Introduction to Mass Communication

We know (from Chapter 3 and the Segmentation in Digital Advertising lecture, among other places) that media companies choose a specific target audience for their products and then shape the products so that they’ll be appealing to that audience. They do this because their ultimate goal is generating revenue. This paper allows you to investigate and reflect on how media companies and marketers think about you as an audience.

This includes :

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how Facebook categorizes your interests and lifestyle categories (You may not use Facebook much, but realize they also own Instagram and WhatsApp)
how market research companies characterize their audience by psychographics
how market research companies categorizes the people in a neighborhood, using “geo-segmentation”
You should make sure you have done all of the reading assigned up to this point and have a clear understanding of major concepts found in the chapters and video lectures (lots of relevant stuff in there we’ll be looking for).

This paper is an opportunity to show that you understand and can apply some of broader abstract concepts and principles covered in the course. There is room to be creative and address the aspects of the issues that are most interesting to you. However, the stronger papers will show a solid grounding in course concepts, and present thoughtful, well-reasoned arguments backed up with evidence.



There are several activities you can do to find out what companies think they know about you. Three are listed below. You can do as many of these as you like. They are designed to give you material to discuss in your paper. You may also find them very enlightening since they are about YOU.

1) Facebook

Log on to your Facebook account on a computer. (This is possible, but much more cumbersome on a mobile device. It saves you time to use a computer.)

Then click on the triangle in the upper right-hand corner. This should bring up a list.
Select “settings” about 2/3rds of the way down. This should bring you to the “General Accounts Settings” page.
Choose “Ads” from the menu on the left.
Once you’re there:

Go to the bottom and click on the slide show “How Facebook Ads Work” This is a presentation in which Facebook attempts to explain how they use what they know about you to target ads to you – both on and off Facebook. (Their “Facebook Audience Network” is essentially an ad network that integrates in information from Facebook and other, third-party information sources.)
Click on “your interests” to get a list of things Facebook thinks you’re interested in. (You can delete topics from this page if you like. You can also edit what kind of information Facebook can use to target ads from this page–that is, whether they can behaviorally target you on the site, through their ad network, or whether your social actions can be used to promote something to your friends.)
2) Psychographics

There are many market research companies that provide “categories” of consumers to help companies identify or define a target audience. One of these is Strategic Business Insights (SBI). They have developed a category system that sorts people into segments defined by their buying motivations and available resources.

Go to SBI’s website: (If the link doesn’t work for you, try cutting and pasting the link into a new tab in your browser’s address window.)

Once you’re there:

Read their explanation of the system by following the link to the right by following the “About VALS” link.
Take the survey to see which category you fall into.
Read about the different VALS types.
Browse their “Why-ology Library” to learn about more about how people in the different categories tend to differ in how (and whether) they use things like ride-sharing apps and Twitter.
3) Geosegmentation

Claritas is a research company that analyzes the characteristics of people who live in certain zip codes in order to help companies that want to sell things to either better understand the customers in areas where their stores are located, or to pick the most promising areas to market their products. It gathers information from a variety of sources, sorts people into categories that are given spiffy names (such as “up-and-comers” or “new empty nesters”) and then identifies which categories of people are most common in specific zip codes. They customize the information they present according to the industry they’re trying to sell it to. For example, their “ConneXtions” product focuses on information that is likely to be useful to a companies that sell electronics, whereas the “P$ycle” product focuses on financial information that is most likely to be of use to banks and other financial institutions. (The information provided on the website helps give prospective customers a sense of what they can provide. Once they sign up, they’re given more detailed information that is specific to their brand or product.)

Go to Claritas’ website: click here (Links to an external site.), or copy this URL into your browser: (Links to an external site.)

Once you’re there:

Read their explanation of their system. (A good place to start is the “learn more” link at the top.)
Then click on the link at the top called “ZIP code look-up” and enter the zip code of a neighborhood that you are familiar with. This should tell you segments that are most common within that area (listed alphabetically, you have to be a customer to get more detailed rankings). You can click on each segment for more information. Across the top are different category systems that vary depending on the industry focus (i.e., that is, the more general Prizm versus “ConneXtions” and “P$ycle”)
Then go to the “segment details” section of the website. Across the top, you can select different category systems. Down the left, you’ll find a list of the different criteria and categories they use to create their segments. One major criteria is lifestyle stage. (Those who are under about fifty-five seem to be divided into those who focus on their social life (younger years) and those focused on family (family life). Those who are over 55 seem to be mostly categorized as being in their “mature years.”) Another is social group, which seems to divide people into those who live in major cities versus the suburbs, versus smaller cities, versus rural. See if you can find a segment that you think describes you well.

After engaging in some or all of those activities, write a paper about how marketers view you. You will want to describe which activities you did and what you found, but that should NOT be the biggest or most important part of your paper. Instead, use that information to consider:

how good of a job did the companies do in ‘knowing’ you? What do you think contributed to their accuracy or lack of accuracy? What things did they NOT know about you, and why not?
how could or do they use this information to target you? What kinds of products, brands, and appeals would be most effective and why?
How do you feel about these tactics? Are you comfortable with or bothered by them? Do you feel differently about them being used on you versus on other people? Are these methods ethical, and why or why not?
Remember, the point is to show how much you’ve learned about how the media works as a business in this class!


Your grade for the paper will be based on two things. Part of your paper grade is based on how you present your ideas. Since you are a college student, we expect you to be able to communicate what you mean clearly and to use proper spelling and grammar. We also expect you to format your paper and cite your sources in a specific way (APA style–details are available in the first module of the class!). While you may make an error or two doing so, if you don’t even try, or use a format other than the one we ask for, you are letting us know you do not care about our expectations or your grade. Finally, we expect you to organize your ideas in a coherent way. You shouldn’t repeat yourself unnecessarily or skip around from topic to topic. Each paragraph should be designed to communicate a specific point. Furthermore, the paragraphs should be presented in a logical order and transition sentences should be used to indicate how they relate to each other.

The rest of the grade is based on the ideas that you present. Specifically, it will be based on how thoroughly and thoughtfully you use class concepts pertaining to media industry. A strong paper will demonstrate to the reader that you have reviewed and understood the concepts about the media that are presented in the readings and lectures. It will also demonstrate that you can do more than accurately repeat back what you’ve read or heard, by analyzing and applying it to what you learn about how you are marketed to.

This paper should be approximately three to four pages long. Your discussion of the preparation activities should not be the bulk of this. Move quickly through those details, and use them in the paragraphs where you answer the questions. The 3-4 pages do not include the cover page and the works cited list. It should not be significantly shorter. Skipping lines between paragraphs, having giant margins, or putting the title and a heading on every page are obvious and tacky ways making the paper look longer without really saying anything. This should be avoided. All papers to have a cover page, be typed in 10 or 12-point font and have one-inch margins. All papers should be carefully spell-checked and proofread.

This assignment should be your own work. Ideas or language from sources (including the textbook) should be cited properly. This means that direct quotes should be indicated through the use of quotation marks or block quotes. All sources should be acknowledged within the text of the paper as well as within a works-cited page at the end of the paper. Papers that contain ideas or prose that are borrowed from other material without proper acknowledgment do not meet the standards for acceptable submission and will receive a zero. Violation of these standards can also constitute an act of academic dishonesty. In these cases, a written report of the incident will be forwarded to the Office of Academic Affairs, which can pursue further action.

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