Tag Archives: advertising

How Business Categorizes Consumers

In society, people belong to groups of all sorts and affiliate themselves with others in numerous ways; American, Male, Black, Adult, Progressive, Democrat, Hiphoppa, Teacher, Writer, Whovian etc. We even let the stereotypical characterizations of these groups become part of our own identity. We identify with many groups or just some specific groups which we feel define us best. Throughout society, these definitions allow or prevent us from walking through unfamiliar doors more easily. People think the best definitions of how they are perceived by themselves or others, are based on their outward characteristics like race or societal status. Some people even think that the ‘powers that be’ link them to these groups in order to keep them in certain categories. These groups, and the perceived conflicts between them, make it possible for certain doors to open or close only where appropriate. This simplification helps enable us to get through our day without having to process too much complex information so often. We use stereotypes to categorize situations, people, places and things almost like a reflex.

It’s one thing for people to define themselves or voluntarily become part of a stereotyped group, but often-times we are forced into groups by birth. Chief among all these group affiliations seems to be race. It is a category which we are born into and depending on where you live in the World, may be very significant in the society in which you reside. It even seems that the so-called ‘powers that be’ use this category above most others to maintain power. However, after studying business marketing, it seems that the most important categories are ones that most people have never heard of. These classifications are the main ones of concern to those who make money or want to maintain political power. All of the other groups are secondary to these affiliations. The secondary groups like race, nationality, ethnicity etc. are maintained by the power brokers of business, but only in reference to the primary categories which are defined beyond all cultural affiliations. This classification is known as the 4C’s or Cross Cultural Consumer Characterization, developed by one of the largest advertising firms in the World, Young and Rubicam founded in 1923. The firm, now known as Y&R, made some of the first color television commercials in the 1960’s and today boasts revenue of $907 million per year.


The 4C’s model is based on seven stereotyped classifications of  psychological behavior which Y&R felt people fall into regardless of race, gender, nationality or group affiliation. This model is what business is built on today. For as long as there has been a class known as mainstream, this model has been in effect. For generations, business has sought to place people in the category of mainstream, because it is their biggest and most lucrative market. The other categories exist as markets while also helping to define the mainstream market and keep it distinct from the others. In business, the core motivations and buying habits of the members of each classification are manipulated by secondary categories to push them towards a purchase of whatever product or service the business is selling. For instance, the Mainstreamer’s core motivation for security can be manipulated by their fear of other races, ethnicities, cultures etc. to make them purchase a burglar alarm system or a gun.


In recent decades, the Succeeder has been indulged by big business to emphasize the high-priced lifestyle of first, Young Urban Professionals (Yuppies) in the 1980’s, then Black Urban Professionals (Buppies) in the 1990’s and the Wall Street/Real Estate Investors of the 2000’s. These Succeeders also include Sports and Entertainment Elite who promote the products of a high-priced lifestyle for the Aspirer class to emulate. For some, the path of life flows through stages from the Explorer to the Resigned. At each stage, there are different product options which fit the stage of life, psychological motivation and income level.

4 Cs-3

At any point however, due to economic situations, a person can become a Struggler, whose core motivation is escape which becomes a viable source of income for many businesses that depend on the revenue from this group (i.e. junk food, alcohol, and lottery). The contrast which is set-up between these groups defines each category and is sometimes helped by cultural characteristics like physical appearance even beyond race, such as manner of dress/fashion and hairstyles. Dressing like a Hipster can define one as being from the Aspirer class. Certain premium business attire can define one as a Succeeder. Other fashion choices make one fit into an Explorer, Mainstreamer or Resigned category. Probably the smallest class of individuals, includes the least materialistic and hardest to please niches called the Reformers, who are not so easily defined by fashion and appearance. Although they can support or develop new market areas in technology and information, their core motivation is enlightenment instead of control (Succeeder), status (Aspirer) or discovery (Explorer).

Reformers are the ones who brought us innovations such as the internet and social media, and before that, new forms of art and culture like Jazz and Hip Hop, which later became a business that the other six categories still utilize. Yet Reformers remain hidden in society. They may appear to be a Mainstreamer, Struggler, Succeeder etc., but instead be a Reformer who disavows the normal path of consumer development.


Culturally, the Reformer is who everyone follows. They lead to new paths and opportunities for both business and consumers. Most businesses don’t spring out of true necessity like food, shelter and clothing, but instead, luxury, preference and trendiness. Businesses follow trends. Reformers on the other hand, create trends by definition. This doesn’t mean that Succeeders, who want to increase their bottom line, can’t create new trends, because they do. Those trends, to Reformers, are considered manufactured or commercial trends forced on the masses through calculated marketing techniques. So many times, businesses capitalize on the trends and innovations left in the path of Reformers to set up lucrative business models that sell to Explorers, Aspirers, Mainstreamers, Suceeders, Strugglers and the Resigned.

My favorite PSAs from the past

Public Service Announcements used to be a staple on commercial airwaves. The quality of messages put out by service organizations like the Ad Council have helped people become aware of important issues affecting their lives. The Ad Council’s mission is to, “Identify a select number of significant public issues and stimulate action on those issues through communications programs that make a measurable difference in our society.” However, the first PSAs I noticed when I was a kid came from a New York City commercial advertising agency named McCaffery and McCall. McCall sensed the need for more entertaining education and hired Bob Dorough to write one of the first in a series of songs in 1973, that would become known as Schoolhouse Rock. It was 42 years ago this week on January 20, 1973 when ABC’s Michael Eisner aired “Zero my Hero” on his Saturday morning children’s line-up. The series spawned several classics and some of my favorite PSAs of all time.

There was a special combination of the time period of the Hippie generation and creative advertising people recognizing the impact of edutainment before the Hip Hop generation would coin the term some 20 years later in the 1990’s, that made Schoolhouse Rock possible. Even now the songs are still pleasant to listen to, show musicianship and a certain edginess and philosophical insight indicative of the Hippie age.

Is advertising deceptive?

Let the buyer beware
Let the buyer beware

When I was young, I remember seeing an episode of the Brady Bunch that introduced me to the concept of “caveat emptor”, which Mr. Brady explained as, “let the buyer beware.” This is the idea that it’s up to the buyer to be vigilant about what they purchase. This seems to be the model we work from here in America. It’s up to the consumer to not fall for deceptive marketing. The seller has freedom to market and can employ seductive techniques that persuade buyers to embrace their products creating a desire to buy them. Many of the deceptive practices commercial advertising uses are not overt, but instead subliminal. To me deceptive tactics include associative techniques that put beautiful models in beer commercials for example.

False claims are obviously wrong and deceptive by nature, but the associative techniques that create moods or feelings toward the brand are really the most powerful. The techniques themselves, although deceptive are not necessarily wrong though. So whereas a false claim is deceptive and always wrong, associative techniques are deceptive but not always “wrong’ to do.

Perfume commercials or alcohol commercials are some of the easiest ones to see this practice unfold. Perfume commercials use models and exotic locations to create scenes with a certain mood that have little to do with the way a perfume smells. They sell it based on associations a person makes in their mind to the images they were presented with. If they wanted to illicit smells thru the visuals, they would show pictures of flowers or mountain rivers, like air-freshener commercials do. Instead, they show you two individuals chasing each other through a mansion with their clothes askew. You might not know if they’re running toward each other or away from each other, whether they’re angry or in love. It’s just a mood which seeks to stimulate feelings in the consumer. This, is kind of deceptive because what does the image have to do with the product? What does the commercial imply about the use of the product? Nothing really. And they aren’t really making any claims that they can be held to. They just create a mood and hope the consumer associates strong positive feelings with their brand and subsequently buys it.

Because some advertising is deceptive by nature, some people feel that it’s immoral, and it can be at times. The act of persuasion is almost always an attempt to increase the benefits of the persuader in commercial advertising. Other times, the persuadee or person the ad is directed at, can be warned or cautioned away from something that will harm them which in turn, benefits them. Is it always immoral to persuade someone to purchase something? No, yet sometimes ads cross the line into subliminally shaming, threatening or coercing the consumer with their message. Here, the consumer must remember the line Mr. Brady told his son Greg on an episode of the 1970’s TV show the Brady Bunch “caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.” The episode was all about truth in advertising.
The full episode and synopsis of the show can be found on TV.com (TV.COM LINK) “Greg is all excited as he’s about to go in for his driver’s test. When he passes the test, he decides that he needs his own car so he buys a car for $100 from his friend Eddie who made the car into something it’s not. Finding that he has been stuck, Greg attempts to do the same thing Eddie did, when he tries to sell the car.”