Martin Adams
20-Mar-2017 16:40:42

The rise of the Tribes. RIP general masses


In case you missed it, mass marketing is dead. Here's what the fragementation of media and audiences into tribes means for modern advertising strategy.

The ‘average person’ is not the everyman; it’s no man

In the early days of the US Air Force, pilots were doing very poorly and the number of fatal incidents were unacceptably high - even after WWII finished, the Air Force was losing pilots in training exercises. They suspected it might have something to do with the design of the cockpits, which had been tailored to the average-sized pilot at the time they were made in 1926. 

They commissioned researchers to measure a new set of averages for a set of 10 critical physical dimensions across thousands of pilots. After taking the measurements and calculating averages, the researches also realised that not a single pilot was actually average on all 10 dimensions. Only 5% were average when looking at just 3 of the dimensions. The Air Force finally then thought to build adjustibility into their planes; as a result, fatalities and accidents decreased sharply.

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What this teaches us is that designing for the average of everyone is not the same as designing for everyone. And the bigger and more varied your sample size, the greater the chance that you are in fact designing for no one. An average is a useful mathematical and statistical concept, but at its core it is an abstraction. Over-reliance on averages can be, quite literally, dangerous and ineffective.

This is all part of the reason why, for some time now, mass marketing no longer works. Mass marketing is making average content for the average person, typically you don’t know (or care to find out) in any detail who the audience is. The proliferation and the fragmentation of media means that the mass is no longer sustainable - it has fallen apart and splintered into tribes.

A tribe is where culture meets audience

It used to be that we measured defined audiences through demographics, to such an extent that that term was interchangeable with audience. A demographic is basically a group defined by a particular set of external, objective attributes - age, gender, location, etc. What demographics fail to take into account is the internal, subjective markers of identity - the culture and personalities in a set of people. A tribe is the intersection of the externalities (audience) and internalities (culture).

Part of the reason why traditional marketing methods have failed to engage with this multi-dimensional targeting is because they haven’t had to - everyone was fed the same mainstream media diet and diverse interests were negligible and niche. Thanks to media fragmentation, we now have bespoke and often self-curated media diets which nourish and grow a wide range of interests. Marketers are now scrambling to identify and understand these clusters of interests.

Table setting.jpg

The main challenge for marketers is that they haven’t been able to tap into the right data to help them with tribe-mapping. Codec gets this - we see the need and we have solutions. In fact, we think that this is so important that we include a section on tribes in all of our reports. The most sophisticated marketers know that that best approximation of the mass-marketing of the past is marketing to multiple tribes, and we are helping them to do that.

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