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Targeted Marketing Works… Until It Doesn’t

29 May 2024

Paul Francis

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Traditional Marketing

Targeted marketing has long been the bedrock of successful advertising campaigns. By identifying and reaching out to a specific audience segment, companies can tailor their messages, products, and promotions to resonate deeply with the intended consumers. This approach typically ensures higher engagement, better conversion rates, and more efficient use of marketing resources. However, there are notable instances where products or brands have defied conventional wisdom, achieved unexpected success, and challenged the very notion of targeted marketing.


The Bedrock of Targeted Marketing

Traditional marketing wisdom emphasizes the importance of targeting. By understanding the demographics, psychographics, and behavioural patterns of their target audience, companies can create highly personalized and relevant campaigns. This strategic focus not only helps in engaging the right audience but also optimizes the marketing spend.


A Neon sign of a Nike Trainer

Nike’s “Just Do It” Campaign

One of the most iconic examples of successful targeted marketing is Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. Launched in 1988, this campaign was meticulously designed to inspire athletes and fitness enthusiasts across the globe. Nike’s ads featured a diverse array of athletes, from professional sports stars to everyday people, embodying the spirit of perseverance and determination.


Nike’s strategy was clear: they aimed to position their brand as synonymous with athletic excellence and personal achievement. The “Just Do It” slogan was a call to action, urging people to push their limits and embrace an active lifestyle. This targeted approach resonated deeply with Nike’s core audience, fostering brand loyalty and driving substantial growth. The campaign not only boosted sales but also cemented Nike’s place as a leading brand in the sportswear industry.


When Targeting Misses the Mark: The Power of Going Against the Grain

While targeted marketing has proven its efficacy time and again, there are remarkable cases where success came from defying the established norms. These outliers demonstrate that sometimes, going against the grain can yield astonishing results.


Rory Sutherland’s Red Bull Analogy

Rory Sutherland, a prominent advertising executive, famously highlighted the unexpected success of Red Bull to illustrate this point. He stated, “If someone had said they were going to create a rival for Coca-Cola that tasted awful and came in a smaller can but was twice the price, you would have laughed at them. But someone did. It’s called Red Bull, and it made its founder a multi-billionaire.” Red Bull’s meteoric rise defied traditional market expectations. Despite its unconventional taste, higher price point, and smaller packaging, Red Bull created a new category—energy drinks—and dominated it.


a 3D style button that is a YouTube logo

YouTube: An Unplanned Pivot

YouTube is another quintessential example of a product finding success outside its original targeted marketing strategy. Launched in 2005, YouTube was initially conceived as a dating site where users could upload videos introducing themselves. This idea failed to gain traction, and the platform did not attract the intended audience.


However, users began uploading a wide variety of content, from funny videos to tutorials and personal vlogs. Recognizing this organic shift, YouTube’s founders pivoted, embracing the broader appeal of a general video-sharing platform. This unexpected success story underscores the power of adaptability and the importance of listening to user behaviour rather than rigidly sticking to an initial target audience.


The Risks and Rewards of Defying Traditional Marketing

While these examples illustrate the potential rewards of going against targeted marketing, it’s important to acknowledge the inherent risks. Success stories like Red Bull and YouTube are rare and often involve a combination of innovation, timing, and a bit of luck. For every Red Bull or YouTube, there are countless other products that failed because they did not resonate with any audience.


Defying conventional marketing wisdom can lead to groundbreaking success, but it requires a deep understanding of market dynamics, a willingness to take significant risks, and the flexibility to adapt to unexpected opportunities. Brands considering such a strategy should be prepared for potential setbacks and should continuously monitor market responses to pivot as needed.



Targeted marketing remains a powerful tool for reaching the right audience and achieving business goals. It provides a clear, efficient path to engagement and conversion. However, as the stories of Red Bull and YouTube demonstrate, sometimes success lies in the unexpected and the unconventional. While going against the grain can lead to extraordinary breakthroughs, it is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that demands careful consideration and agile execution. As marketers navigate the ever-evolving landscape, the challenge is to balance the proven efficacy of targeted marketing with the boldness to explore new, uncharted territories.

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