You would think marketers would have worked it out by now. But many appear still to live in a perfect rose-tinted bubble in which communications are seen as a clarion call, brands are something that people want to fall in love with, and consumers are positive, upbeat citizens of the world who can’t wait to get inspired by purpose and consumption and buying stuff.
That’s how things probably look in most marketers’ Powerpoint presentations. But a dose of market orientation would change everything. You remember market orientation? It’s the core concept of marketing and can be neatly summarised with the mantra: ‘You are not the consumer’.
I prefer to take it further with clients and point out that they are, quite literally, the least qualified people on the planet to see their product or service the way that their consumers do. If you make the product you can’t see it from the customer perspective. Similarly, if you work in an agency your view of campaigns and brands and customers is total bollocks. You work from the comfortable part of the spear – the pointy end is totally different.
Campaigns are not clarion calls that unite a nation and change attitudes. They are little nudges that play on existing attitudes and interests and just do enough to turn the dial in our favour. Sure, we have our case studies where a single ad changed the world: Wonderbra, Guinness, Marmite and so on. But for these epic moments of impact there are thousands of channel-changing, page-turning, screen-swiping failures.
What’s more, these ads – the ones that interrupt the morning music or absorbing late night movie or interesting news feed – are despised. People hate advertising. They tolerate it but, offered a red button, would exterminate it tomorrow.
Brands aren’t loved by anyone either, other than the marketers who manage them. Most of these marketers live a virtual reality existence of brand love and corporate purpose. These marketers have forgotten that the fact they spend their lives working on a brand does not make up for the brief seconds of time it takes up in the consumer’s life.
Most brands are totally ignored. A few have a tiny dollop of salience, which proves enough to win market share. Still fewer have genuine meaning for customers. But this vision of consumers establishing relationships and love for brands is over-wrought marketing horseshit – the wet dreams of marketers that never actually hang out in the supermarket aisle, or listen in to call centre staff, or stand in the rain while consumers trundle past their hot new visual merchandising in that shiny big window that no-one notices.
Brands aren’t loved by anyone other than the marketers who manage them.
Consumers are not consumers – only marketers think of them that way. They are people; people who view consumption, for the most part, as a mundane and necessary part of a much more interesting existence.
They don’t think that toilet paper is innovative. They don’t think their toothpaste says something about their personality. They don’t give a fuck about the brand purpose of the lightbulb they try, swearingly, to screw into the socket of their bathroom ceiling. And despite all the bright, aspirational, stock-art faces that populate marketing Powerpoint slides with the title ‘target consumer’, most of them are cynical and unpleasant. Many are total dickheads.
Now don’t take any of this to be negative. It’s realistic. And don’t assume that means campaigns and brands cannot work on consumers. Of course they can. But marketing enjoys a much harder task and less likely success rate than most would have you believe. A lot of it depends on not taking a rose-tinted view of everything, but using market orientation to understand the real situation.
Of course, that rarely happens. Instead we continue to ride our pink unicorns through the candy-coated world of marketing, building ridiculous campaigns that push for unrealistic brand goals from target consumers who do not actually exist outside of Powerpoint decks projected on a screen above a Starbucks somewhere off Charlotte Street.
Take, for example, the wonderful new work of The National Lottery and British Athletics at the London World Championships. In an attempt to “unite athletes and fans as one” the new “digitally led” campaign created an official hashtag for the British Athletics team: #Represent.
If you live in marketing land then the whole idea provides an inspirational, beautiful vision of athletics bringing together a nation and uniting people of all interests and orientations. You probably think the ad will work. You believe it will connect people to British athletics. You can see consumers being inspired by the #Represent campaign.
That’s why you also create a social media campaign in which these suddenly excited consumers can share their inspiration with others and demonstrate just how much they have united with British Athletics, as The National Lottery did. What could be better than a digital tool that allows people to select their favourite athlete, the one they connect with most, and add a personal message of inspiration and support on a board held by the sportsperson in question? And then, best of all, they can share it with other equally engaged fans and unite with them too. All in one massive, positive, entirely unrealistic vision conjured up by marketers who don’t get it.
What you get instead is a sudden reality shot from the real, cynical and entirely moronic world of the consumer. They don’t care about athletics. Or uniting with athletes. They really only care about having a laugh and being a dickhead.
And so the #Represent campaign became, for a few brief hours, before it was swiftly yanked from the public consciousness, a window into the gap between how marketing sees the world and how it really is. Rarely does the juxtaposition present itself so clearly.
Collected at the top are some of the (less offensive) messages that the #Represent campaign generated. I will not comment on them. Feel free to feel shock, anger, humour, disgust or any other emotion. But also feel the distinct separation of marketing and reality.
The messages are not pleasant but I encourage you to navigate them and take a long, hard whiff of market reality. Use them as strategic smelling salts the next time someone puts up an image of a smiling clip-art consumer, or talks about engagement or brand love or any of the other horseshit that pervades our industry.
Everything else might be wrong about the #Represent campaign, but the word itself is perfect.
Professor Mark Ritson will be teaching the next class on the Marketing Week Mini MBA in Marketing from September 2017. To find out how it could make you a more confident, more effective and more inspired marketer, and to book your place, click here.