Mass Marketing Is Dead

Mass market advertising was once an effective marketing tool. The “one product suits all” approach had its heyday and is now declining. Hallerman (2006) wrote that in an American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) survey, only 28.7% of respondents now believe that untargeted advertising will be very effective by 2010. The survey is validating the consensus that mass marketing is dead. Increasingly, business leaders, marketing and advertising practitioners are looking at niches, market segments and differentiated audiences as targets.

Emergence of Mass Marketing

According to Lake (2007), marketing is the systematic conduct of business activities to result in a mutually advantageous exchange of products between buyers and sellers. It started off from the sales techniques used by traders and the promotional methods of skilled artisans. Mass marketing is a marketing approach in which the marketer addresses all segments of the market as though they are the same. It refers to the treatment of the market as a homogenous group and offering the same marketing mix to all customers. (“Market Segmentation”. n.d.)

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Mass marketing required a mass supply of goods and the Industrial Revolution facilitated reaching greater volumes of production. New technologies engendered better machinery and production processes. Large quantities of products could now be manufactured at lower costs. This placed the goods within the reach of a greater number of consumers. It made little business-sense to encourage the purchase en masse of a product if such product was non-existent or not readily available for transfer to the buyer.

The mass production of goods would have been, however, useless if the products did not reach the consumers. Again, the Industrial Revolution helped bring this forth. The invention of the steam engine led to the establishment of railways that brought the products en masse to distant markets at cheaper rates. Essentially, the railways brought isolated communities closer. Where before, produce of the area could only be sold within the locality, these may now be transported to and sold in far-away areas through the railway system.

Now that products are easily reaching distant markets, their existence had to be brought to the attention of potential buyers. The message that “products were available for purchase affordably” had to be communicated. Again, the Industrial Revolution helped realize this. First, the Gutenberg press allowed the wide-scale dissemination of information through newspapers. Later on, we had the radio, television (broadcast and cable) and the internet.

Of course, mass marketing did not magically emerge as soon as the objective condition of having mass production, mass distribution and mass communication existed. The subjective element had to exist. Entrepreneurial vision, drive, organization and resources had to implement the strategy. (Meyer and Dailey. n.d.)

A classic example for mass marketing would be Henry Ford’s Model T car. Ford adopted mass production techniques and standardized output that resulted in lower costs. To generate demand for the Model T, it marketed as an automobile that would meet the needs of all buyers at an affordable price.

Changing Consumer Demand

A big impetuous for mass marketing came after the close of the Second World War. The war effort resulted in increased production capacity, new technology and most importantly, increased demand.

A large segment of men went into the military service during the war. Women replaced them in the production of goods. Factories that used to produce consumer goods shifted towards producing weaponry and other resources needed to fight the war. This resulted in full employment of the labor force with greater spending capacity. However, due to the war and the limited supply of consumer goods, spending was “curtailed” and incomes were saved. According to McCann (1995), there was high pent-up demand when the war was over and the men returned home. Mass demand for consumer products logically followed this pent-up demand considering that the populace had wealth to spend.

The new production capacity and improvements in electronics resulted in inexpensive radio and affordable television set. Households easily got hold of radio and television sets giving manufacturers a channel through which they may address the consumers. An almost universal audience for the manufacturers’ pitch was created.

Bianco, et al. (2004) wrote the United States was far more uniform not only in terms of ethnicity but also of aspiration in the 1950s and 1960s. The ideal was to own the same model of car or lawnmower or products as the Joneses, or at least ones neighbors. This changed in the 1970s and 1980s due to greater affluence. From “I want to be normal”, says McDonald’s Light, it became “I want to be special”. (Bianco, et al., 2004)

Multiplicity of Communication Media

The development and widespread use of printed text in Europe in the1500s produced a brand new form of communication. A single message could now be duplicated with little error and distributed to thousands of people. (“Tutorial: Mass Communication”. n.d.) McCann (1995), however, said that it was broadcast media that served as the cornerstone of mass marketing.

Print media is usually read by individuals even though a standard message may be printed in each copy. Broadcast media, on the other hand, can create a “monolithic eyeball” – millions of consumers tuned in to a single program. By its nature, broadcast media was for a long time a very viable channel for marketing. Bianco, et al (2004) reported that an advertiser in the 1960s could reach 80% of U.S. women by airing simultaneously on CBS, NBC and ABC a commercial spot.

However, the hegemony of mass media in influencing consumers has diminished. Business competition and technological advances have resulted in a diversified mass media environment. We have the giant broadcast networks and a multitude of narrowcast cable TV stations. A Nielsen Media Research reported that the average U.S. household receives 100 TV channels in 2004 compared to only 27 in 1994. (Bianco, et al. 2004)

Traditional broadcast media is also being affected by new media technologies. The internet has opened a new channel for marketing and is increasingly affecting advertising revenues traditional mass media. In fact, we now have an online version of almost every television station, newspaper and magazine.

The internet has also allowed a democratization of mass communication. Now, every person can send out his message through blogs, personal websites and online forum. This in turn creates even more niches that the mass marketer must consider and contend with. Each website can potentially promote or demote a consumer good.

Where the communication flow through traditional mass media channels was one-way, new media allowed interactivity. Readers or viewers can interact with the source of information being viewed. A blogger establishes a regular audience by addressing special interests. As with online forums, viewers are encouraged to respond.

Current technology now also allows the consumer to by-pass even the most targeted advertising that a marketer may come up with. Personal video recorders are allowing consumers to watch a program when they want to. This has increased television viewing. Research, however, shows that personal video recorders were used to skip about 70% of ads. (Bianco, et al. 2004)

Summary

The same elements that gave rise to mass marketing are tearing it apart. Technological advances brought forth mass production, mass distribution and mass communication. The ordinary consumer is faced with tons of consumer goods. Production techniques now allow mass production of custom products. Automobiles can now be produced in different styles, color, and accessories preferred by the consumer with minimal disruption in the assembly and at little additional cost.

Products and consumer goods can now be easily distributed. Shipping of consumer goods is accessible to all. Individual sellers can easily sell and ship products as shown by the success of such online auction site as eBay. More importantly, information and communication technology has developed to the extent that access to information can not be limited. This allows consumers to be more discriminating.

Mass marketing is a thing of the past. Mass marketing requires a mass market, a single market without differentiation. In fact, M. Lawrence Light, McDonald’s global chief marketing officer said that the mass market never really existed. It was just that the available technologies of the past did not allow companies to reach the individual markets that existed then. (‘Marketing in the “Age of I”. 2004) While the world has grown smaller due to technological advances, it has magnified the diversity of consumers. Disparate communities are brought closer but proximity does not always translate into homogeneity.

Since advances in technology will enable better data gathering, marketers will also be better at connecting with consumers. The marketing message can be refined to the point that it is not intrusive or invasive. According to James Stengel, Procter & Gamble’s global marketing officer, the future of marketing will be oriented to permission marketing wherein marketing and advertising will be welcomed by consumers because they are viewed as relevant. (Bianco, et al. 2004) This, however, can no longer be done through mass marketing.

References

Bianco, A., Lowry, T., Berner, R., Arndt, M., and Grover, R. The Vanishing Market. BusinessWeek (July 12, 2004). September 28, 2007. <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_28/b3891001_mz001.htm>

Hallerman, David. June 16, 2006. The Death of Mass Marketing: eMarketer looks at the rise of ad targeting. September 28, 2007. <http://www/imediaconnection.com/content/10063.asp>

Lake, Laura. n.d. Marketing vs. Advertising: What’s the Difference? September 28, 2007. <http://marketing.about.com/cs/advertising/a/marketvsad.htm>

“Market Segmentation. n.d. September 29, 2007.  <http://www.netmba.com/marketing/market/segmentation/>

“Marketing in the ‘Age of I’”. BusinessWeek (July 12, 2004). September 28, 2007. <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_28/b3891011_mz001.htm>

McCann, John M. March 10, 1995. The Changing Nature of Consumer Goods Marketing & Sales. September 28, 2007. <http://www.duke.edu/~mccann/cpg/cg-chg.htm>

Meyer, Earl C. and Dailey, Lori A. n.d. Mass Marketing. September 29, 2007. <http://www.answers.com/topic/mass-marketing?cat=biz-fin>

“Tutorial: Mass Communication”. n.d. September 29, 2007. <http://www.rdillman.com/HFCL/TUTOR/Media/media2.html>

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