Abraham Maslow

Targeting the Audience

When you are developing a media text, it is incredibly important to identity your primary target audience and appreciate their values and ideologies. If you do not understand the needs of the end user, or know if an audience even exists for your product, your marketing strategy will be ineffective and your text will be less likely to succeed.

Since audiences are active consumers of the media, narrowing your focus to certain demographics or psychographics can help you deliver your brand message or sell your product.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explores our motivations and behaviours – it is a very useful way to understand consumers and why they might engage with a text.


In contrast to previous psychology studies and research, which focused on illness and behaviour considered abnormal by mainstream society, Abraham Maslow wanted to explore positive mental health and the characteristics you need to be successful in life. Using a qualitative method called biographical analysis, he began reading the work and histories of some very famous people, such as Abraham Lincoln and Aldous Huxley, to gain some insight into their personality and, consequently, try to discover the traits they shared.

If you want to be the next Einstein, Maslow would argue, you need to have an efficient perception of realty and be aware of your environment, be willing to accept yourself and others, have a strong sense of independence, be spontaneous and not always conform to society’s expectations, and have compassion for other people. The psychologist’s list was longer but these examples should give you a good idea of the creativity needed to be successful.

Maslow borrowed the term self-actualisation to describe this type of person who realised their full potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

From this research project and other observations, Maslow went on to develop his Hierarchy of Needs, a motivation theory of psychology which attempts to define how we behave according to our needs and wants. Initially, he offered five different classifications: physiological, safety, social belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation:


The physiological category refers to our most basic need to survive. Everyone is motivated to find water, food and shelter. Or, late at night, if you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed by your media studies revision, your basic need will be to sleep. The supermarket shelves are full of products and basic necessities which will fulfil these needs. The following advertisement for a Snickers chocolate bar is a wonderful example of a product targeted towards this first category:

Snickers Advertisement
Snickers Advertisment

Notice how it suggests our hunger must be satisfied before we can engage in other tasks. This is similar to Maslow’s original argument that needs lower down in the hierarchy must be met before we can focus on those needs ranked higher.


We all want to feel emotionally and physically secure. Financial independence is also an important motivator. These are examples of Maslow’s safety category. Consider the following advertisement which focuses on the terrible danger posed by fire and our need to be safe from harm.

It is worth analysing the very emotive signifier of the cartoon dog in terms of Peirce’s interpretant stage of his triadic model of communication. The mental concept will probably be decoded in terms of children and our duty to protect those who need our help most. This might make parents more likely to test their smoke alarms – the object of the advertisement.

burnt alarm clock

Social Belonging

The next category is social belonging, which refers to our desire for interpersonal connections and to be part of a social network. The modern digital social networks, such as Instagram and Twitter, obviously appeal to this motivation. Look at this classic advertisement from Nokia. The two hands reaching for one another connotes the ability of the company’s mobile phones to bring people together within touching distance despite the geography that might separate us from our friends and loved ones. Put simply, we want to feel connected.

two hands reaching for each other

This sense of emotional connection is very similar to the concept of personal relationships in the uses and gratifications theories. The argument is straightforward – we consume media texts because we want to share our experiences with others and develop our relationships. You should also consider Henry Jenkins description of fandoms and our desire to come together to share our love for a particular media text.


If we are part of a social circle, we will then want to feel accepted and valued by the group. This is the self-esteem category. Again, in terms of social media platforms, we want people to like our photographs, share our stories and smash that subscription button to our YouTube channel. Increasing the number of followers will certainly boost our self-esteem. Dove’s “Real Women” campaign is an excellent example of appealing to our esteem and self-worth:

confident women posing


Finally, at the top of this hierarchy is the strong desire for self-actualisation. We all want to achieve our full potential in our careers, creative endeavours and our roles in society. Some people want to succeed in athletics. Others might want to focus on medicine and research. Some people even want to be media studies teachers.

Since marketing companies and political strategists know this this the highest ranking need, they will often try to engage audiences and their desire for personal fulfilment. The slogan “Be the Best” epitomises this appeal to this need for self-actualisation.

soldier looking across the desert

The Pyramid

Although his model is often conceptualised as a pyramid with the most fundamental needs at the bottom and a desire for self-actualisation at the top, it is important to note that Maslow never actually used this diagram in his original work.

Maslow's pyramid diagram


Maslow continued to refine his theory over several decades. For example, in 1987, the psychologist suggested the hierarchy is not “rigid” and “any behavior tends to be determined by several or all of the basic needs simultaneously rather than by only one of them”. In other words, for some individuals, the need for self-esteem might be more important than any safety consideration, or we might be motivated by the desire for a sense of belonging and self-actualisation at the same time.

Maslow (1962) also argued that we are always “becoming” the person we want to be. In this way, we can also express the idea of self-actualisation and personal growth in terms of our identity because its fluidity – what is important in our lives will, inevitably, change.

His final hierarchy of needs included three more rankings. Before self-actualisation, we may seek to satisfy our cognitive needs and deepen our understanding of the world, and our aesthetic needs can be met through our search for beauty and balance in our lives. At the top of this order is the idea of transcendence, which refers to our desire for moments beyond the self, such as religious or scientific experiences.

Maslow, Abraham (1943): “A Theory of Human Motivation“. The journal Psychological Review
Maslow, Abraham (1970): “Motivation and personality”.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!