VCD and Media Theory Audience


How to determine a target audience with audience characteristics

What is an audience?

Two tips for discussing audience

Audience characteristics

Beginning to identify and describe an audience

Model audience analysis

Visual communication design

Eames moulded plastic side chair (


Poster from the movie 'Divergent', Burger, 2014.(


Demographics are facts about an audience.


Age is a very useful way to divide a market. There are three ways to identify the age of an audience; age groups, the stage of life of people or by the generation into which they were born.

Age groups


We rarely find that a product is aimed at people of one age. It is more likely that they are aimed at people within a range of ages. Some examples of age ranges are;

  • 0-3,
  • 10-15,
  • 18-25,
  • 30-50,
  • over fifties.

Life stage


We can also refer to the stage of life people are in.  Stages of life influences purchasing decisions. People want products that define and suit their stage of life. Some examples of stages of life are;

  • toddlers,
  • preschoolers,
  • tweens,
  • teens,
  • Yuppies,
  • first time mothers
  • Grey nomads



People can also be categorised by the generation into which they were born. Dividing the market by generations looks at the social, political and economic influences that formed people’s attitudes, beliefs and values.

Dividing a market by generation is not so popular, or precise now as people do not agree on what name to give the current generation of kids, nor which years actually define generations for those when born into the digital age. Generations just don't seem to last as long as they used to now. Some generation names are;

  • The Silent Generation,
  • Baby Boomers,
  • Generation X,
  • Generation Y,
  • Millennials, 
  • Connected Generation.


Model analysis

The magazine 'Dolly' is aimed at tweens and young teenaged girls.


Visual communications and products can be designed for boys or men, girls or women or for both (not specifically either). 

for females or women


Some products are aimed specifically at males or females. Look for image, colours, textures, type or shapes that seem to appeal more to one specific gender.

For males or men


gender inclusive


Many other products are designed for both genders. Look for colours especially that will appeal to men and women together. 


Model analysis

The Apple MacBook Air is designed for both women and men. Its silver colour looks professional and appeals to both genders, as does its sleek form.

Culture, race, religion, nationality

The market can also be segmented by looking at the culture of various audience groups. Culture refers to race, ethnicity and religion. People from different cultures have different values concerning appropriate dress, manners of speech, ownership of sacred material, humour and depiction of humankind, genders or Gods.



When identifying and analysing the audience of a visual communication ask yourself, ‘Are there any references to culture, religion, race (skin colour) or nationality?’ They are may be hiding in the images, or the patterns or in the colours. Try to find out what those references mean.

Establish if the communication is culturally inclusive or exclusive. (trying to include more kinds of people or to exclude other groups of people).

Consider if people from anywhere, with any cultural background would understand the messages in the visual communication in the same ways you do? 



Model analysis

The cover of 'Cosmopolitain' magazine was designed to appeal to people from Western cultures. The scantily dressed model in a confident pose would not be culturally sensitive for Muslims.


Where an audience is situated makes a big difference to their expectations for how a product show look or function. 

Students must be careful not to confuse location with context, or even the location of what is depicted in a visual communication. For example, a tropical resort may be advertised in the Age newspaper's 'Good Weekend' magazine. The audience's location is Melbourne, an urban setting. The context is a magazine.



Someone’s location exerts a huge impact on the choices they make about the products and services they buy. An audience’s tastes and preferences are formed by where they live or work. Use words to describe location like;

  • city dwellers,
  • urban,
  • sub-urban,
  • rural,
  • coastal,
  • remote .

Determine where a visual communication or product is designed to be consumed.



Model analysis

The Toyota Landcruiser 4 x 4 is intended for people living in rural or remote locations. These people often drive long distances and carry large loads on un-made roads.

The Smart car is designed for people living in urban locations. Its small size makes it both fuel efficient and easy to park. 

In discussing location, take care to identify where the product will be seen or used. Remember, this location refers to the location of the audience, not the context, and not to cultural or racial considerations.

Socio-economic level

A consumer’s education, type of employment and their capacity to spend is an important factor in determining their willingness to purchase a product.

'High end' or expensive designs are enticing for students to consider creating in their practical work. However, 'good design' are products that comprehensively answer a design need. The retail giant Ikea has many wonderful, really cheap and innovative design solutions to furnish a home.



A person’s socio-economic level is a kind of score made up by combining three factors. A person's;

  • education - from school, to higher income - from nil to > $120,ooo,
  • occupation - from unemployed unskilled through part time, casual to full time professional.

People are classed by numerical scores that are combined to place them in one of 5 groups known as 'quintiles'. These are: AB, C, D, E, FG. Information about people within the quintiles describes  the member’s general purchasing habits.

To discern socio-economic level a visual communication is target to things like;

  • the kind of images,
  • use of colour,
  • kinds of type and layout ,
  • other conventions such as use of 'white space',
  • the content,
  • the methods of printing, manufacture or presentation format.

(Research  from wpcontent/uploads/2013/09/Socio-Economic-groupings.pdf)



Model analysis

Magazine 'Take 5' is aimed at a low socio-economic level. The cover is bursting with pictures, large text, shapes and super-vibrant colours. This communicates that the magazine is bursting with content and represents great value for money.




Peoples’ interests and lifestyles  influence their purchasing preferences. When designers appeal to audience’s interests, opinions and lifestyles they can do so both literally, and metaphorically. For example, an advertisement for a tents would be targeted to people who like outdoors actually go camping. This appeals to  the audience’s lifestyle. But an advertisement for expensive Swiss watch with an image depicting an elite fighter jet pilot may not be aimed at pilots as shown, but at business people who believe that values such as competition, independence and achievement are important for success.

Designers may also appeal to people’s desires and intentions. An advertisement for a water efficient shower head or fuel efficient, hybrid car appeals to a consumer’s desire to minimise their impact on the earth's resources.

Some characteristics within this category are:



Interests are a common characteristic to differentiate audience members by. Identify the topic or images depicted in a visual communication and discuss how they appeal to people with certain interests.

Common interests include;

  • listening to live music,
  • the outdoors,
  • camping,
  • health and fitness,
  • sport
  • designer homewares.



The ways people live their lives also influences purchasing decisions. Some people like breakfast and coffee out, others like to eat it at home. Some like to get up early to rise early for exercise, some are night owls.

Visual communications appeal to a range of preferences.

Opinions and Desires


What people think about issues has a significant effect on the way they 'read' visual communications. Audience members political or other ideological preferences, and who people aspire to be like, affect their choices. Does everybody who has a four wheel drive buy them because they go off road frequently. Of course not, they reflect their desire to in their purchase.


Model analysis

Take a critical look at the visual communication you need to determine the target audience for. Try to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Think about, and describe what kind of person would be attracted by it.

But one word of caution, if an exam question asks you to identify two audience characteristics don't choose two from this group. You need at least one other characteristic from the demographic section.


For media

There are two further characteristics that are essential to discussing your audience in Media. These are an audiences' experiences and their expectations. The discussion of these two points is closely linked to the genre of the media product.


Experiences shape the ways audiences engage with media products in genre.



Audience experience gives them knowledge of how to 'read' a media product. Certain kinds of products, and furthermore different genres, and sub-genres, require product, form and genre literate audiences.

Take a low production zine for example. What may appear as a messy, ad-hoc production to one consumer will be regarded as a wonderful piece of original and hand made, quite special publication by another with previous experience with the form. In similar ways, movies may appear too violent, or even not violent enough to audiences with different experiences. Experiences are what audience members 'bring to the table' and strongly influence how they read or 'decode' a production.

Experiences are essential for audience members to understand visual literacy. Without appropriate experiences a production would quite simply be in the 'wrong language' and totally misunderstood.

Relevant experiences may be those of real events experienced in real life, or of represented events seen in media previously.



Model analysis

An audience for a violent war/ action movie needs to have had appropriate experience of represented violence in order to read the narrative correctly without undue shock or horror at what is before them on  the screen.


Expectations shape the way audiences continue to be engaged, or not, with the media product they are consuming.



Right from the first moment a media product begins, and an audience member is aware of the genre, their expectations are aroused as to factors like how characters might develop, how they will cope with challenges and how the narrative will resolve.

Audiences familiar with genres expect similar products within the same genre will give them rewarding experiences that they have had previously.

However, some critics believe that media products are becoming more intense, perhaps more violent. A perceived magnification intensification or even destination of violent or sexually graphic events depicted in media products is in part driven by the rising expectations of their audiences. Once fulfilled, audiences are constantly seeking a similar satisfying experience from the media they consume.

Try watching a fight scene from an action movie from the 1950s for example, or even special effects from the same period, to understand how far audience expectations have developed in cinema.



Model analysis

When planning a media production students need to be very aware of the potential expectations of their target audience. They need to plan the functional construction and aesthetic effects carefully to meet the expectations in order for their product to succeed.