Stereotyping in Advertising and Marketing

Customers Are Not Statistics

Advertisement showing women shopping for shoes as a stereotype
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Consumers, first and foremost, are individuals. The more you see and treat customers as individuals, the more loyal they will be to your business.


You cannot peg individuals into mass impersonal groups based on stereotypes. For example, do not assume that all retirees are interested in gardening, all women are interested in buying shoes, or all men are sports-crazy. These are examples of stereotyping groups of people that can lead to disastrous results in advertising and marketing.

Research supports that mass stereotyping groups of people do not work in the development and marketing of business ideas. Although many corporations still try to capitalize on stereotypes, this line of thinking does not work as effectively as the old "mom and pop country store" approach to business: getting to know your customers as intimately as possible.

If grouping populations like cattle into marketing niches worked, why would major corporations continue to invest so heavily in studying consumer habits and demographics? If this type of marketing philosophy worked well, then anyone with a great business idea could make it simply by targeting. It is not so.

Stereotype Myths

For example, stereotype marketing ideologies might focus too much on one group and ignore another equally, or even more important. For example, target only kids for (non-PC) video games and lose access to millions of customers. Nearly a quarter of all video games are purchased by consumers aged 40 and older, and women make 38 percent of all video game sales.

Even when it comes to "men's" products, including sports items and expensive cars, women still spend more than men. According to a study in part conducted by WomenCertified, a women's consumer advocacy and retail training organization, women spend $4 trillion annually, accounting for 83 percent of all U.S. Consumer spending—or, an astounding two-thirds of the nation's gross national product.

Another case in point: Senior citizens have become the fastest-growing population in the United States; however, mass marketing to seniors has remained somewhat elusive. Several pioneers in the senior marketing industry note that age alone has little to do with the interests of senior consumers. Those who have attempted to cash in on the senior population, simply lumping retirees together by age, have failed, and miserably so.

When it comes to advertising, "marketing" studies that offer only cold statistics may play less of a role than you think in developing successful marketing strategies and advertising campaigns.

Word of Mouth

Customers can be your best or worst source of advertising. Word of mouth referrals, especially in the age of the Internet, should not be undervalued. And, since consumers are more likely to complain than to compliment, it pays to have customer-friendly and trustworthy complaint resolution practices in place.

It pays to see your customers as individuals, with common needs, but not as groups who, because of stereotype images, have lemming-like behaviors when it comes to making purchases.