‘Smug’ marketers blind to what makes consumers tick

marketersMarketers and their agencies are so obsessed with fame, image and money that they overestimate the importance of these aspirations to consumers, meaning most activity fails to connect with the target audience despite the terabytes of data insight at the industry’s fingertips.

That is the damning conclusion of a new study by publisher Reach and insight agency House51, which examines the disconnect between the marketing industry and consumers.

Based on quantitative research with consumers, and interviews with advertising and marketing professionals, the Aspiration Window study draws on the work of economist Debraj Ray, who defined an “aspiration gap” as “the difference between the standard of living that’s aspired to and the standard of living that one already has”.

The report once again exposes the industry’s lack of socioeconomic diversity, finding that nearly three-quarters (70%) of today’s advertising and marketing professionals grew up in a household where the chief income earner was social grade AB – compared to less than a third ( 29%) of what it calls the “modern mainstream”.

When questioned on their attitudes towards different types of aspirations, marketers estimated that having a “high-status job and earning lots of money” would be important for 82% of consumers, However, it was in fact important for only 28% of them.

Similarly, when asked whether being unique and standing out from the crowd was important for consumers, nearly three-fifths (57%) of marketers reckon it was, when in reality only 28% of consumers thought so.

The researchers also asked respondents to rate their overall quality of life and then analysed the ratings by household income. The analysis found that perceived quality of life increases in line with income, but with relatively small differences until income reaches £100,000 or more.

But marketers saw a much stronger relationship between income and quality of life, resulting in them underestimating the quality of life for people earning up to £50,000 a year and overestimating it for the highest 10% of earners.

In a blogpost, Reach director of group insight Andrew Tenzer said: “The real problem is not that advertising and marketing people are different from the mainstream, it’s that these divergences are linked to a serious market orientation problem.

“Despite the abundance of market research, behavioural data and insight at our disposal, we are persistently bad at estimating the basic values and drivers of mainstream behaviour. And it’s no different when it comes to aspiration.

“The lack of social diversity in our industry means we don’t meet many people who are not like us. This means that adland and the mainstream are looking at the world through different aspiration windows. The divergent social and economic experiences of our industry and the mainstream are what creates an aspiration gap. Too often, advertising reflects the aspirations of the people who work in the industry and is often wide of the mark for the mainstream.”

To address the issue, the marketing industry must first tackle its lack of diversity, particularly in relation to social class, which is often overlooked in wider conversations about inclusion.

Tenzer concluded: “Diversity is finally making its way to the top of our industry, but there is a blind spot with class. Thinking styles correlate strongly with aspiration. Only by building genuinely diverse workforces will we address this.”

This issue is being addressed by some, however. In July last year, Wunderman Thompson UK launched an initiative to tackle the “pale, male and stale” culture with a new diversity strategy, and in October, Rapp poineered an apprenticeship scheme designed to give young people who have experienced homelessness a break in the creative industry.

Meanwhile, Lucky Generals has launched a scheme which offers free accommodation designed to attract people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and extend the sector’s talent pool.

And earlier this week, the IPA and Creative Pioneers backing a new apprenticeship scheme for young creatives, designed to help tackle the dominance of white, middle-class males in creative teams.

Written by agencies for agencies, the Level 3 Junior Creative Apprenticeship Standard has been created to equip recruits from all backgrounds with the knowledge, skills and behaviours to become successful creatives.

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