Stop Buying VALS

Earlier today, in my electronic media class, we discussed radio advertising. Specifically, we covered how radio stations develop formats to attract a segmented audience that specific advertisers are seeking. If you ever wondered why, in the blink of an eye, your favorite heavy metal station turned into a Spanish-language norteño station, it’s because the advertising market changed to accommodate one que habla español.

How advertisers segment audiences is something that I won’t pretend to have much expertise, mostly because I find it dull. I also don’t get excited about this because when I begin to talk about demographics, it seems familiar to most of my students. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually teaching. After all, who doesn’t know that age, ethnicity, gender, income and education level each determine what media you consume and how you spend your money?

Psychographics and VALS

In addition to demographics, there are psychographics. These measure less about what a listener is, such as a 38 year-old, non-white hispanic male, but instead what a listener believes. One proprietary psychographic methodology is VALS. Developed by SRI International, VALS is based on two very broad types of consumers: innovators and survivors. Within those categories are six other types related to ideals, achievement, and self-expression.

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Looking at the chart of VALS, I would imagine that I would not want to be perceived at the bottom of these categories. For example, look at how they describe Survivors:

Survivors live narrowly focused lives. Because they have few resources with which to cope, they often believe that the world is changing too quickly. They are comfortable with the familiar and are primarily concerned with safety and security. Because they must focus on meeting needs rather than fulfilling desires, Survivors do not show a strong primary motivation.

When I began to review each of these, I was in a self-deprecating mood and kept comparing myself to the lower rungs of the VALS scale, such as Believers and Strivers, but those didn’t seem to fit me.

An Innovator and an Achiever?!?

To get a more precise picture of my VALS type, I took the VALS survey and had some students take it, too. Some of them shared their results with me, and now, I’d like to share my results with you.

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Apparently, my primary VALS type is an Innovator. Accordingly, that means that I am a “successful, sophisticated, take-charge [person] with high self-esteem” and with “abundant resources.” I am also the type of person who is “among the established and emerging leaders in business and government” but “continue to seek challenges.” My life is “characterized by variety,” and my “possessions and recreation reflect a cultivated taste for the finer things in life.”

They can’t be talking about me, right? This sounds like a pretty important person, and I’m as surprised as anyone.

What about my secondary type? Apparently, I’m an Achiever.

Motivated by the desire for achievement, Achievers have goal-oriented lifestyles and a deep commitment to career and family. Their social lives reflect this focus and are structured around family, their place of worship, and work.

“Goal-oriented?” I have probably written that on resumés because it sounds good, but here’s some “science” to prove that, I guess. What about having “a deep commitment to career and family?” That could describe someone like me, but since I have neither of those things, I’m not sure how it could be me.

What about consumer behavior? How do we Achievers like to spend our money?

With many wants and needs, Achievers are active in the consumer marketplace. Image is important to Achievers; they favor established, prestige products and services that demonstrate success to their peers. Because of their busy lives, they are often interested in a variety of time-saving devices.

That kinda sounds like me.

And it’s better than my usual, disparaging characterization of over-educated, underachiever.

Take the VALS Survey

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