Thursday, 22 May 2014

The insular world of marketing

It's election day! And it's an election day that I'm personally fascinated by, in terms of whether the pre-election polls are anywhere near accurate.

Take a look at the image above. The Sun and YouGov are predicting a narrow UKIP win.

Do you know anybody who's said they're voting UKIP? I don't. Maybe you've got a batty aunt, or a slightly racist grandparent who makes you cringe now and again in public, but do over a quarter of people you know intend to vote UKIP?

Probably not.

This effect caused me to lose a tenner, betting on the London Mayoral election that saw Boris Johnson beat Ken Livingstone. The bookies has Boris as nailed on favourite, but I only knew one person who planned to vote for him. Nobody I knew could name many people who planned to vote for Boris either.

Of course you often surround yourself with like-minded friends, but work colleagues and acquaintances were vehemently anti Boris and surely your work colleagues are a decent random(ish) sample of different opinions?

It turns out not and I lost my tenner.

If you're here, reading this, then you're likely a thoughtful, analytically minded person with either a marketing or football analysis interest. Probably, you're not planning to vote UKIP and you don't know many - or even any - people who are.

Does this matter? In marketing, I think it does. We're trying to sell products to the population of the UK in general and to do that, we need to understand what motivates people in general, not just people like ourselves.

Walk into any big marketing agency in London and the people you'll meet will predominantly be:

  • Under 35. Many will be under 25.
  • University educated.
  • White.
  • Renting their home.
  • Unmarried
  • No kids
  • Travelling daily on public transport. Mainly on the tube, which obviously only exists in London.
That's a very narrow selection. Even the simple fact that all of these people live in London makes their day-to-day life quite unlike that of 85% of the UK population.

I work for MediaCom North - based in Leeds - and so some of the regional biases are removed in our office, but I bet I still couldn't find a UKIP voter here. I'd be staggered if over a quarter of the voters in the office supported UKIP.

As marketing people, we need to be acutely aware of our own inherent biases so that we can avoid them. Look at the adverts running on TV on any night of the week and ask yourself how many are designed to appeal to an under thirty year old audience. Then ask yourself, honestly, if most of the people buying that product are likely to be under thirty. Cars? Nope. Supermarket shoppers? Nope. Holidays? Nope.

For me, agencies need to be doing much more immersion into the lives of people who don't think like themselves (and I mean real immersion, I love stats as much as the next guy but they're a starting point, not the whole solution). A once a year factory visit or focus group just doesn't cut it.

We should also be hiring and retaining a more diverse mix of people, particularly people over thirty five. If the problem is that those people leave London when they hit their mid-thirties then maybe we need some more innovative solutions to tap into their opinions and experience.

Finally, as a client, I'd be looking seriously at non-London agencies to get some wider perspective. A global car manufacturer would naturally look to the scale of the big London agencies - and maybe they should - but they need to be aware that the people working on their account almost certainly don't own a car, have the money to buy one, or anywhere to park one if they did. That's why virtually all car ads are either full of young people, or a very crude caricature of older people.

Could your agency advertise UKIP and really understand what motivates all of those people who plan to vote for them? Or would you end up with a stereotyped portrait, produced by a youthful, liberal-leaning, well educated planner?

Of course, the question of whether you should take that brief is a whole other issue.

1 comment:

Love said...


I would agree with you - esp.regarding local vs. London offering; except the fact that lots of Londoners are not actually born in London, thus surely they do know a thing or two beyond M25..

Discussing the elections today I learnt 2 things about my desk neighbours.
1 didn't vote - "a mistake I am not making again";
another did vote - for UKIP. Challenged how does he feel about a foreigner sitting next to him, he said "you're skilled labour, so it's alright".

Now both of my colleagues are white, under 25, well educated (to work in the same department as me/you), living in London, etc -your typical media hipster...
Exception proves the rule?