I’m a big fan of “The Good Wife” and the other day was watching a episode in which a key character was discussing his political campaign with his campaign manager and pollster. In an attempt to increase his youth support, the team decides to utilize the candidate’s previous jail term to appeal to this market. The candidate is concerned that the message will turn off more conservative voters, but the pollster reassures him that it can be handled through online and social media and won’t even be seen by the other groups. It is, in his words, “a dog whistle”, only heard by those for whom it’s intended.
Because I do audience segmentation research, I see lots of situations in which the “dog whistle” approach is the right one for a particular message and a particular audience. One audience loves spicy food — another hates it — but both love your Mexican restaurant. Once audience is very religious — another just wants a good education close to home — but both are considering your faith-based college. In many of these cases, trying to be “all things to all people” only serves to make some audiences sure that you’re not for them. Why risk it when technologies such as email segmentation and social media allow us to target our messages with such specificity?