Digital Advertising

The End of Demographics?

by Chris Tuleya

Targeting people using age, gender, and income is a thing of the past. Or at least it should be. When we have very limited information on our audience and very few channels to target them, we relied on this information to run our campaigns.

But it’s 2017, and 2.7 zetabytes of data exist in the universe today. Experts predict that “by 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet.” That is a lot of data.

So why we are we still thinking in basic demographics to do our targeting?

We see three reasons why many marketers fall back to the old comfort of demo targeting and have suggestions on how we can change this line of thinking:

  1. It’s Overwhelming: Data and numbers are a very polarizing topic and the second you start creating a profile of a person with data that sweaty, uncomfortable feeling starts to take over and flashbacks to college stats class start consuming your thoughts.

We don’t suggest going from 0 to 100 in a single campaign, but rather slowly step in. Start with demo, plus one or two additional behaviors you know your audience takes. Maybe they like sports, tend to live in urban areas and primarily use their mobile device. This specific line of thinking is better than just age, gender, and income and will provide deeper insights so you can continue to optimize and improve your targeting.


  1. Big Numbers Are Comforting: The challenge with targeting is it’s, well . . . targeted. This means if your audience is small, you won’t be seeing impression numbers with endless zeros, or at least you shouldn’t be. And this is ok. Embrace it.


Focus on the end result and not the volume of people you’re reaching, especially when most of that volume is untargeted anyway. There’s always a balance, but you should start feeling uncomfortable with big numbers, and not small ones.


  1. Resources Are Limited: The thought that analyzing data requires data experts is untrue. This is not the case and if your company is not data focused, then you’re focusing efforts in the wrong place. As an organization, everyone should be embracing data and using it to make sound decisions.


It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole and you need to have a few people who can help you avoid those pitfalls, but transforming everyone into a data-first person will only help improve your results, as painful as that transition may seem.

Custom media targeting through data is in its infancy, and has ramped up significantly in the past few years thanks to the wide adoption of mobile and the increase in knowledge and data points about consumers. Developing the right targeted media campaign should use demo to remove outliers and instead put the audience, and data, first.