on the other hand, a sexy advert can use logic to persuade. The debate on effective versus rational adverts is a never-ending and inconclusive process. A study conducted by the Ohio State University suggests that rational adverts work for the things people need i.e. medicine whereas emotional adverts are best suited for things we simply want i.e. shoes. The study further argues that age plays an important factor in adverts, since younger consumers can influence the decisions of their parents.
Consumers are usually exposed to diversified images and messages through different forms of communication that are seductive and intoxicating. Our emotions are used as a tool to be influenced towards making decisions based on our needs. This is much more difficult for adults who have fully developed cognitive abilities and are capable of filtering through the various adverts to make selections. Children, on the other hand, tend to be susceptible to being easily influenced and swayed by the advertisements’ appeals. Adverts take advantage of the kids’ naivety, since children believe most of what they see and hear. Children below the age of 12 have not yet developed their reasoning capabilities, therefore, may fail to understand ironic connotations that may be hidden within adverts. Children tend to interchangeably confuse reality and fantasy.
Target Marketing Critic
The continued developing of advertisement programs that are customized to target certain segments of the consumer markets have been denounced by a lot of critics as being exploitive. A good example is the use of billboards in low income neighborhoods to advertise alcohol and cigarettes, which can be considered as an act aimed at taking advantage of the vulnerable segments of the consumer markets. Various organizations have come out to evaluate and criticize the marketing programs that target minority groups like the Hispanics and African-Americans. This is because these adverts employ clichéd stereotyping and other depictions that are considered as inappropriate. Marketing groups prey upon specific target markets, especially the minority groups that averagely earn lower incomes thereby taking advantage of the consumers’ lack of information and weaknesses. In such cases, the marketing strategies are said to exploit the minority groups for the organizational stakeholders’ gain. Information is a very powerful tool and the marketers understand its power. The organizations have a social responsibility of ensuring that their actions benefit the society in which they exist; hence, they should be mindful of their activities and the implications of these activities in both the short term and long term periods. An organization’s decisions or activities should not harm the members of the society in which it operates, as this could breach its social responsibility towards the community. Information should be used by the marketing teams in a prudent and responsible manner. Just because the marketing teams have information on the social styles, purchasing habits, perception, and motivation of a certain targeted consumer group, that does not mean that advertisers can use the information for activities that could lead to pejorative social actions or adverse health effects on the consumers.
However, the marketing companies in most cases have come out to defend their marketing strategies arguing that positioning and targeting are critical aspects of marketing and these strategies are only aimed at ensuring that the organization gains some relevance within a given consumer group. Besides, marketers argue that marketing is not responsible for the creation of social systems and neither does it create social vices. The consumers still hold the power of making personal choices and, hence, the marketing groups can not be held responsible for lack of knowledge, information, or personal responsibility. Marketing is usually tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that they deliver goods and services to the target market that need and want them (Thomas 17).
From an ethical point of view, target advertising based on data collection from online platforms is considered an invasion of privacy, since no explicit and informed consents are given to the tracking companies. In some cases, consumers can be concerned in cases where the types of adverts are considered to be too personal for their comfort, hence, resulting in a call for better personal data control. The government needs to develop legislation that can protect the general public. Another point of concern is the potential limitations caused by target adverts, as they regulate the type of content the users can be exposed to therefore this can be used to indirectly deny new alternative entrants into the market or any market share. A vast majority of the American population has raised concerns considering it an invasion of privacy (Cassady et al. 838).
Fast Food Target Advertisement
Studies conducted by the Arizona State University over time have established that fast food companies are using an aggressive model of children-targeted marketing. Children represent the most vulnerable target group because they can not make independent decisions. Most importantly, children are in a stage of cognitive development and tend to absorb all the information they are exposed to on a daily basis either consciously or unconsciously. Psychological studies indicate that children can form strong bonds with specific brands and this connection can last a lifetime. Research conducted in the USA in 1944 and later on in 1964 found that most of the adult subjects used at least 24% of the same brand products they used as children thereby proving that advertisements can have long-term influences on our habits. This is more prevalent for children living in rural communities, middle-income neighborhoods, and a great portion of the black neighborhoods. A study found that fast food restaurants positioned in minority neighborhoods were 67% more likely to employ in-store child-directed marketing tactics than restaurants located in white neighborhoods (Grier and Shiriki 1620)
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that an average American child is exposed to over four hours of television watching and over 20,000 commercials annually and most of these adverts are for foods and snacks. This implies that by the time this child graduates from high school, he or she will have spent twice as much time watching television than being in class.
The National Institute of Health carried out research about the impacts of fast-food advertising. The study directly connected targeted advertisements of fast food companies to obesity increase in children by analyzing the television viewing habits of children from 1979 to 1997. The study concluded that controlling or banning fast food adverts targeting children could reduce the rates of obesity in children by up to 18%. Other countries that have banned children targeted advertisements include the United Kingdom that enacted the Children’s Food Act 2004 making a provision in regards to the sale and marketing of drinks and food for children (Yancey et al. 163).
The main points that can be concluded by studying the targeted advertising is that there are three market segments for children as a vulnerable group in the society;
1. Children as the primary market.
Marketing experts understand that children do not have money of their own and this leads to the question; why target the children?
The marketing experts first find out what the wants and needs of the children are and then they develop strategies of approaching the kids. Increased rates of divorces among children’s parents and the extended working hours mean that children have more responsibilities at home than before and this includes being in charge of purchasing home products; this is the factor marketers hope to utilize in their favor (Aaker 63).
2. Children influence the market.
Parents are always hoping for the best for their children. In most cases, children influence the purchasing habits of their parents, especially when it comes to food.
3. Children’s future market.
Companies tend to invest in their future needs and their aim is not to just make sales, but to create loyal customers. This is the same strategy that is used by the tobacco industry: hook them early and you have managed to hook them for life.
Target Advertisements Challenges
Target adverts raise a lot of privacy concerns, especially when implemented in online platforms. At the same time, using target advertisements denies the consumers the right of making personal choices independently, since they may never be aware of the available alternatives thereby reinforcing selective exposure. From the advertisers’ end, the target marketing programs do not just happen overnight, they are time and effort consuming in attempts to learn the behavior of customers. The target advertising uses more resources when compared to the traditional methodologies. There is a limitation to target advertising, since consumers change their minds due to a number of variables i.e. their financial state. The online tracking tools may be ineffective, since a group of people may be using the same device; therefore, the data collected may be a false representation of the actual consumers’ traits (Treise et al. 65).
Adverts targeting low income neighborhoods have been termed as immoral and outrageous, as the companies’ main concern is increasing profits. Children are exposed to alcohol and cigarette adverts that claim that in to be happy, one must smoke and drink. Studies indicate that 40.6% of black men older than 20 years were found to be smoking compared to 31% of white men. On the other hand, 31.8% of women from black neighborhoods were found to be smoking when compared to 28.3% of white women. This serves to show that the target advertising is promoting bad habits for future generations towards leading unhealthy lifestyles. Studies have found huge disparities in target advertising i.e. a survey conducted in City of St. Louis showed that the number of adverts promoting the use of alcohol and cigarettes was over 62% in African-American neighborhoods when compared to 36% for white neighborhoods. Black neighborhoods recorded three times the number of billboards than white neighborhoods (Fleischhacker et al. 464).
Some of the recommendations that could help resolve the ethical issues in advertising can be achieved through the enactment of public policies restricting advertisement directly aimed at children and the use of disclaimers so that adverts can be clearly understood by the audience. Since the likelihood of marketing companies controlling their marketing strategies is very low, the public should be educated on the impacts of target advertisings and how it is achieved.
Aaker, David A., John G. Myers, and Rajeev Batra. Advertising management. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Alaniz, Maria Luisa. “Alcohol Availability and Targeted Advertising in Racial/Ethnic Minority Communities.” Alcohol Research and Health, vol. 22, no. 4, 1998, pp. 286.
Cassady, Diana L., et al. “Disparities in Obesity-Related Outdoor Advertising by Neighborhood Income and Race.” Journal of Urban Health, vol. 92, no. 5, 2015, pp. 835-842.
Fleischhacker, S. E., et al. “A Systematic Review of Fast Food Access Studies.” Obesity Reviews, vol. 12, no. 5, 2011, pp. 460-471.
Grier, Sonya A., and Shiriki K. Kumanyika. “The Context for Choice: Health Implications of Targeted Food and Beverage Marketing to African Americans.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 98, no. 9, 2008, pp. 1616-1629.
Kumanyika, Shiriki, and Sonya Grier. “Targeting Interventions for Ethnic Minority and Low-Income Populations.” The Future of Children, 2006, pp. 187-207.
Thomas, Susan Gregory. Buy, buy baby: How consumer culture manipulates parents and harms young minds. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
Treise, Debbie, et al. “Ethics in Advertising: Ideological Correlates of Consumer Perceptions.” Journal of Advertising, vol. 23, no. 3, 1994, pp. 59-69.
Yancey, Antronette K., et al. “A Cross-Sectional Prevalence Study of Ethnically Targeted and General Audience Outdoor Obesity-Related Advertising.” The Milbank Quarterly, vol. 87, no.1, 2009, pp. 155-184.