Marketing to Ridiculed Groups

Sep 14, 2010

By Tom Ryan

People who fall into groups such as yuppies, metrosexuals,
urban gangstas and hipsters regularly deny they are members of the often-mocked
groups. For marketers, the problem is that they also deny being consumers of
products associated with those classifications — even though they are.

A study, to be published in the February 2011 edition of the Journal
of Consumer Research
, entitled Demythologizing Consumption Practices:
How Consumers Protect Their Field-Dependent Identity Investments from Devaluing
Marketplace Myths
, explores these challenges. The study claims that prior
research has concluded that many consumers abandon consumption practices once
their associated meanings are no longer positive, but the authors believe this
may be an oversimplification. Instead, they found that consumers are able
to “demythologize” their
consumption practices to distance themselves from unfavorable labels.

“Individuals don’t easily drop practices that they’ve cultivated for
years just to avoid being labeled,” study co-author Zeynep Arsel, an assistant
professor of marketing at Concordia University in Montreal, told The Montreal
. “They’d rather find ways to show how they’re different
from the people who might engage in these practices ‘for the wrong reasons.'”

study particularly investigated the category of “hipster,” which
has gained attention from the mass media in recent years.

“This iconic category has evolved from its countercultural roots, originally
aligned with beat sensibilities, to a trend-seeking über-consumer of the
2000s,” the authors wrote in a statement. With the hipster label becoming
a trivializing label for indie consumption practices, the study found that
nearly all the survey participants — primarily DJs, music critics, fashion
students and aspiring writers — were perturbed at being mistaken for,
or accused of being “hipsters.” At the same time, they largely found
creative ways to remain loyal to many of the group’s core buying habits and
other practices.

“Our findings suggest how backlash against identity categories such as
hipster or metrosexual could generate complex and nuanced identity strategies
that enable consumers to retain their tastes and interests while protecting
these tastes from trivializing mythologies,” the authors concluded.

Discussion Questions: Do you agree that there are challenges in marketing
to people labeled as yuppies, metrosexuals, urban gangstas
and hipsters? How should marketing messages be handled for these consumers?

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7 Comments on "Marketing to Ridiculed Groups"

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Max Goldberg
10 years 8 months ago

Brands market to consumers, not to names of groups. The group names came about as a convenient way for brands to describe their consumers. Over time, some of the group names developed negative connotations.

Forget about the names of the groups. Look at consumer behavior and market to those consumers that best fit your brand.

David Biernbaum
10 years 8 months ago

Don’t tell a metrosexual that you know he’s a metrosexual, don’t tell a baby boomer that you know he or she is a boomer, don’t tell a generation Y “member” that you know his or her age, and what he or she should be buying in order to fit into his or her stereotype. Instead, do the marketing where that target market is paying attention.

Do it right. Build a better mouse trap but put the trap where the mice are running, and don’t tell the mouse that you know she’s a mouse.

Jesse Rooney
Jesse Rooney
10 years 8 months ago

How to sell to a group that doesn’t want to be a group? Build up advertising narratives and brands that these groups will identify with, but without mentioning the groups’ names or overtly trying to put them in a box. With luck, the group’s culture will grow up around your brand, like American Apparel has done.

David hit the nail on the head. Let “sell, don’t tell,” be your byword.

Warren Thayer
10 years 8 months ago

Having read through this piece twice, I’m a thoroughly confused reader. But don’t tell me I’m thoroughly confused, you trans-sexual misogynist birdwatcher! (Huh?) Glad we don’t have to think about this stuff up in Vermont.

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 8 months ago

You don’t have to use labels like “hipster” to market ironic, kitschy products aimed at a young, jaded creative professional, nor do you have to use “metrosexual” to sell clothing and grooming products to a man who enjoys pampering himself. To paraphrase a well-known film quote, “If you market it, they will come” (does ironically quoting a feel-good 80s film make me a hipster, or does the fact I’m almost 40 place me in some other category?)

Al McClain
Al McClain
10 years 8 months ago

I’m with Warren on this one–a bit confused. But, the title of the piece sure is catchy: “Demythologizing Consumption Practices: How Consumers Protect Their Field-Dependent Identity Investments from Devaluing Marketplace Myths.”

I guess it all comes down to people not wanting to be “targeted” but treated as if they were special.

Reminds me for some reason of a piece I recently saw in our local paper where a police report on someone being arrested listed his occupation as “gang member.” Probably not the desired listing.

Devangshu Dutta
Devangshu Dutta
10 years 8 months ago

My simple rule: if it is a label coined by a marketer, don’t use it “at” your customers. As consumers we want to be individuals in our own right, rather than be one speck amongst many lumped together by some bright spark in marketing. On the other hand if an identity is labeled by the group itself, and you’re an integral part of the group, there shouldn’t be any problem using the descriptive label.


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