Among the 71 beneficiaries of 221m tossed into the air by the Millennium Commission – the final throw in a two-year splurge that has seen 1.6bn scattered about the land – is John Moores University in Liverpool, which gets 1.9 million to create a National Pondlife Centre.
I do not know who holds the chair in pondlife at the university, but he or she could make an excellent start by collecting a few specimens from the the Rigger pub in Elton, Cheshire, home to the Popular Movement for the Canonisation of Louise Woodward. For what must have been only days but seemed like months, the plankton that comprises the pub’s regulars were seldom off our screens or out of our newspapers.
Like algae that flourish in the warmth of the sun, they luxuriated in the glare of worldwide publicity. It was not a pretty sight. Gap-toothed harridans and their grizzly menfolk bedecked themselves in yellow ribbons, chanted slogans, waved their spittle-soaked fags at the cameras, and bayed their demands for an American court to see things their way, a requirement that they confused with justice.
Every gesture betrayed the narrowness of their understanding and the limit of their intellect. For them the Louise Woodward affair was like a football match. They were the supporters of Louise FC and, like all fans, wanted only one thing, to see their side win. All the tribal rituals were in place: the hollering, the posturing, the chorusing of You’ll Never Walk Alone, the abuse of the opposition, the shocked disbelief when the other team scored, the tears, the fury, and, at last, the swaggering exultation when their side came away with a result. Justice is an away win.
Distasteful though these scenes undoubtedly were, especially to anyone of a sensitive and refined disposition, they provided a telling portrait in miniature of Britain Rebranded, or Britain the Young Country, and were therefore an instructive study for marketers. This is a Britain of irredeemable coarseness, stridency, intolerance, sentimentality, and, thank heaven, money. The villagers of Elton, no less than the supporters of Manchester United, have dosh. Enough to spend on champagne, fireworks, satellite TV, and transatlantic air fares. The marketers task is to reach these people.
Many papers, some learned, have been written on such subjects as marketing to children, marketing to the middle-aged, marketing to racial minorities, and marketing to gays. What is pressingly needed is an addition to the canon, Marketing to Morons.
Morons are a huge and, thanks to modern fashions in child rearing and education, growing market. But though its outward character is one of pervasive simplicity, this no less than other markets is complex beneath the surface. For instance, one of its characteristics is admirably expressed in the Prime Minister’s memorable if paradoxical phrase, “compassion with a hard edge”. The villagers of Elton exemplify this quality. Anyone disagreeing with their world view may find his front teeth forfeit. “Share my compassion, John, or I’ll fill you in” is the motto beneath the escutcheon of the Rigger, a device with yellow ribbon centrepoint, a bottle of charlie dexter and an apple-cheeked kiddie sinister.
Morons have a taste for casual clothes, casual sex and casual violence. They enjoy pizza, holidays in Spain, lager and greetings cards with jokes about farts. Their religion is football and The Sun is their bible. The death of Diana taught them to emote and they welcome any opportunity to exercise this newly discovered life skill. In Marketing to Morons there will be an entire chapter on flowers and teddy bears.
They like fast cars and drive down the centre of roads. They join motorways by driving straight across all three lanes They do not signal because that’s naff. To their credit, most motor manufacturers are way ahead of the game and have been marketing to morons for years.
The Rigger Tendency watch a lot of TV, swear routinely, and are inclined to be overweight. Surplus adipose tissue may be pierced and exposed according to taste. They are proud people. Proud of being down-to-earth and proud of being salts of the earth. Conscious of their rights, they know that invincible ignorance is no bar to holding an opinion. And an opinion, however wrong-headed, becomes irrefutable when sanctified by bonding, anointed by weeping, and celebrated by chanting.
Fortunately, the house of marketing has many chambers. Those who lack the strong stomach needed to reach the new compassionate Britain may find reward and contentment in marketing to the old Britain, which still survives if only you care to look for it.
It can be found behind closed doors, averting its eyes when cellophaned bunches of flowers are formed into mountains and empathy takes to the streets. It wears neither a ribbon on its chest nor its heart on its sleeve. It prefers reason to emotion and understanding to ignorance. It likes its compassion silent and private. It would not presume to tell its sovereign how to behave. It hasn’t got a clue what Tony Blair is talking about.
Old Britain would feel as relaxed and at ease in the Rigger as a nudist in an apiary. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got a bob or two to spend. And what’s more it knows the difference between a bottle of champagne and a hose.