Target vs. Total Market: The Paradox of Diverse Mainstream Content

In Lind (Ed.). Race/Gender/Class/Media: Considering Diversity Across Audiences, Content, and Producers (4th Edition). Routledge. Available at

From analog and broadcast to digital and interactive technologies, diverse voices are sharing their intersectional identities publicly, and this discourse has become a mainstay of recent communication research. However, the industry approach to audiences, which conceptualizes consumers as large demographic (gender, race, class) and psychographic (attitudes, aspirations) categories, has been slower to evolve.

To address this increasingly complicated audience environment, some advertisers have returned to so-called “universal” messages that supposedly incorporate, but do not separate, the experiences and motivations of specific demographic groups. This “total market” approach is in opposition to “targeted” marketing strategies that focus on and pursue consumers of specific demographics. Through interviews with 36 advertising professionals, the current research explores the experiences of producing content using these different strategies to reveal how total market practices reinforce hegemonic structures and affect the mainstream production of diverse voices. Three key themes emerged:

(1) The prevalence of tokenism and stereotypes at general market agencies. Tokenism is the practice of recruiting a few people from underrepresented groups to give the appearance of racial equality. Interviewees expressed feelings of tokenism when recounting their experiences at mainstream general market agencies. “It’s like you are the spokesperson for all Black people.”

(2) The need to listen to and value marginalized communities. Several interviewees reported that mainstream advertisers focused on Black consumers on an as-needed basis or as an afterthought. Alternatively, multicultural agencies understand and actively address the needs and motivations of minority communities.  “We’re doing more general market work than we’re doing targeted AA [African American] work, but it’s coming from AA insights.”

(3) The affordances of individual authenticity in new media technologies and in public discourse. The strategies of the broadcast era are in conflict with the expectations of digital consumers to engage with content that is uniquely relevant to them. Authenticity was repeatedly described as a characteristic of both the digital media environment and intersectional identity. “There’s a sense of comfort in being able to be yourself” (M, NB, 7).

These themes will be described along with strategies for inclusive and diverse mainstream content in an increasingly fragmented marketplace.


About charisselpree

The Media Made Me Crazy
This entry was posted in Consulting, Intersectional Identities, Media and identity Construction, Psychology and Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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