Monday, December 25, 2017

The Tyranny of the Target Audience

I cringe every time I hear a well-meaning PD or GM instruct a personality to focus everything they create and present on "our target audience." It often goes something like this:

"Our target audience is a woman 25-44. I want everything you create or put on the radio to appeal to her. Figure out what she cares about. Find out what she's talking about. Imagine what she's thinking about. Find out what she likes to do. Everything on your show should be about her. Just to remind you, I've put a big picture of her on the control room wall so you'll see her every time you open the mic."

These instructions are debilitating and dehumanizing. Without saying it, they strongly imply that the life the radio personality is living has little in common with the "target audience" and doesn't really matter when it comes to creating stuff to put on the radio. The effect is corrosive. When radio personalities are constantly told, subtly or directly, to look outside themselves for ideas for their shows, they suffer a loss of self-awareness and self-esteem. Their individuality and even their humanity are diminished. They gravitate to safe stereotypes about the "target audience." They rely on trending topics on social media and syndicated prep services. They begin doing a show to please their bosses and not themselves. They end up doing a show that excites almost no one, including themselves. It's not distinctive. It's not personal. It's not intimate. It's not memorable. It's not important. The lack of energy, enthusiasm, and passion is palpable. And sadly, the show sounds just like every other morning radio show. For example, when was the last time you heard a morning radio show with a female "target audience" that didn't have a woman reporting celebrity news and gossip each day. The exact same celebrity news and gossip heard up and down the radio dial and widely available on Facebook and other social media. You know, the ever present trending topics.

The tyranny of the "target audience" instruction has created countless victims within the radio business. It's also caused many really talented and interesting personalities to flee traditional AM and FM radio for places like the world of podcasting that allow more creative freedom and encourage innovation and experimentation. I've talked to many of the victims over the years.  Regrettably, what they all seem to have in common is a loss of their individuality and personal identity. When I ask them what kind of show they want to do, they always tell me, "I can do whatever kind of show you want me to do." They often ask me, "What is your target audience?" If I give them an answer, no matter what it is, they nearly always tell me, "I can do a show for that audience."

There are other big problems with the "target audience" instructions. They assume every woman or man is living their life as part of a homogenous demographic group. Like every woman 25-44 has the exact same life with the same interests, wants and needs. They also assume that it's possible to predict, with some certainty, what every man or woman wants to hear on the radio because they belong to a demographic group. That's a myth. If it were true, every song would be a hit, every movie a blockbuster, every book a bestseller, and every radio show would be killing it in PPM.

So why not forget the mythical "target audience" and instead encourage personalities to focus their creative efforts on the one thing they all have in common with their listeners? Male or female, no matter our age, we all share the same set of emotions. Joy and sadness. Love and hate. Doubt and fear. Emotion is the universal human connector. The surest way for a radio personality to create the most distinctive, appealing, and relevant content and attract the largest and most loyal audience possible is to pay attention to what rings their emotional bell in every event and circumstance of their lives. What makes them laugh, cry, or marvel. What generates a sense of wonder and awe. What causes them to think or feel differently or completely change their mood. What inspires them. What gets them truly excited and arouses their curiosity. This is the source of great content because it springs from what we all have in common. Not our age, sex or demographic group, but our humanity, our human emotions.

Don't let the tyranny of the "target audience" claim another victim, produce another bland and disposable radio show, or chase another talented artist from AM and FM radio.

No comments: