When I was a kid growing up on Miami Beach, the public service announcements we saw regularly were about the evils of littering and the dangers of silos and rock pits. Because of the constant brainwashing I received, I am a virulent anti-litterer. So much so that when I see someone litter I actually have a negative physical reaction. I don’t have the same reaction to silos or rock pits because I never knew what they were – apparently there are not a lot of either to be found on Miami Beach.
They haven’t gotten any safer, though. Geology.com reports that accidents in the rock pits found at abandoned mines and quarries claim 20 to 30 lives per year, mostly due to drowning. And silos are just as dangerous. A 2012 article in The New York Times blames silos in farming communities for more than 80 deaths since 2007 and at least 26 deaths in 2010 alone.
Funny then that the advertising industry is fond enough of the word “silo” to use it to describe the different groups of consumers that it reaches out to. Different demographic populations are differentiated and placed in silos based on their various attributes, so that marketing messages and media can be created and utilized based on whom the advertisers are trying to attract. And so strategies, campaigns, and even specialty agencies are created to reach not only general market consumers but also African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and LGBT customers as well as groups defined by age, income, marital status, education, and more.
You can often see this especially targeted work when you watch television, read magazines or surf the web. And if you spend time with specialized niche media – magazines aimed at the gay and lesbian consumer, for example, or a TV show that targets younger consumers, or a Spanish-language website – you’ll notice that the advertising is chock-full of the people, languages, and cultural cues (fashion, music, dances, etc.) that the advertisers assume their intended viewers will appreciate.
Unfortunately, these seemingly well-reasoned attempts at consumer-specific advertising often go awry because the practitioners ignore a simple fact of the modern demographic experience: Today’s niche consumers don’t live in one silo but can occupy many at the same time. So it should come as no surprise that a consumer could be a black, Spanish-speaking, gay man with small children or a young, affluent, single Asian woman. And both consumers, as different as they might appear, could have a preference for J.Crew jeans, Starbucks Coffee, Rolex watches, and Prius hybrids.
But it gets worse. Not only do these multiple-silo consumers make up a greater and greater percentage of today’s population but, in fact, we all move from one silo to another depending on what, when, and where we’re purchasing our favorite products.
Think about the last time you went to the grocery store. If you were buying items for a fancy dinner party or your most special recipe you probably splurged on the ingredients without much regard to cost, much the same as a one-percenter might shop. But then if you were buying laundry detergent, say, or cat litter – something you don’t care much about – you might be as price conscious and penurious as a low-income shopper because the product you were purchasing had little value to you.
When you’re buying over-the-counter drugs, perhaps you save money by buying generics because the FDA requires that “generic applicants must scientifically demonstrate that their product is bioequivalent” and you know you won’t sacrifice performance. But then maybe you splurge on luxury vodka because you think it tastes better even though the ATF’s (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) standard legal definition assures us that “it’s neutral spirits… treated as to be without distinctive character, aroma, or taste.”
And so, like their lethal counterparts that dot the rural landscape, marketing silos can be just as dangerous to advertisers who treat them casually and without thought and respect. The answer is to be sure that your marketing messages are carefully created to be All About Them, built to generate specific consumer responses, and not to simply meet a convenient demographic standard.