Another area of life that has been affected by the sorting phenomenon is advertising. In The Big Sort, Bill Bishop writes that until the 1950s, most advertising for consumer products was through mass advertising. This applied to political campaigning as well. But by the summer of 2006, advertising and campaigning had become exercises in social segmentation and niche marketing.
“Between 1898 and 1902, in a massive wave of mergers, 2,653 firms consolidated into just 269.” (185) Large scale corporate capitalism has arrived. The focus was on large scale national advertising to develop brand loyalty. Advertising emphasized product features and price. Politics followed a similar model of developing a national bandwagon approach to garner support.
Donald McGavran begun writing about targeted models of evangelism in 1955 and a year later an adman named Wendell Smith introduced the idea of “market segmentation.” The old model tried to bend demand to the supply being offered by the big national brands. The new Segmentation model meant determining the demand of smaller subgroups and orienting supply to that demand.
Bishop writes, “The assumption at the time was that a rich person was simply a poor person with money.” (186) But research began to show that people at different income levels have distinct purchasing patterns. The shift began to move away from price and features toward presenting the product in a way that would connect with different social-class identities. Stores began to focus on developing identities that were welcoming to particular demographics. This consumer behavior was no doubt connected with the emergence of an affluent middle-class as the nation transitioned into post-materialism. (i.e., an era where basic material needs are no longer the central concern.) Thus was born the market research industry and its endless quest to subdivide consumers by various demographic variables. Aided by computer technology, advertising departments were capable of making ever more precise delineations.
Americans were turning into a nation of “hunter and gatherer” communities unified by common interests and identities. While marketing experts knew that consumers are drawn to materials that hone in on their likes and dislikes, beginning in the 1990s, a growing number of people became increasingly uncomfortable with trade-offs. Not only did they want information targeted at them but they did not want to hear about alternative points of view. They did not want to compromise with other people’s concerns. Thus, information sources that screened out “static” they didn’t want to hear have emerged as preferred information channels.
People have increasingly come to make their economic (and political) decisions based on lifestyle identities. As a result, psychographics has replaced demographics. This segmenting has deeply touched church life as well. Bishop writes: