Mass appeal was never about mass

Modern marketing says mass appeal is over, but the truth is it never actually existed. Human beings are quirky by nature. We all want to be original. We want to be the one who had original thoughts, original ideas, original dreams and vision. What do we say when someone says something smart? ‘I wish I’d thought of that.’

Advertising has always been about connecting on a one-to-one basis. Find the quirks, and make the connections. Forget about mass appeal. It will take care of itself. You know the wisdom that you can’t please everyone? Well, it’s true. (You also can’t connect with everyone.) You can, however, please the people who other people watch, listen to, and admire.

There’s an interesting thing about the quirkiest humans – they tend to stand out like sore thumbs. They’re either proud, or fiercely individual. They talk about what they like and do, or they are so bold people take notice. They influence their friends, lover(s), family, and bystanders. People mimic them.

What happens when the individuals and standouts buy something new? People take notice. They make fun, wonder aloud, investigate, ask their friends about that new something. And they buy.

I remember buying an iPod for $499 when it had just been released in 2002. People said I was insane. Why would I pay $500 when I could just buy a Walkman CD player for $50 and carry a few CD’s with me? What’s a Walkman?

(This isn’t about me, but) I recall buying a pair of Lycra running tights at the only Nike store (at the time) in 1985. I was a high school junior on the track team at a large school, and I was the first person to brandish tights. Every single person on the team made fun of me, called me ‘gay’ or ‘Batman’ or whatever. They shouted criticisms across the field, broadcasting their interest. They were marketing to themselves, talking, trying to gain confirmation of the fact that they wanted tights too. While they slogged through training with often soaked, heavy, cold cotton sweatpants, I floated. By the next year almost every kid on the team wore tights.

Mass is about one. It’s about the individual. It’s about taking notice. Appeal to the individuals, (which shows you care and are in touch), and your advertising wins.

Kelly Hobkirk - teaching marketers how to harness strategy, goals, reality, and purpose to connect and do better work.


Kelly Hobkirk has been helping companies succeed in creative ways for nearly 25 years. His work has been featured in Time Magazine, and books by Rockport and Rotovision. Get exclusive articles when you sign up for his monthly newsletter.

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