Are you the same person you were when you were a teenager? Unless you’re extremely immature, or stuck in a time loop, you have probably experienced some kind of growth as you age.

Brands work the same way. They may start off with one target audience, but as the world changes around them, they refocus on a new demographic. It doesn’t mean they’re selling out or forgetting their roots. It just means they’re willing to evolve!

A shift in marketing can be all it takes to put your company in a positive light. Here are brands that successfully changed their target audience.

1. McDonald’s

McDonald's changed target market from kids to low income families

McDonald’s Target Market: Kids (then) to Low-Income Families (now)

From the 60s to the 90s, McDonald’s was a magical place for kids. The restaurant reached out to a young target audience through many marketing tactics – a smiley face logo, Happy Meal toys, an indoor play place, and most notably, a clown mascot named Ronald McDonald. However, their young, carefree vibe totally changed after Super Size Me showed how fast food contributes to childhood obesity.

McDonald’s has since done a complete shift on their marketing. They rebranded themselves as a cheap, yet tasty fast food place for low-income families. McDonald’s still offers their $1 menu, but it’s on a touchscreen and features healthier options. Overall, they may not be as dominant as they were 30 years ago, but 85% of Americans still visit a McDonald’s at least once a year.

2. Lucky Charms

Lucky Charms changed target market from kids to millennials

Lucky Charms Target Market: Kids (then) to Diverse Millennials (now)

Eating marshmallows for breakfast may seem like something only kids would enjoy. However, Lucky Charms has found that nostalgia for their cereal is ultimately the biggest seller. 40% of the consumers who eat Lucky Charms are actually adults!

For this reason, General Mills has shifted the Lucky Charms target market from kids to adults, specifically millennials (anyone between the ages of 26 to 41). Lucky Charms commercials are now more grown up, but perhaps the most notable changes have been on social media, namely the digital campaign, #LuckyToBe, which celebrated everyone during Pride month. All of these changes have given consumers a new perception of the “magically delicious” cereal.

3. Gucci

Gucci shifted target market from high income adults to progressive young adults

Gucci Target Market: High-Income Adults (then) to Progressive Young Adults (now)

was defined by materialism since only the wealthy could afford their designer bags and clothing. Wearing the Gucci logo was a mark of elitism and financial success. 

Arguably, Gucci’s target market is less superficial today. The brand has repositioned itself as progressive, inclusive, and empowering. You only need to look at their fashion shows or Instagram to see how forward-thinking they are in terms of real-world issues like gender fluidity. If the $151.8 million box office return of 2021’s House of Gucci is any indicator, this shift in target audience has been very successful.

4. Netflix

Netflix shifted target audience from movie fans to mid income families

Netflix Target Market: Movie Fans (then) to Mid-Income Families (now)

Back in April 1998, you could sign up for Netflix to get DVDs in the mail. The movie selection was limited and the service was really only designed for the biggest fans. You couldn’t watch TV shows, and there wasn’t any original content. It’s no surprise that only about 2 million people had Netflix at this time.

Everything changed when Netflix offered streaming in 2007. You could access more movies and TV shows, and to top it off, watch them on your tablet, phone, or TV. There’s entertainment for everyone in the family – cartoons, original TV shows like “Stranger Things,” Oscar nominated films, indie horror movies, and even foreign phenomena like “Squid Game.” Netflix has come a long way from when they first started in 1997. In fact, the number of subscribers has increased by over 11,000% (222 million subscribers as of 2022).

5. Target

Target changed target market from middle age parents to fashionable hipsters

Target Target Market: Middle Age Parents (then) to Hipsters (now)

If you’re 30 or older, you probably used to think of Target in the same way you thought of other discount stores like Walmart and K-Mart. It was the place your mom would go when she needed to stock up on toilet paper, toothpaste, or maybe crayons for back-to-school.

Target’s target audience is drastically different today. Hipsters and fashion-forward Gen Z’ers (teenagers to young adults) like to go to Target for trendy home décor and apparel from top designers like Isaac Mizrahi and Lily Pulitzer. You can even get your latte fix from Starbucks, which is available in over 1,300 Target stores. These days Target belongs in the upper echelon of the trendiest stores on the planet.  

6. Dunkin’

Dunkin changed target market from office workers to lifestyle brand

Dunkin’ Target Market: Office Workers (then) to Young Adults (now)

“American runs on Dunkin” is a popular slogan that was first used by Dunkin’ Donuts in 2006. Ad agency Hill Holliday created the tagline to be used in TV spots, radio spots, and printed on in-store banners and signs. The slogan was meant to appeal to the average American adult who had to commute to and from the office.

A lot has changed for Dunkin’ since then. First, they dropped the “Donuts” and are now just Dunkin’. Second, they’re doing everything they can to compete with trendy fast food chains. Go into any Dunkin’ store, and you’ll see a gift shop full of branded swag. Finally, you can now skip the plain, simple coffee and try trendier flavors like Brown Sugar Oat Iced Latte and Coconut Crème Pie.  Dunkin’s target market shift seems to be working in their favor as they’ve seen a 5% sales growth in the last year.

7. Ford

Ford Fiesta helped Ford reach more millennials and female consumers

Ford Target Market: Working Men (then) to Millennials of Any Gender (now)

Ford is known for bringing car culture to America. When the Model-T was built in 1908, it totally changed the country. People could finally afford to purchase their own automobile, but it was still men who were the primary breadwinners. As a result, men were Ford’s target audience from that point through the 60s when the first Mustang was released.

Thankfully, Ford’s marketing strategy has improved since then. After launching an ad campaign that targeted millennials for the new Ford Fiesta in 2013, Ford experienced an 80% increase in sales among male and female consumers ages 18 to 34. The scale is still tipped in favor of male consumers, but that hasn’t stopped Ford from making great strides in reaching every gender. For instance, buyers of the 2021 Ford Maverick were 25% female.

8. Mountain Dew

Mountain Dew changed target market from those living in rural areas to gamers

Mountain Dew Target Market: Rugged Mountain Folk (then) to Gamers & Gen Z’ers (now)

In the late 1930s, two brothers named Barney and Ally Harman made a carbonated lemon-lime drink. They mixed it with whiskey and settled on the name, Mountain Dew, which was slang for “moonshine.” They marketed this new soft drink to tough mountaineers and country bumpkins living in Appalachia.

Mountain Dew’s target demographic has since done a total 180. By the 90s, it was repositioned as the official beverage of extreme sports. A few years later, the marketing shifted again as many gamers liked Mountain Dew since it was packed with caffeine. Today, Mountain Dew is dedicating 40% of its marketing budget to targeting gamers.

What is a Target Market?

A target market is a particular group of consumers at which a product or service is aimed. This audience can be defined by different demographics including age, race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, income, or education. It’s also possible to target customers based on interests, behaviors, activities, opinions, or geographical location.

56% of consumers remain loyal to a brand that “gets them” and speaks their language. You company should be willing to adapt to societal changes and do what you can to grow your fan base, even if it means a shift in whom you’re targeting. Try to “get your audience” and keep your finger on the pulse of what people care about.

Final Thoughts

You don’t want your company to get stuck in a rut. Identify your target market and then reevaluate who is included in that segment at least once a year. By doing so, you’ll reap all the following benefits:

  • Marketing dollars invested in campaigns with the highest potential ROI (return on investment)
  • Positive comments and likes on social media
  • Positioning your brand in a favorable way in the public eye
  • Elimination of low quality leads/customers
  • A stronger referral base

You don’t have to pigeonhole your brand as being only for one particular group. Mix up your marketing and always try to reach new customers. The power is in your hands to meet your target audiences’ wants and needs.


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