Special Session Summary the Target and Its &Quot;Other&Quot;: Exploring the Social Context and Interaction of Consumer Segments

Sonya A. Grier, Stanford University
N. Craig Smith, Georgetown University
[ to cite ]:
Sonya A. Grier and N. Craig Smith (1997) ,"Special Session Summary the Target and Its &Quot;Other&Quot;: Exploring the Social Context and Interaction of Consumer Segments", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 145-147.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 145-147



Sonya A. Grier, Stanford University

N. Craig Smith, Georgetown University

This session aimed to shed light on target marketing through a focus on the meaning, coexistence, and interaction of consumer segments in their socio-cultural context. Target marketing is an increasingly crucial component of marketing strategy, particularly given the expanding diversity of the nation’s population. Socio-economic, demographic, and other trends are driving marketer attention towards consumer groupings not typically included in the more traditional conceptualizations of the US market, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants, gay/lesbian consumers, and disadvantaged consumers (e.g. Pe±aloza, 1995). Increases in target marketing have been touted as a response to marketplace diversity (e.g. Berman, 1991) and even praised in conjunction with the development and marketing of programs targeting women and minorities (Ringold, 1995). At the same time, however, societal concerns threaten the social acceptability of target marketing. Increased use of target marketing strategies, such as more ethnic advertising, have been accompanied by growing criticism. This commentary comes not only from the targeted segment, but also from members outside of the target population who are exposed to the marketing efforts.

Prior consumer research has examined consumer behavior in relation to target marketing from a variety of perspectives. A diversity of research has examined how various consumer groups such as older consumers, women, African-Americans, and Hispanics respond to target marketing (e.g. Tepper, 1994; Widgery and McGaugh, 1993; Williams and Qualls, 1989). Research has also explored the way people process targeted ads and socio-contextual factors which influence the effectiveness of targeting (e.g. Aaker, Brumbaugh and Grier, 1995; Deshpande’ and Stayman, 1994). Further, consumer and policy-oriented research has also emerged to address criticisms of target marketing efforts and its’ perceived social effects, addrssing controversies about targeting certain segments, and the ethics of target marketing (e.g. Ringold, 1995; Cooper-Martin and Smith, 1995; Spradley, 1993).

Notwithstanding the diversity of research attention to target marketing, the increasing practice of target marketing and the accompanying social commentary draw attention to our need for a richer understanding of the influence of social context on consumer reactions to targeting. Researchers have noted that segmentation is inherently problematic because it explicitly includes and excludes groups of consumers (Smith and Quelch, 1993). From this perspective, a key consideration is brought to the fore: members of groups outside the targeted segment are also exposed to targeted marketing efforts. This suggests that a target segment must also be considered in relation to the remainder of the marketplace from which it is drawn, those who are not in the target market. Consider that the demographic characteristics of a target market also describes both 1) others with those characteristics, but not the particular product need, and 2) those who don’t have the specific characteristics or need, but who are exposed to the targeted efforts (Star, 1989). These "others", i.e. those consumers who are not in a marketers’ intended target market, are not only exposed to, but also potentially influenced by, and may respond to, targeted marketing efforts. For example, Coors "Swedish Bikini Team" ads met with resistance from women’s groups, not their target market, and were subsequently not aired. There will always be some degree of misfit between targeted marketing efforts, the target market, and the actual program audience (Star, 1989), thus it is useful to understand how other audiences may influence consumer response.

Little prior research on targeting has adopted an explicit focus on consumers outside the targeted segment who are exposed to, potentially influenced by, and may respond to, targeted marketing efforts. Therefore, this session aimed to bring together research which examined how segmentation and targeting strategies influence, and are influenced by, both the target consumer culture, as well as others in the marketplace who are aware of and/or exposed to targeted marketing efforts. In particular, this session investigated the interaction of consumer segments as manifested in their inclusion or exclusion in target marketing efforts. The session involved three papers which examined "the other" in target marketing from different perspectives, yet all converged to address the role that "other" consumers play in understanding responses to targeted marketing efforts. Further, all three papers used different methodological approaches to consider characteristics of both the target and others outside of the defined target market, the nature of inter-group relations, the significance of the descriptors used to designate consumer segments, and how these segment "meanings" may influence consumer responses toward targeted marketing efforts.

The first presentation was "The Reproduction and Consumption of the "One" and Its "Others": An Examination of the Constitution and Interdynamics of US Consumer Cultures", by Lisa Pe±aloza and Sylvia Allegretto. This presentation explored consumer research issues associated with the increasing phenomena of marketplace diversity. It began with a slide presentation of Latino/a and gay/lesbian consumers to the music of Gil Scott-Heron’s 1974 recording, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Pe±aloza then described the intersections of three consumer cultures-the US mainstream and two of its "others," namely Latinos and gays/lesbians. She discussed the relationship of each groups’ social movement activism with marketing practice, specifically market targeting by large multinational firms of Latinos/as and gays/lesbians following their activism for basic civil rights. Discussion emphasized the inherent dialectical relationship between consumer behavior and market practice, and proceeded to explore the paradoxical relationship of White consumer behavior to mainstream and to Latino/a and gay/lesbian onsumer cultures. Consumer research implications included: 1) the significance of meanings associated with various descriptors used to designate consumer cultures (e.g. race, gender, ethnicity), 2) the notion of multiple, juxtaposed cultural consumer configurations which consumers continuously navigate and contest, and 3) the role of consumer researchers in constituting and reproducing notions of the mainstream and otherness in the marketplace.

The second presentation was "Noticing Difference: Ad Meanings Created By The Target And Non-Target Markets" by Sonya Grier, Anne Brumbaugh and Jennifer Aaker. They discussed a study which examined the type and nature of consumer responses to targeted advertising among both the target and non-target markets. They detailed an analysis of consumers’ open-ended responses to ads targeted both to their group, as well as two other groups of which they were not a member. Their qualitative analysis of consumer responses to targeted advertising was conducted at two levels: a) when the consumer was a member of the target market versus non-target market, and b) across particular social categories, namely race, gender and sexual orientation. Consumer responses in their study illustrated that consumers will actively process ads even when they feel the ad is not directed towards them. Further, their analysis found differences in the pattern of responses among groups. In particular they found that White subjects were most likely to respond to advertisements when they were in the non-target market, while Black and lesbian/gay subjects were less vocal about being in the non-target market. Further, they found that Black and gay/lesbian subjects were more vocal about advertisements targeted to them. Further, the nature of the comments differed among the various groups. They interpreted these results as suggesting that responses to targeted advertising by non-target market members may be strongest among the least distinctive (i.e. numerically and/or socially predominant) consumers. Conversely, the most distinctive consumers may be most likely to notice and process advertisements targeted to them. Results of the qualitative analysis suggested that socio-contextual factors influence who notices exclusion, who responds, and the type of attributions created by ads. These results were discussed in light of how responses to targeted advertisements may be influenced by who has typically been targeted by marketers. This latter point reinforced the prior presentation’s assertion of the dialectical relationship between market practice and consumer behavior.

The last presentation was "Consumer Ethical Evaluations Of Target Marketing Strategies", by N. Craig Smith and Elizabeth Cooper-Martin. This work investigated how we construct notions of what constitutes "vulnerable" consumer segments, and how this construction influences the ethical evaluation of targeting strategies. They sought to propose explanations for controversy and ethical concern over targeting. Their presentation detailed two experiments which examined how perceptions of target vulnerability and product harm influence ethical evaluations of the targeting strategy, and behavioral intentions such as consumer boycotts. Further, they examined whether consumer ethical evaluations of targeting strategies differed according to whether the consumer was within the target market or not. Results found strong support for public concern about the ethics of certain targeting strategies. This concern was a function of both perceived target vulnerability and perceived product harm. For example, they reported effects for both "sin" (e.g. cigarettes) and "non-sin" (hamburgers) products on evaluations of the targeting strategies. They also identified concern influenced not only by the products involved, but also based on perceived consumer vulnerability. This ethical concern was also found to give rise to disapproving behavioral intentions including boycotts and negative word of mouth. Further, they identified the types of respondents most likely to be concerned about targeting, including women, non-white and older consumers. They also found that the ethical evaluatons of respondents "in target" (i.e. those with the same demographic characteristic as the target consumer in the study scenarios) were significantly lower than those of "non-target" respondents (i.e. those outside the target described in the scenario), if the targeting strategy was directed at a more vulnerable consumer. Their presentation reinforced the session theme of the importance of considering consumers outside the targeted segment to gain insight into the intricacies underlying responses to targeted marketing efforts.

The synthesizer for the session, Rohit DeshpandT, conceptualized the "big picture" of the interrelationships of the target and the non-target markets in their social context. He emphasized three dialectics related to the session presentations. First, is the definition of the target market "etic" or "emic", i.e. who establishes the boundaries of target segments? Are they those intended by the marketer or due to self-ascription by the consumer? Also, he highlighted the significance and influence of the metaphors we implicitly apply to our understanding of social relations, e.g. a "melting pot" (i.e. a longitudinal, linear assimilation model) versus that of a "mosaic" (i.e. non-linear, group-identification resurgence model). Lastly, he addressed our need to consider the dialectic of collective consumer culture versus increasing social (i.e. racial, religious, ethnic) fragmentation. The discussion generated by the synthesizer’s comments and the three presentations focused upon understanding the factors which influence response to targeted marketing efforts by "others", including personal relevance, social concern, and the impact of changing market demographics on areas of consumer research inquiry. The papers and discussion also demonstrated how the designation of a consumer segment wields influence on consumer behavior beyond its use as a vehicle for marketing strategy. Further, the discussion implied how considering target segments in the context of "others" provides an additional source of meaning through which we can understand target marketing. The session contributed to understanding target marketing more holistically, and brought some provocative yet unexplored consumer behavior research issues to the fore. Additionally, the session demonstrated how multiple methodological approaches can illuminate the same issue. The session provided a platform for future research to incorporate the influence of contextual factors on consumer researchers’ understanding of target marketing. Further, the session’s methodological pluralism, fit with prior targeting research and social relevance of the topic also supported the conference goal of "breaking out of the box".


Aaker, Jennifer (1993) "The Non-Target Market Effect: Associated Feelings of Acceptance, Alienation or Apathy", Presented at the Association for Consumer Research conference, Nashville, TN.

Aaker, Jennifer, Anne Brumbaugh and Sonya Grier (1995) "This Bud is NOT for You", Presented at the Association for Consumer Research conference, Minneapolis, MN.

Berman, G. (1991) "The Hispanic Market: Getting Down to Cases", Sales and Marketing Management, (October), 65-74.

Cooper-Martin, Elizabeth and N. Craig Smith (1995), "Target Marketing: Good Marketing or Bad Ethics?" Presentation at the Marketing and Public Policy Conference, Atlanta.

DeshpandT, Rohit and Douglas Stayman (1994) "A Tale of Two Cities: Distinctiveness Theory and Advertising Effectiveness", Journal of Marketing Research, 31 (February), 57-64.

Pe±aloza, Lisa (1995 "We’re Here, We’re Queer and We’re Going Shopping", Gays, Lesbians and Consumer Behavior: Theory, Practice and Research in Marketing, Dan Wardlow, ed., Harrington Press.

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