Not too long ago I gave some “controversial” advice to creators via Twitter. I said it is better for those in creative fields to not have a “target audience” when making their creations. Yes, not having a target audience when creating something you wish to sell sounds crazy. Naturally the advice garnered a somewhat mixed response. I’m writing this to explain my reasoning beyond Twitters limited communication.
I am a mixed media artist, writer, editor, and studied marketing for four years. While this doesn’t make me an expert, it does mean my stance is fairly educated. Also I have put this in the “comics” category because they will be my main examples, but this can apply to almost any art/entertainment field.
There Are Always Exceptions
I’m starting here, because “what about…” was the main response I received. Yes, of course, this is general advice and won’t always work for every project. The biggest example is targeting by age group. Ideally you should be free to create what you want and it should attract whatever age group it appeals to. However, if it is for kids you will want to keep them in mind through the entire process. That said, it’s really not too hard to make “all ages” content. In fact, a lot of the most successful cartoons aimed at children ended up with huge adult audiences. So unless your creation has to be adult oriented, you still have almost the entire world as potential audience.
Creating for a company/boss was another one. Technically that would mean my advice is aimed more towards said company/boss. It’s a valid argument, as companies themselves are often created for specific markets. I’m only talking about the creative/entertainment industry, however.
The rest of the scenarios were so specific it seemed the imagined creator was trying hard not to appeal to anyone at all. While I’m sure people have actually run into these situations, they’re still not difficult to overcome. If someone had the inspiration to come up with it, there’s a good chance others are going to take interest in it. Plenty of things have found their popularity stem from morbid curiosity, after all.
I also won’t to delve too far into how quality factors in. Quality can cause some things to fail while others have succeeded just by being hilariously terrible. I will explain how starting with a target audience already in mind can eat away at quality, however.
Divided, We Fail
So, you want to create a [insert thing, ex a comic] with intent to cash in somehow. Marketing classes taught me I need to pick a target market/audience, research the heck out of them, then use said research to create something that will appeal/cater to them. This might work just fine for many products, but I think it’s harmful in arts/entertainment. How do I know? The past twenty years Disney has blatantly shown off the way they employ this tactic. Sure, they might not be bankrupt but we see headlines about the resulting damages (and terrible damage control) all the time. Same goes for AT&T/Warner!
While a lot of the problem can be traced to the marketing itself, just deciding to create content that already has a target audience set in stone is often a bad idea. Just look at Marvel comics. While Bronze to pre 2000s Modern Age comics didn’t appeal to everyone, they at least appealed to an extremely wide variety. Among their titles and characters there was something for everyone. Sure, there were a few duds, but even those were received better than what they currently produce.
Now they’ve decided to intentionally narrow their market by creating content/media aimed at a very specific audience. First was the bizarre choice to intentionally ostracize their original core audience – young males. I believe the industry has made huge strides in appealing to the ladies but in the past it wasn’t at the expense of anyone else. Then they alienated fans of individual characters/stories by changing or retconning while using them as mouth pieces to insult their (now former) fans.
If You Build/Write/Draw/Animate/Sing/Film It…
People can tell when something is made by corporate executives or marketers. It shows in the quality! Again looking at Marvel, the writing quality decreased as the list of popular buzzwords increased. Art quality decreased as production was sped up with no demand. When you halt character development for the sake of cheap political commentary, you lose an audience to comment to.
This isn’t just advice for companies, though, but also the self employed. Whether your main goal is getting your creations in front of people or simply making money, don’t limit yourself before even making it to the marketing stages. Create the thing, market it primarily based on merit and maybe genre, build your audience without dividing them up into little sub groups. Then you can research what is grabbing your audiences attention and what is turning others away in order to hold onto an even wider market.
Creatives should just make things for people, not for statistics. The audience can tell the difference.