Buy me that! Marketing — are we paying attention?

The current crop of 21-year-olds in America have been exposed to an estimated 23 million marketing messages in their lifetime, according to an article by Michael Weiss in the Sept. 2003 issue of American Demographics. That’s 3,000 messages per day. This isn’t surprising when one considers that this increasingly important demographic spends about $187 billion a year on consumer goods.

These are facts that marketing firms know very well, as they work harder and harder to tailor advertisements to today’s youth, a generation that has grown up desensitized to the constant blather of sales pitches. However, as companies create new, slick ways of convincing American youth to buy their products, students should be aware of the effects of excessive advertising on their lives.

“America is not homogenous, and there are marketing strategies for dealing with that fact,” Dave Prensky, dean of the College’s school of business, said. “This is called segmentation. You look at the way Americans are different – their age, their income, how people act, differences in taste – and to try to figure out who will want to buy a certain product.”

According to Prensky, segmentation began to take hold in the 1950s, as television became a more prominent fixture in American homes. However, media has diversified incredibly since then, and we’ve seen a handful of television stations balloon into hundreds. We’ve seen the advent of the Internet. “We can target people more finely now,” Prensky said. “We have cable stations for different kinds of people, it’s an easier and more efficient way to reach markets, a very narrow segment of the population can be reached.”

But, does this diversification create a system where television stations care less about catering to viewers and, instead, care more about catering to advertisers? One interesting recent case is the rise of Spike TV, the self-proclaimed, “first network for men.” It has become a haven for Budweiser and Ford Truck commercials – products whose ads are heavily geared towards men.

These are questions that many in the marketing world have been postulating on in recent years. “Did marketing cause these narrow niches, or is it the other way around?” Prensky said. “This is the mirror controversy: critics say marketers are trying to separate people and make them buy products they don’t need.”

“I think that marketers do try to identify and satisfy distinct consumer segments without thinking about the effects of such strategies on society-at-large, but that’s not the same as trying to fragment society by creating wedges to drive people apart,” Prensky added.

Marketers are hard at work at this while the rest of the world is consuming. Today, it seems that marketing surrounds the world so much that no one really pays attention to its presence. It sinks into the human mind in a number of subliminal ways. It’s in movies: that conveniently placed can of Coke or Snickers bar sitting on the table in the background shot, or James Bond using a Norelco electric razor, driving a slick new BMW. It’s even in music, as some companies will go so far as to pay rappers to mention their products in their lyrics.

“Last April, on one of the Billboard charts, the top 20 songs mentioned brand names no fewer than 47 times,” Weiss said in his article.

“Even if you don’t think it affects you, it really does. Subliminally, it affects you,” Brian Vanadia, freshman criminology and justice major, said.

“You can’t ignore it, it’s everywhere,” Lisa Camposano, junior Spanish elementary education major, said, as she sat in the Rat, sipping from a cup stamped with the Bud Lite logo. “You can’t get away from it, no matter where you go.”