A fundamental term in marketing theory, perhaps the most basic of all marketing catch words, is target population. Experts, consultants and professors of marketing invest the best years of their lives in defining the target population, its characterization, how to expose and track it, and how to understand its needs. Every new idea in the fields of production and services immediately encounter the question: for whom is the product intended? To whom can the particular item or service be marketed? The pursuit of a target population has become an obsession among marketers. The more we know about the target population, the more its characteristics are displayed before us like an open book, the more easily we can try to target it to buying what we are convinced it must have. The secret of marketing magic, claim various marketers, is in the ability to “speak to the target population in its own language”. Cracking the genetic “target population” code is a problem since reality does not sit well with the “target population” concept.
When the personal computer was invented, the leaders of the computer industry stated that it has no target population: at the most, several thousand people crazy about technologies will be willing to pay good money to bring this ugly product called “personal computer”, with its somewhat unclear usages, into their homes.
But when the mobile cellular phone was invented, communications experts stated that the target population for this ‘toy’ was highly limited: farmers, truck drivers, and people who travel a minimum of some 75 minutes to work, and back, in their private cars. In Israel, at least one expert further declared, emphatically, based on his knowledge of the Israeli target population, that “in Israel we won't be seeing people sitting in cafes talking on cellphones.” The author of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling, has noted in interviews that she never believed, when she sat to write the first book, that she would reach billions of readers worldwide. She had no idea to whom the book would be marketed, if at all!
Peter Drucker, the founding father of scientific business management, claimed that “the greatest inventions in history had not target population; generally, nor did the slightest inventions.” Seeking a target population can, on occasion, lead to an over-reaching forecast. When Viagra, the erectile dysfunction pill for men, came into use, its target population was estimated at billions. In actuality, that potential was not realized. Currently, only some 20 to 25 percent of Viagra sales is to the original target population. Perhaps the population exists, but Viagra does not interest it. Nor can we overlook the high-tech bubble of the late 1990s, based on an infinite target population of internet users, a prediction that ended in widespread business catastrophe.
Ofer Aloni, multidisciplinary artist who manages an advertising and marketing studio in Rehovot, tells me that it’s definitely possible to forego all talk of target populations. “All this talk of target populations is founded on a patronizing, even fetishist, approach. To attain the target population according to traditional marketing principles, it is necessary to go down to that population’s level, to talk in its language, a shallow low-level language which is not the elitist language of the marketers themselves.” All people are born equal, says Aloni, and marketing needs to be based on this outlook. It needs to be a “human service”. The population is not ‘somewhere down below’ but is at precisely the same human level as yourself.”
Aloni is an extraordinary person, softly spoken, deeply thoughtful who, surviving in the current Israeli marketing discourse , excels in extraordinary times. He is comparable to none.
Aloni drew my attention with his presentation at the opening of a business exposition a year ago. Passers-by were invited to dip a brush in their favorite color and paint a line on a wall-size white canvas. The result was a spectrum, a mosaic of many colors, contributed to by many individuals. Later I visited his studio, styled as a mix between a bar and gallery (and named for the 19th century French artist Paul Gaugin, who painted the lost eden of Tahiti). I looked at Aloni’s works and was captured by their charm. “Managers of marketing,” Aloni says, “must love life. They don’t need to love the work of marketing – after all, a laborer in a chocolate factory is hardly expected to be continue being thrilled about chocolate – but that laborer does need to love the people for whom her or his work is designated.”
Ofer Aloni is careful to talk about people rather than clients or customers, and about the content of the advertising message rather than its form. He riles against “the cold, patronizing world of marketing”. In recent years, marketing aggression, subversive and blatant, have become the main sales tool in our lives: “I scream therefore I exist.” Israelis of a more refined nature are tossed aside.
The Hebrew spoken by Aloni, like his creative marketing work, is based on surprising and unexpected connections. His Hebrew lilts, in complete opposition to the uber eroded pseudo-cool Hebrew of broad-spectrum Israeli advertising campaigns. “These campaigns,” says Aloni, “pollute our social air. They are illusional distortions. I praise innocence in marketing, that artistic foundation missing from practical objectives. The intimate value of marketing, according to my perception, can be manifested through minimal means such as the touch of a brush, the drip of color.” Technology which seemingly connects people actually causes them to distance. Two people who have conducted a lengthy internet chat, writes Ofer Aloni in “A cultural marketing manifest”, may easily find difficulty in chatting with each other face to face, eye to eye. internet-addicted surfers simply do not know how to conduct a basic, human conversation.” They are the people to whom inhuman marketing, which Ofer Aloni finds highly disturbing, is directed.
To date, the style of inhuman marketing has failed. I tell Aloni about the billions of dollars invested over the past five years in establishing data bases on internet surfers, on buyers and sellers and anyone showing interest in the web: all of it wasted investment. Almost nothing useful to business has come of all that money. The raw data has flooded and blocked server and computer memories. Business software of the smartest kinds have not succeeded in structuring the profile of a reliable customer, nor have the programs shown themselves convincing enough to be applied to personal marketing. People have found ways to protect their privacy.
Aloni does not oppose economics and the market. He established the Kawasaki exhibition for the Automotor expo, and the Leumit Health Fund display at the Family Health Exhibition. Nor does he rattle off, rote, the left’s anti-economy views. “If not for economics,” Aloni says, “each of us would stay at home, with our goat and our lettuce, and would be prevented from having social interactions with new people and worlds.” Without an economy there is no society, no community, just an empty utopian ideal, and archipelago of isolated islands. The economy is vital, but Ofer Aloni seeks within it partnership, creativity, and believes that marketing can adopt a human face, even if it survives as a pursued creature in the predatory Israeli jungle.
This article appeared in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s leading newspaper, in the Friday Economics Magazine “Mammon”