Love & Hate - ABC1 just doesn’t do it

Why I hate targeting ABC1. Dawn Orr does not have a problem with segmenting consumers, but she fails to see the point of targeting 55% of households all at once.

 When was the last time you heard someone say they were pitching a campaign or launching a brand aimed "straight at the ABC1 market"? I bet it was within the last 24 hours.

That's because ABC1 is an all encompassing, high income earning mass of our society make-up, a group we all want to be talking to and hopefully enticing into becoming our customers.

Yep, they're the ones we all want to attract and I bet a huge number of them are always interested in a new campaign or in buying a new product. So that's easy then, job done.

But hang on a minute, ABC1 represents millions and millions of people, roughly 55% of all UK households – 13.2 million residential addresses – which crudely means that we have a demographic group of 32 million people lumped together as a single target market.

Then take a moment to remember that this grouping, which was originally introduced in the 1960s, is actually only based on the employment and occupation of the heads of households of these homes.

What it doesn't take account of is how these households are made up, how they spend their combined income, where they live, their residential status or, on a much bigger platform, what their interests and buying habits are.

Altogether, it gives absolutely no hint of the sheer diversity of the households contained within it. In fact, there's very little supporting information at all, which I would think would be vital for any marketing investment plan.

For example, within this one demographic group you could find a young family with a single wage, high mortgage and very little disposable income alongside a vicar who doesn't own his home, or even a television, and who gives all his money to overseas charities.

I could give you a hundred other variations, but the bottom line is that they are all classed as ABC1!

For some mass market advertisers, especially those in the FMCG arena, ABC1 may seem wholly appropriate. But increasingly, consumer products and services aim to fulfil a niche and appeal to attitudes and lifestyles of specific target groups.

Add to that an increasingly fragmented media market, which now offers advertisers an amazing plethora of TV channels, radio stations, mailing lists, magazines and websites, and what do you get? Marketing managers with a range of brands and sub-brands they need to effectively take to market and a world of media that is now mindblowingly diverse.

So what's missing? The right knowledge to marry your sophisticated advertising with the perfect advertising environment.

The ABC1 currency simply isn't up to the job anymore. As a common currency in the world of marketing, used by advertisers and media alike, it's falling way short of the mark.

I mean, come on, how can ABC1 give us proper segmentation when it includes over half the population. Let's face it, ABC1 doesn't exist as a discreet target group these days. But, if you want to apply a different type of metric to dissect down through this traditional mass to define your exact target group, or put another way, uncover your seam of gold running down through this block and really understand their geographical and domestic arrangements; their lifestyles and habits; and most importantly, their purchasing power, then there is data available now which can do just that.

And before you all shriek "well she would say that, wouldn't she", I'm not just talking about shifting spend to a total direct marketing based campaign. Yes, the direct marketing industry has got its head round the concept of more detailed targeting. It would do, wouldn't it?

But there's nothing stopping the rest of the marketing and brand development industries from applying the same segmentation techniques either. It's simply about approach, and I strongly believe these could be easily applied across the entire marketing mix.

And it's not that hard to find. There is data available which can be easily and efficiently utilised across all media and all types of campaign, and more importantly, could be more relevant in this age of heightened media fragmentation to help marketers decide which media to use to talk to their target audience.

For example, with the increase in SMS and e-mail campaigns proliferating our spends, what relevance does this old ABC1 group have anymore? Isn't it slightly redundant? Surely we need to know who we are really reaching at the other end, how old they are, where they live, how much disposable income they have, or even whether they actually own a mobile phone or spend time online?

So, it's up to us.

The industry can happily continue to rely on this mass grouping or it could obtain data which delves deeper into more defined target markets.

Either way, with budgets being tightened, wouldn't it make more sense to truly understand your market and, in turn, maximise return on investment?

Dawn Orr is managing director of Acxiom Data


If you are so in love with something that you would like to pen an article for Media Week or if you despise something so much that you simply must get your vitriol into print, e-mail or write to us at Love & Hate, Media Week, Quantum House, 19 Scarbrook Road, Croydon CR9 1LX or fax us on 020 8565 4394.


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