What are you talking about?

While twentysomething, London-based marketers are tripping over themselves to sell us the latest digital gadget to be released, the majority of people in the UK don’t know a podcast from a weblog

The number of UK households with broadband internet access has doubled in the past 12 months, rising to more than 8 million (MW last week). The BBC receives 100,000 podcast requests a week and Google recently launched its Blogsearch service, while the “blogosphere” itself is growing by a weblog every minute. On the surface, indications are that UK consumers are adopting technology and making it part of their lives at a rapid pace, and mindful marketers should be jumping on the technological bandwagon before they lose out.

However, a new study into conversational currency by DDB Grapevine counsels caution. The research reveals a total lack of interest in blogging and podcasting outside the media industry, and says that most people have absolutely no understanding of what these words mean.

DDB Grapevine analyses the conversational pulse on the UK’s streets. It consists of a panel of taxi drivers, pub landlords, beauticians and hairdressers – people who through their jobs are casually, or sometimes intimately, plugged into people’s conversations every day. DDB Grapevine looks at what does and does not engage the public – whether it is on the television, in the newspapers or on the high street. Interestingly, the Grapevine panel had no understanding of the words “blogging” or “podcasting”, but knew the terms “happy slapping”, “chav” and “dogging”.

Seven out of ten people in the UK don’t know what a “blog” is. Nine out of ten people haven’t heard of “podcasting”. Even more surprisingly, 12 per cent of people still don’t know what “broadband” means, despite heavyweight marketing by telecoms and network operators. These figures suggest that communications agencies and marketers are way ahead of their target markets in embracing and promoting new technological advances. As agencies rush to offer their clients “podvertising” and “blog infiltration”, it is clear these techniques are still only relevant to a very small number of consumers.

While the media waxes lyrical about the rapid uptake of personal weblogs, even many of the most obvious early adopters have never heard of them: two out of three men (66 per cent), two out of three 16- to 24-year-olds (65 per cent) and two out of three single people (67 per cent). Having internet access also appears to make little difference: two out of three people with access to the Net say they do not know what a blog is.

Moreover, despite the hype, at best only 29 per cent of people in London and 17 per cent of 35- to 54-year-olds have heard of podcasts. In general, awareness is very low – only eight per cent of women and seven per cent of people in the North of England know what a podcast is.

Yet new terms such as “chav” and “happy slapping”, popularised by the tabloid press, are well understood by 49 per cent and 56 per cent of Britons respectively, demonstrating that much of the conversational agenda appears to be set by the red-tops.

The research confirms this association between understanding of different media terms and readership. Analysis reveals that those people most likely to understand new media jargon are readers of quality newspapers: 37 per cent of reader of The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian understand blogging, 21 per cent understand podcasting and 16 per cent understand flash mobbing. But when it comes to happy slapping and chav, understanding is highest among tabloid readers.

The fact that those people who most understand terms such as blogging and podcasting tend to be aged between 24 and 44, internet users and living in the Greater London area, should act as a warning for those working in marketing and communications, who may be running too far ahead of the rest of the population.

This research is a reality check for people working in the media industry who spend too much time talking among themselves rather than finding out what people are talking about and what is going on in the real world. While it is obviously important to retain a competitive edge and stay ahead of the game by tracking trends and exploiting new marketing techniques and communication channels, those in the advertising industry should be very wary of the danger of marketing to themselves rather than their target markets.

Trends is edited by Nathalie Kilby. Sarah Carter, planning director of DDb London, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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