1. The Problem With Demographics

We find ourselves presently in the brightly-lit poker room at Turning Stone Casino in Upstate New York. Though the hour is late – some would say early – the wee hour is not made clear from the shuffling of cards and chips, as this soundtrack repeats ad nauseum, no matter the hour. The knowledge is gained only by the clock on the wall: the only clock in the entire casino. In the casino, there are no windows to show the setting sun, and, outside the poker room, no timepieces to tell the stoic few remaining gamblers that the night is over. Only a poker player cares for passage of time, because time is money, and money is why I am here.

On the unemotional faces of nondescript patrons, one can tell very little about the story of the life lived outside the card room, nor do many speak of it in great detail, save for the pleasantries that come with casual conversation.

Nor do their lives matter to me.

Greater in importance than all of the stories from all of the lives lived by the persons sitting in a circle around my table is one simple question: how do they play the cards which they are dealt?

The one gospel truth in poker is that one can always trust first impressions to belie and deceive. The grandfather of eighty years seated next to me might well be the best player at the table, or, equally as likely, the worst. He is as equally likely to be calculating and methodical as he is to be distracted, fascinated with the highlight reels of the day’s baseball games showing simultaneously on a half-dozen big screen televisions around the poker room.

No, the question to be answered is one of psychology, not of demographics. Whether he is twenty or eighty, rich or poor, a seasoned professional or a juicy whale, the man plays his hands in a manner in which he feels certain that as the clock on the wall ticks steadily upward, so will the stack in front of him. How does this man think, what does he feel?

The young man sitting next to me clearly does not understand this, as the grandfather who appears to be a timid mark has methodically separated him from a majority of his chips. He has committed the cardinal sin of trusting too much in generalizations about demographics.

The danger in profiling old men is that they were once young men, and young men are as different as the seasons and change twice as fast.

A marketing strategy is written by highly trained advertising specialists with the utmost respect for the client’s money, treating it as if it were their own poker chips sitting on the table in front of them, but the advertiser, too, makes a cardinal sin: no one is a 35-54 year old man, and the tendency to treat them in the same way serves only to belie and deceive the true intention of advertising: to understand how one man thinks, how he plays the cards he is dealt.

So, too, is it dangerous to assume that, categorically, a man who makes $20,000 annually behaves differently than a man who makes $200,000, for many rich men were once poor and many poor men were once rich.

Verily, I say to thee, the preached gospel of audience targeting bears uncanny resemblance to the boy who has made gross misjudgments about the old man, obfuscating the only factor that actually matters: how the target thinks.