Promoting one product to multiple markets

Should advertisers use different positioning messages to promote the same product to different audiences? And if so, could there be a backlash if one group sees an advert targeted at another? New research has cast light on this marketing dilemma.

One of the fundamental principles of marketing is segmentation – identifying a market segment and designing and positioning a product to appeal to it.

Ideally marketers should offer different products to different audiences. However where development costs are high, this approach is simply not feasible. Films and video games, for example, which require many millions of dollars to produce need to appeal to a much wider audience.Targeting ads

In cases like these, should marketers tailor their messages and produce different advertisements for different audiences? Or should they stick to one message aimed at the prime segment? And if different ads are used, what happens when they are seen by the audience they were not intended for?

According to Frank Alpert, Associate Professor of Marketing at UQ Business School, existing marketing theory offers little guidance on targeting multiple segments, particularly in more complex situations where there is overlap and people are likely to see more than one ad.

His latest research project, in conjunction with Associate Professor Kim Saxton from Kelley School of Business in Indiana, is one of the few that address the issue of multiple messages and the first to investigate the gender differences involved.

For the purposes of their study, the research team chose to focus on the fast-growing game software sector. Once the exclusive domain of teenage boys, the game industry has now gone mainstream, according to Associate Professor Alpert. Entertainment software sales reached $14.8 billion in 2012, exceeding those of the movie and music industries. These days, more adults play games than children and 45 per cent of gamers are women. While males remain the primary target, marketers are keen to appeal to this female audience.

With this in mind the team used males as the prime market segment, and females as the secondary segment. They created their own concept – a historical game in which players are settlers building a new country – and designed advertisements to appeal to each sex, based on research which suggests males like games which involve fighting, while females prefer to be building a community and relationships.

Interviewees were asked to look at two different advertisements then record their attitudes and their purchase intentions, and say how the second ad had changed their perception. Experiments were initially conducted with undergraduates from Indiana University followed by a similar study amongst adult gamers carried out by a commercial market research firm.

The results showed that ads had the strongest impact when people saw the ‘wrong’ ad first – the one targeted at the other group – and the ad targeting their own group afterwards. For the primary target – the men – seeing their own ad after the other group’s ad was at least as good, if not better than, seeing their own ad twice.

Associate Professor Alpert says: “It may be that, on seeing their own ad after seeing the other group’s ad, people think the game that at first looked okay but was not targeted to them is indeed actually targeted to them, and is richer in meaning and benefits than originally believed.”

The opposite also applied – when people saw their own ad first, then saw the one for the other group afterwards, their purchasing intentions declined. The study also found students and adult gamers had different reactions. Gamers recorded higher purchasing intentions than students, and there was little difference between men and women. “It seems that gamers believe all game ads are targeted at them and they like the game anyway regardless of which ad they saw,” adds Associate Professor Alpert.

Feedback from participants suggests there are three key mechanisms which determine their reactions – the information gleaned from the ad, how targeted they felt and whether they ‘internalised’ the messages. “The biggest driver of change in purchase intentions was feeling targeted,” explains Associate Professor Alpert.

“The process of recognising that you are targeted, and that the product really is for you, is the key mechanism. The extent that the second ad provides more information also helps change purchasing intentions.” The study found that differences in reactions could be more easily explained in terms of these psychological processes than by gender.

So what are the implications for marketers? Associate Professor Alpert says it holds a conundrum. “Each segment responds best when they see their own ad second. Practically, marketers should launch the secondary target’s message first, followed by the primary target. Targeting in this way is over 20 per cent more effective than targeting one segment.

“However, you can’t always guarantee that people will see their own ad second and, in a product launch you may not have the opportunity for a second ad. Moreover, the primary target is the most important.

“The safest approach may be to extensively advertise with the primary target ad first, so all segments see it. The primary segment responds well to its own ad, and to seeing it repeated.  Then release the second ad but to prevent negative backlash, avoid letting the primary segment see it – limit exposure through a narrower placement.

“Also make sure that the second ad offers new and enhancing information for the primary target. Make sure the different attributes in each ad are not strongly contradictory. Two different messages work best when the two ads interact positively to make the product seem more interesting to each segment.”

On a wider note, the study suggests that segmenting people by gender or other demographic traits may not be the most useful way to target gaming fans – or others heavily involved in an activity.

Associate Professor Alpert says: “The main difference between the male and female ads was a focus on winning through competition vs. winning by building relationships but gamers felt that both ads targeted both genders. It is nice to see that most gamers look beyond gender stereotypes, and like all the dimensions of a good game. A multi-dimensional game is a better experience than a narrow game with fighting only.

“The most widely played video games in the US are games where you win by battling. It is highly likely that females who play them enjoy battling also. The ads supposedly targeting them through traditional attributes may not connect as well. Today’s female gamers are not looking for exclusively ‘girly’ games but want to be part of the gaming mainstream.

“Demographics are too simplistic. Understanding the benefits people seek or the attitudes or beliefs important to them may be a more useful approach.”

Last updated:
27 February 2019