MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
OK, let's stay on the Super Bowl for a minute. Even with all the recent debate about the sport, tomorrow's game is certain to have a huge audience, and because of that, so will the ads. That's why the ads - creating them, watching them, rating them - is almost a sport of its own. And no doubt you will see many aimed at 18-to-34-year-old males. It used to be thought that they have an outsized influence on purchasing decisions but no longer. Charles Lane from member station WSHU reports that many advertisers have been noticing a shift.
CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: Gareth Evans is a market researcher for Flamingo, a London-based company that researches fashion trends. And about a year ago, he was running a focus group.
GARETH EVANS: Quite regular, quite sporty guys - and rather than talking to me about soccer players, basketball players, they were really switched on to a number of kind of female style influences.
LANE: He looked at their Instagram feeds and saw that these guys weren't influenced by other men but women.
EVANS: When I step back and look at the male 18-to-34 demographic, I see a lessening of their ability to influence.
LANE: He took these findings to his data team. They said what's really happening is that the power of certain groups, like young men, is being diluted by the proliferation of new age and gender brackets online. Flamingo isn't the only research group seeing this, major brands are too. Lucas Galan runs data forensics at Flamingo.
LUCAS GALAN: Today, corporations are no longer coming to us and saying, we want to target males 18 to 34. That's very anachronistic.
LANE: These changes are happening at a time when women are graduating from college at higher rates than men and when traditionally-male jobs, especially those in manufacturing, are harder to find. Scott McDonald heads The Advertising Research Foundation.
SCOTT MCDONALD: You kind of have a shift in the occupational structure of the country that corresponds with some segments of the male population losing their buying power.
LANE: But overall, McDonald is skeptical that men 18 to 34 are less influential in advertising. He says there's not much research available. Also, he says, the 18 to 34 age group will continue to be important because of its sheer size. Millennials outnumber even baby boomers. Slaine Jenkins is a market researcher for Insight Strategy Group. She says it's not that males 18 to 34 are less influential, it's that as advertising dollars shift online, traditional demographics are less important. Advertisers these days are more interested in a consumer's past behavior and psychological makeup.
SLAINE JENKINS: In market research, we've seen a great need to explore influence beyond demographics and really dig into the psychographics to understand audiences and their behaviors.
LANE: Instead of breaking consumers up by age or gender, companies are targeting values and passions. Big data sets of past purchases, Internet searches, GPS locations - these give companies a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer in order to find their customers. But there is a downside to these more highly-targeted advertisements. Chris Jackson is a pollster for the market research company Ipsos.
CHRIS JACKSON: That's sort of this sort of narrow, this is the view they have of you from your online behavior. But who knows if that's actually the totality of your life or your experience?
LANE: For example, political junkies who mostly visit news sites might miss out on major cultural trends, while fashionistas on Instagram risk never seeing political ads. For NPR News, I'm Charles Lane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.