Last Updated: November 28, 2020

Most modern marketing strategies use a targeted approach to reach customers. Companies conduct research to find out who is most likely to buy their products, and then customize their advertising efforts to reach those people.

But what happens when the target demographic is huge, or there is no specific target at all? This is the problem the American Alliance of Ethical Movers faced in 2006 and a problem they solved with a “shotgun” approach to marketing.

The AAEM is a company that advises people about residential moving services in their area. Potentially, the AAEM’s customers included every individual and family who moves each year. This massive demographic would require a large amount of time and money for the AAEM to create targeted marketing materials for each of the communities it serves. (See also Targeting Marketing)

Instead, the company placed an ad in a magazine called The Official Mover Savings Guide, which reaches as many as two million home owners every month. The AAEM’s ad offered “a free quote on moving or van-line service” for anyone who called the company or visited its website. All in all, the American Alliance of Ethical Movers saw a 42 percent increase in the number of callers who purchased services.

What is shotgun marketing?

Shotgun marketing strategies attempt to raise awareness about a product in a large, non-specific group of people, rather than advertising to specific demographics. The term references a literal shotgun, which fires a large number of smaller pellets in a wide area, as opposed to a single bullet. Just like the pellets of an actual shotgun, this marketing strategy is a single blast that affects large demographics.

Shotgun Marketing Materials

Shotgun marketing uses many different kinds of advertising designed to reach the largest number of people possible. This includes:

  • Fliers in high-traffic areas
  • TV commercials
  • Mailings to every residence in a given neighborhood (aka “carpet bombing”)
  • Internet ads placed on several unrelated websites

In the case of the AAEM advertisement campaign in The Official Mover Savings Guide, the company was attempting to reach a very large demographic. The AAEM had been using other advertising methods, such as search engine and direct mail marketing, that are better suited to targeted marketing campaigns reaching specific kinds of customers.

Who uses shotgun marketing?

Shotgun marketing attempts to capture the attention of a very large demographic or a large, varied group made up of multiple demographics. It is useful for both small, local businesses and larger businesses at the multinational level.

Large businesses with a big, varied customer base, such as the Coca-Cola Corporation, implement shotgun marketing techniques in many of their campaigns. Coca-Cola markets its products to billions of people worldwide, encompassing multiple demographics of age, gender, ethnicity, and income. Though Coca-Cola also uses targeted marketing strategies, it frequently uses simple, generic advertising like its universal logo and one TV commercial placed in ad space for several shows intended for different demographics. (See also Global Marketing)

A small business like a local coffee shop would also benefit from general advertising to multiple demographics. It depends on their ability to appeal to the entire community around it, so the coffee shop might reach more potential customers with a non-specific campaign than it would with targeted marketing materials. The shop could use low-cost advertising like paper fliers distributed in high traffic areas of town, or with small advertisements in local newspapers.

Coke is Big. Very Big.

When you’re a multinational corporation like Coca-Cola, using shotgun marketing strategies make the most sense. Coke manages over 500 distinct brands across 200 different countries. People all around the world drink Coca-Cola Corporation products to the tune of 1.7 billion servings daily. With a customer base that large, Coke needs to advertise to the world, not just a specific type of person in it.

How to implement a shotgun marketing campaign?

Before a company begins a shotgun marketing campaign, it should determine if the approach will be an efficient, cost-effective strategy. In most cases, especially when a product is expensive or specialized, shotgun marketing has a poorer conversion rate and cost-per-customer than targeted marketing. A company considering shotgun marketing should have a clear understanding of what it will cost to implement the campaign and should set concrete goals. If the campaign fails to increase customer traffic, conversion rates, and/or the size of the average sale, the company should move on to a different variety of marketing.

A shotgun marketing campaign begins by identifying the company’s target demographic. Shotgun marketing may advertise to large or varied groups, but it should not attempt to market to everyone. Marketing to groups allows companies to advertise to varied demographics who share a particular interest.

Next, a company planning a shotgun marketing campaign should decide how to communicate with potential customers. The AAEM chose to advertise in a magazine created for American home-owners, but any medium that reaches a large number of people is appropriate for shotgun marketing. This includes billboards or fliers in high-traffic areas, TV and radio commercials, and ads in print or web-based publications with high circulation. Regardless of the medium, a shotgun marketing ad should avoid being overly specific.

Attention Spans Declining

Shotgun marketing can’t connect with consumers as deeply as targeted marketing. It must catch the attention of each potential customer and communicate vital product information within seconds. In the age of the Internet, the average attention span is dwindling. Internet users spend very little time looking at things they actively seek out, like websites, blogs, and videos. Advertisements fare even worse.

Lastly, a shotgun marketing campaign should end after a pre-determined period of time so the company can assess the campaign’s effectiveness. The AAEM ran its magazine ad for a year before evaluating changes in business. Because the company found a significant improvement in customer conversion rates over that year, the AAEM continued to run the ad. If a shotgun marketing campaign fails to improve business, or if it becomes less effective over time, it should be modified or abandoned.

Careers in shotgun marketing

Shotgun marketing may not be as sophisticated and work-intensive as many kinds of targeted marketing strategies, but it still benefits from a team of talented professionals with varied backgrounds. The shotgun approach involves research, design, and communication skills to get the most out of the campaign.

Market Researcher

What do they do?

Shotgun Marketing Salaries

  • Market Researcher
    Starting: $39,000
    Median: $51,000
    Top Earners: $65,000
  • Graphic Designer
    Starting: $26,200
    Median: $43,500
    Top Earners: $76,900
  • Copywriter
    Junior: $28,000
    Senior: $55,200
    Top Earners: $109,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

A market researcher helps a company understand its target demographic, no matter how large. This position involves surveying and studying groups of consumers, and communicating the information gathered from them to other marketing professionals. Consumer data influences how marketers craft advertising materials, where they run ads, and how they set product costs. Market research requires comfort with business technology as well as interactions with many different kinds of people.

Education and Skills

A market researcher should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, psychology, sociology, or statistical analysis. It is helpful to have previous experience in any line of work that involves frequent interaction with people, including retail or food service.

Graphic Designer

What do they do?

Many different kinds of advertising rely on good graphic design to quickly catch the eyes of consumers. Shotgun marketing is especially dependent on visual content because it often comes in forms like fliers and commercials that compete for the short attention spans of busy people. Graphic designers use artistic skill and image editing software to create marketing materials that communicate a company’s message immediately and distinctly.

Education and Skills

A graphic designer should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, design, or fine arts. Experience designing websites or creating other kinds of visual media is recommended. A designer’s resume and portfolio should demonstrate artistic talent and comfort with several kinds of design and image editing software.


What do they do?

Shotgun marketing materials often use text or scripts to communicate with consumers. This includes everything from the letters in “carpet bomb” mailing campaigns to the dialog of a TV commercial, and many other kinds of advertising. Copywriters need to have excellent writing and speaking skills, as well as the ability to effectively address many different kinds of people.

Education and Skills

A copywriter should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, English, psychology, or communications. As with graphic designers, copywriters need to have a strong portfolio of work samples. Any work history with periodicals, including student newspapers, also improves a copywriting resume.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Marketing professionals must know how to implement shotgun strategies, but they should also understand many other forms of marketing to be valuable assets in the workplace. The education provided by a marketing program covers the full range of modern marketing techniques, from the most broad shotgun methods to the most meticulous targeted campaigns.

A marketing education begins with classes surveying the basic principles of the business. This includes courses in subjects like team organization, financial management, research techniques, and brand development. These courses introduce students to the behind-the-scenes strategic planning skills essential for successful shotgun marketing campaigns.

Business technology courses will give students hands-on experience with programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop image editing software. They will also cover advanced applications of office suite programs and content management systems.

The most important part of a marketing program is the access it provides to in-depth case studies of successful marketing campaigns from real businesses, as well as the opportunity to engage in student-led simulations of marketing plans. These things bring the academics and technology tutorials of the early and intermediate course work into action that reflects actual challenges in the field. By the end of the program, all graduates will have a solid foundation in modern marketing practices that will make them valuable assets to any professional team.