Receiver: Who is the target of the message?

When you take in a message, your values, life experience, and culture all play a role in how you perceive it. These factors could include your upbringing, education level, where you live, even your interests and aspirations. As you continue to evaluate messages, remember to consider those who are meant to receive the information

Target Audiences

In media, the target audience refers to the person or group for whom a message is created. Some messages, like personal email or thank-you notes, target just one person. Others are meant for larger audiences. Mainstream media producers in particular want to reach as many people as possible, because larger audiences are more attractive to advertisers (see below).

In fact, you can often determine the target audience of mainstream media by examining their commercial content. It is no coincidence that you see different types of commercials airing during professional football games than you do during an episode of Gossip Girl. Advertisers most often craft messages to suit specific audiences based on the characteristics shown in the checklist. Television shows and other forms of media also consider these factors when they decide when to air or distribute new content:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Locale
  • Income level
  • Habits and interests

Targeting Online Audiences

Have you ever wondered how advertisements on social networks seem to align with your interests and habits? All the information you share on social sites is stored as aggregate data, which is available to advertisers. The data could include information on your age, location, education, relationship status, and interests. Even titles of your favorite books, music, and movies may be available as data. Advertisers pay for this information and use it to filter selective messages to highly targeted audiences. Clearly, target audiences are big business.

You need to be selective with what information you post online. You also should understand when messages target you as opposed to someone else. When they do target someone else, consider how and why these others might react to the message, as you will learn on the next page.

Your Turn Examine the commercials aired during two television programs, preferably on different networks during different time slots. What types of products are advertised? Who uses these products? Considering this information, decide who the target audience of each program is. Explain your decision.


Receiver: How might people different from me interpret this message?

While media creators attempt to share an exact, clear message to a specific audience—using words, pictures, and/or sounds—the underlying meaning, or subtext, taken from a message varies from person to person.

Considering Different Perspectives

A variety of factors determine how we interpret media, including our age, gender, education level, experience, values, beliefs, family, and culture. Consider the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, a fictitious story of a boy and his mother dealing with his father’s death in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Certainly, someone who lost a friend or family member during the same event would interpret this movie differently than someone who did not.

Analyzing the way different people perceive the same information builds awareness of diverse viewpoints and can redefine the way we think about a media message. The questions below will help as you evaluate a message in light of its audience.

  1. How do I interpret the message?
  2. Why do I interpret the message in this way?
  3. How might someone from a different culture interpret this message? Someone of a different age, gender, education level, and so on?
  4. Do those interpretations align with/differ from mine?
  5. How does considering different people’s perspectives affect my original perception of this message?
"Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange

Your Turn Study the photograph to the right taken by Dorothea Lange entitled Migrant Mother. (A larger version can be found online at the Library of Congress Web site.) Write down a description of the photo and any conclusions you draw from it. Exchange your work with a partner who has completed the same activity. Look at the similarities and differences between your responses. Discuss how you came to your conclusions. Evaluate how much your own culture, values, and beliefs could have impacted your interpretation of the image. Bonus: Repeat the exercise with a different classmate.