What Lies Beneath

Demographics Timeline

A Brief History of Demographics

Early 1940s: The mass market reigns. TV and radio are dominated by sponsored shows such as "Bob Hope's Texaco Star Theater" with ads for big brands aimed at wide audiences.

1946: The "baby boom" begins. 77 million boomers will be the first generation to grow up with TV. The field of modern demographics develops around this explosion of births and migration patterns following World War II.

Late 1950s: Marketers use demographics and socioeconomics to segment the market into smaller groups of consumers who might buy their brands.

Early 60s: "Psychographics," which describes how attitudes and interests can be used to produce more effective advertisements, is on the rise.

1965: Forty-four million "baby busters," later known as Gen Xers, start to be born. This generation isn't considered big enough for marketers to bother with.

1971: Claritas is founded. Its products will allow companies to segment consumers into smaller and smaller groups based on psychographics and Census Bureau data. In 1978, Claritas developed ways of classifying whole neighborhoods with catchy names. New database "geo-demographic" systems let marketers apply psychographics to small, geographic areas. The information helps large retailers figure out where to build stores.

1978: Baby boomers start having kids. This 71-million strong "echo boom" generation will drive the Britney Spears-dominated youth market of the early 21st century.

Early 1980s: Marketers realize transactional data can drive marketing decisions. Bar code scanners are used in stores, and retailers begin to collect consumers' behavioral data.

1995: Websites start helping companies data-mine transactional data that's used to track customers' buying habits and drive marketing decisions.

1998: Web analysis tools like HitBox Professional start tracking web users using cookies, a precursor to today's annoying pop-up ads and spyware. Words like synergy are used endlessly to describe more sophisticated cross-promotions.

2000: Fledgling attempts at "neuromarketing," using brain scans to study consumer mind-sets. Ethnography, applying principals of anthropology to study consumers, is also emerging as a marketing tool.

2002: More thirtysomething Gen Xers are starting families. This yet-unnamed generation won't know a world without the web or wireless technology.

2005: Marketers are studying individual demographics and attitudes to create one-to-one marketing campaigns that can be sent to individual cell phones and PDAs.

2015: One-to-one marketing is the name of the game. Marketers gather the demographics and behavioral patterns of individual consumers to create individualized marketing messages. Even TV product placements can be geared to each household.

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the May 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What Lies Beneath.

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