How To Target Your Audience With TV Advertising

TV advertising is no stranger to misconceptions. Talk that no one watches TV or that it’s unmeasurable have been consistently debunked.  

But one myth has proven resilient: the idea that with a mass-reach channel like TV, you can’t target specific audiences. That it’s like casting a giant net and just hoping a few interested viewers will find their way into it. 

That’s untrue. In fact, unless you’re the head of marketing at P&G (a company that just might be able to target everyone), failing to target with TV is highly irresponsible, a sure-fire way to tank your campaign’s success before it even launches. Sophisticated mass marketers should always work to reach consumers most likely to drive results for their business, even on TV. 


What is sophisticated mass marketing, really? 

TV’s known for its mass reach. It’s still one of the best ways for marketers to share their brand with large audiences. Unfortunately, some have interpreted this as suggesting mass marketing on TV requires marketing to everyone

The problem, of course, is not everyone has the potential to purchase, or even influence someone else’s purchase decision. Even if they did, it makes sense to start with those most likely to buy, right? That’s the entire premise of targeting—starting with the easy wins is a more effective use of your marketing dollars. 

For almost every brand, there are consistent themes across your customers. Maybe you own a remodeling company, and all your customers are homeowners. Or maybe your skincare brand is a favorite among women in their thirties. 

Sophisticated mass marketing involves making the most of TV’s mass reach while respecting defined criteria around your target audience. It’s the careful calibration of both broad-reach tactics and precision targeting. It’s not targeting everyone. It is targeting everyone likely to be in-market for your offering. 

Professor Byron Sharp of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute explains it this way: 

“Sophisticated mass marketing doesn’t mean targeting everyone, nor does it mean treating everyone the same. It means understanding the heterogeneity in your market, and then catering for only the differences that matter in order to maximise reach while not eliminating the benefits of scale.” 

Rather than relying on the hope that your message will somehow find the right ears in a sea of viewers, refine your audience based on defined criteria. Then use a channel like TV to connect with as many people in that audience as possible. 

So how do you know which groups you should target with TV? 


How to determine your audience for TV advertising 

Targeting with TV isn’t about avoiding the wrong people. It’s finding where the right people are. 

Begin by understanding your “bullseye” target. This is your ideal customer, the one you're probably also targeting through digital ads. It’s their need-states and mindsets that should drive creative and indicate consumer dimensions needed to define the range and scale of your potential market. 

But TV’s all about reach… so are there others who share similarities with your bullseye audience? Or a group that could be a good fit for your offering but isn’t the first that comes to mind? Is there anyone who may act in an influencing role for this group?  

This is where the idea of positive spill comes into play. In marketing, “spill” is often equated with “waste.” But additional reach beyond a brand’s ideal target audience often results in unexpected new customers. We saw this in practice when creating TV campaigns for Stuffies, stuffed animals with seven secret pockets. We originally advertised Stuffies to kids and their parents. But we quickly learned grandparents were the biggest buyers of Stuffies and loved gifting them to grandkids.  

Plus, even people who don’t become customers can provide value—if they play a role in others’ purchase decisions. After all, 89% of purchase decisions are discussed with others. And the bigger the purchase decision, the more likely there are multiple people weighing in.  

Remember, this still doesn’t mean targeting everyone. It’s just a slight expansion of your bullseye target to ensure you don’t miss important prospects or influencers. 

Once your target audience is defined, the next step is to figure out how you’re going to use TV to connect with that audience. Fortunately, there are many ways to do that across both linear and streaming TV


What types of targeting can be used with TV? 

1. Demographic and psychographic targeting 

Demographic targeting is a classic approach that segments audiences based on factors like age, gender, income, and education. This filters out consumers unlikely to be interested in your offering. Today, you can even target by psychographics like interests, values, and lifestyles. 

Example: Let’s say you market for a financial services company that serves high-income customers. With demographic targeting, you can choose to only reach households with an income of at least $200,000. 

Applications: Linear and streaming TV 


2. Location-based targeting and geotargeting 

This technique involves targeting viewers based on their geographic location. This can be done in a couple of ways. You could buy local media to only advertise in certain markets. Or you could get very specific by using geotargeting in your streaming campaigns. 

Example: Selling raincoats? You'll want to target viewers in Seattle over those in sunny San Diego. 

Applications: Linear and streaming TV 


3. Using first-party data 

Your company's first-party data, or information directly gathered from your customers and website visitors, can provide insights to enhance your TV campaigns’ effectiveness. This data can help craft personalized messages that resonate with your audience but also let you know exactly which customers will become most valuable long-term. 

Example: Your luxury car company collects data finding that your best customers are city-dwelling professionals aged 30-50. Using this first-party data, you build a look-alike audience to target with your streaming campaigns.  

Applications: Linear and streaming TV 


4. Contextual targeting 

This method involves placing your ads within content that your target audience is likely to consume. This can be a highly cost-effective way to target since you avoid targeting fees but are still able to present your ads to audiences who will find the offering relevant. 

Example: You advertise your new line of kitchenware during a popular cooking show. Or promote sports gear during a live football match. 

Applications: Linear and streaming TV 


5. One-to-one IP targeting 

With the evolution of smart TVs, one-to-one IP targeting has become a popular targeting method for streaming advertisers. This allows brands to reach individual households, which is ideal for brands with particularly niche audiences. 

Example: Your brand specializes in gear for extreme sports. You use online data from adventure blogs and extreme sports communities to find thrill-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. Through one-to-one IP targeting, you then deliver ads directly to their TVs. 

Applications: Streaming TV 


6. Behavioral targeting 

By looking at your audience’s past online behavior including the websites they visit, the products they've searched for, the content they've liked, you can tailor your ads to match their preferences. This is truly targeting like digital advertising. 

Example: Your wellness app targets fitness fans through streaming TV by identifying individuals who frequent health and fitness websites, search for workout routines, or engage with wellness influencers online.  

Applications: Streaming TV 


7. Device targeting 

Device targeting allows you to select the devices on which your audience views your ad, whether that’s a TV set, tablet or smartphone.   

Example: A DTC mattress company uses their commercials to explain what makes their mattresses different. With device targeting, they ensure their ads show up only on TV screens, so they get the full benefit on TV’s visibility and viewers aren't able to skip the ad. 

Applications: Streaming TV 


8. Retargeting 

Retargeting can reinforce your message with those who previously interacted with your brand but haven't converted. It offers a second-chance, nudging prospects further down the conversion funnel. Or, you can retarget people who have bought from you in the past but may be likely to buy from you again. 

Example: A viewer has purchased dresses from your classic clothing brand in the past. A TV ad featuring your summer collection might nudge them to take another look. 

Applications: Streaming TV 


Ideally, a combination of these targeting strategies will be used for each campaign. And no one method is inherently better than others. It’s all about what makes sense for your brand and reaching your specific audience. 

But targeting with TV advertising? It’s definitely possible. 


Learn more about targeting your ideal audience on TV. 

Listen to VP Strategy Dan Cleveland explain how targeting on mass reach channels like TV is much more advanced than it used to be. Or connect with our team to start building your own TV audience strategy.