James Thompson
Mar 23, 2015

Targeting works, but can be controversial

A BMW promotion using fine-grained targeting on WeChat recently proved that few things are so inviting as being excluded, writes James Thompson.

James Thompson
James Thompson

BMW China managed to split the atom last month in what is becoming a fierce debate amongst marketers—should we develop ever-more refined targeting techniques using Big Data or should we instead focus on maximising our reach to all category buyers?

The brand used WeChat’s targeting technology to pinpoint and communicate to its most likely buyers: people living in first- or second-tier cities who also owned an iPhone. Less-privileged WeChat users received ads for mobile phones or soft drinks instead.

Word spread like wildfire—BMW ad receivers posted screenshots proving their status. Those who did not see the ads complained and posted self-deprecating comments, while theories (that only well-connected or good-looking people received the BMW ads, for example) started to make the rounds.

So, presumably by design rather than accident, BMW managed to get the benefits both of targeting and scale of reach as those who weren’t terminally offended by their exclusion were reminded of the brand’s aspirational status. Publicity generated even more reach, as news of this ended up on front pages around the world, even on the venerable Financial Times. Consumer engagement with the brand has apparently soared.

This definitely falls into the ‘I wish I’d done that’ category, and the story also serves to reinforce how sterile the debate between targeting and reach can be.

Part of BMW’s insight is that few things can be so maddenly inviting as being excluded. Of course some will have been alienated. But in our crowded branded environment, marketers with the courage to attract criticism may be the ones driving first across the finishing line.

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio). Follow or Tweet him @JamesThompson1

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