What Is Mass Marketing? Advantages & Disadvantages

By Tina RuhlowLast Updated Mar 23, 2021 6:21:33 PM ET
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Everywhere you look these days, you’re bound to see an advertisement. In short, we’re being bombarded, but some folks may not realize that marketing is more than just getting one’s product out there. In fact, it’s a complex science. In the modern age of hyper-targeting — we’re looking at you, personalized Instagram ads — some companies are staying true to mass marketing, a tactic that has its roots in the Roaring Twenties. So, what is mass marketing — and does it still work?

What Is Mass Marketing?

Mass marketing is a strategy that utilizes a single campaign for the masses. That is, the ad should be compelling to anyone who might possibly stumble across it. At first glance, this may seem like what all companies do, but non-mass marketing is far more complicated. Marketers do intense research into sociology and the life and purchasing habits of people of demographics they want to reach. How serious are these marketing researches? Well, the word teenager didn’t exist until marketers wanted to target that age group.

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In non-mass marketing, advertisements for the same product may look drastically different based upon which publication they appear in. For example, the same jewelry company may include a picture of a beautiful actress wearing a necklace in a magazine with a readership mainly made up of women, while they may run something completely different in a magazine geared towards men.

However, in mass marketing, the jewelry company would run a single ad, regardless of audience or publication. One of the most famous mass marketing efforts is that of Coca-Cola. Over the years, the company has run a variety of advertisements with its iconic polar bears, for example, and those memorable ads are meant to appeal to everyone, not a particular group of Coke drinkers.

The History of Mass Marketing

Mass marketing gained popularity in the 1920s when radio irrevocably changed both entertainment and marketing. Before that, most advertisements were targeted, simply because they appeared in magazines for specific audiences. Even today, it would be pretty odd to find an advertisement for submarine construction tools in O, The Oprah Magazine, for example.

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But, thanks to the advent of the radio, ‘20s advertisers became eager to maximize their marketing dollars and reach broader audiences than ever before. It also helped that folks were glued to their radios, much in the same way we’re constantly watching our TV and phone screens today. Thus, this one-size-fits-all form of advertising was born. Soon, companies employing the strategy ran the same effective ads on television, newspapers, and billboards, which, undoubtedly, reshaped marketing in America.

The Advantages of Mass Marketing

Even though it’s a one-size-fits-all notion, mass marketing is not just some cheap shortcut to maximize an advertiser’s spend. In fact, it forces marketers to think creatively in order to craft the one big ad that’ll be broadcast across multiple channels. Think the McDonald’s jingle or Skittles’ "taste the rainbow" catchphrase. What do they have in common? Folks around the world can’t get them out of their heads.

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The phrases and visuals associated with mass marketing have staying power, so they become strong symbols of a brand. A single campaign conveys a strong message to all sectors of the public, and, as a result, creates an increased awareness and particular brand identity. Long story short, the more an ad is out there in the public, the more likely folks are to support it. Be it by building a kind of trust through being recognizable or simply being the first things folks think of, mass marketing urges consumers to practice brand loyalty.

The Disadvantages of Mass Marketing

While mass marketing can be effective, marketers have also found a lot of success by appealing to the nuances of individual demographics. While mass marketing has the potential to reach a large audience, it also has the potential to lose a large portion of said audience. It’s difficult to make a message that truly appeals to everyone — and first impressions matter. In reality, different people are interested in different products for different reasons. In short, a mass marketing campaign is a gamble, and while some marketers have struck gold, others have lost millions.

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Moreover, truly effective mass marketing campaigns can be cost-prohibitive. One would not be wrong to assume that mass marketing often has a massive cost. Any message that’s primed to reach the whole population needs to be spread far and wide, so one newspaper ad isn’t going to cut it, even if that publication has an ostensibly large readership.

Instead, a great mass marketing campaign may call for ads in several newspapers, on multiple radio stations and TV channels, and on various social media platforms. Not to mention, you’ll want a variety of pay-per-click ads, too. Needless to say, the cost can add up very quickly, which is why you’ll often see large corporations, as opposed to the family-owned business down the road, undertaking these mass marketing efforts.

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Mass Marketing Controversies

During the 2012 Presidential election, Pizza Hut employed a mixture of mass marketing and viral marketing to create a wild contest. Anyone who attended a particular debate and asked then-candidates former President Barack Obama and Senator Mitt Romney whether they preferred sausage or pepperoni on their pizzas would receive free pizza for life. There was a backlash from the public, and Pizza Hut ended up scrapping the audacious idea for something that didn’t implicate the presidential hopefuls.

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All of this to say, mass marketing that doesn’t resonate with the public can descend into controversy. For Pizza Hut, public opinion of the campaign was dubious at best — and angry at worst. Not to mention, Pizza Hut was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and this mass marketing effort painted the brand in a bad light. (Maybe not all press is good press, after all.)

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Another prime example? In the 1980s, Coca-Cola launched a mass marketing campaign for New Coke, the infamous new formula of Coca-Cola that hoped to compete with the sweeter Pepsi. The advertisement served little purpose — other than to give customers a reason to complain about the new formula. Although plenty of people knew about the New Coke, public opinion of the new formula was so poor that it was eventually pulled from shelves. This exemplifies the high-stakes aspect of mass marketing. If it fails, it fails hard.

Mass marketing is very much a double-edged sword. It can take a brand from obscurity to the spotlight, but it costs so much that marketers really need to get it right the first time. For a business that is looking to tap into a larger market, mass marketing could definitely be the key to success, but perhaps it’s best to proceed with some caution.

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