Targeting vulnerable audiences

Targeting vulnerable audiences

From children to the elderly, when targeting more vulnerable consumers, marketers need to put people before profit – if they are to profit.

Three weeks after the death of his wife, Mark Roy, chairman of the data communications agency REaD Group, received a letter from her bank with the headline, ‘Say Goodbye’. “Needless to say for me this was poorly timed and very distressing,” he says. “It was more so for my seven-year-old son who picked up the envelope. I have never forgotten this piece of marketing and it was what inspired me to create The Bereavement Register (TBR) at REaD Group.”

He continues: “Research shows that eight-out-of-ten people who receive a mailing for a recently deceased person will never buy from that brand again. Mailing the deceased is brand-damaging, a waste of money, affects campaign performance, and goes against the DMA’s best practice. The Bereavement Register (TBR) removes these people from databases saving the recipient grief and the company huge embarrassment.”

Roy and his team have created a clear solution for marketers so they can avoid causing distress to the recently bereaved, but what of other vulnerable groups such as children? “Studies have shown children under the age of eight don’t understand when they are being marketed to,” says Libby Bearman, conversion rate optimisation manager at Browser Media. “As such they should be considered a vulnerable audience – they can’t understand that an ad is trying to sway their opinion, or change their view.”

She points to the ruling against Moshi Monsters as an example of the risks here. “Moshi Monsters was found to be pushing its subscription on kids, implying, amongst other things, that they’d become more popular if they spent money on the app,” she explains. “This didn’t go down well with parents or the UK advertising regulator, who ruled they could no longer use these tactics to encourage children to subscribe. Mind Candy, makers of the game, was then placed on the Advertising Standards Authority’s website’s non-compliant advertisers list for failing to react to the ruling.”

Roy points to the issues gambling sites currently face with under-18s falsely entering their date of birth to gain access to websites. “Although in this scenario the consumer is providing false information, it is the responsibility of the marketers to match dates of birth against an age verification register,” he says. “There are reasons age restrictions exist and it’s the marketer’s job to cover themselves against this.”

There are many issues to consider, and the 2011 CIM report on marketing to children will provide useful advice to any marketer looking to further educate themselves on the topic. Many companies for whom children, or other vulnerable audiences, are a key audience have created their own in-house training programmes. For example, Dan Hagen, chief strategy officer at Carat, points out that the team working with Mattel at Carat have all attended Kid Aware courses to understand the legal implications and ensure they make the right decisions.

There are of course many other vulnerable audiences to consider. Hagen says: “Care also needs to be taken when marketing to the elderly, who may be finding it harder and more confusing to make decisions. There are also some more category specific audiences we need to consider carefully. Alcohol or gambling advertising are good examples of where we need to be mindful of dependency.”

He concludes: “There are clear legal and moral imperatives to do the right thing here. However, there is also a compelling business case for it. In today’s transparent digital economy, it is vital that brands put consumers first and at the heart of their communications, making media more human and behaving with more empathy.

If you'd like to learn more about how to define the right target stakeholders, and ensure that the right messages and propositions are communicated to them, check out our Managing Marketing Communications course. 

Alex Blyth Writer
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