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Snipers Or Bombers?

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

When I was selling TV advertising in the 1970s, one of my bosses told me, “we get 7.5 million viewers in the mid break of Coronation Street. We can sell them anything. If I was selling grand pianos, there would be someone watching that ad break who wanted to buy one.”


In advertising, as the industry was then called, we used terms like, “ABC1” to segment audiences. This was a classification system hijacked from socio-economic studies and was never really fit for purpose, even in the broadcast media mass market campaigns on which I was engaged. However, it was all we had to work with, so there was a sort of tacit agreement no-one would mention it’s inadequacies. This was at a time when people in ad agencies wore loud braces, bow ties and Elton John style spectacles, so as you can imagine we had lots of better things to do.


Then, some time during Margaret Thatcher’s second term (1983 to those students of history amongst you) pollsters and tabloid newspapers adopted the widespread use of phrases like, “White Van Man”. This indicated a shift in the way advertisers, media and other mass communicators, primarily politicians, defined audiences. Phrases such as, “YUPPY” (Young Upwardly-Mobile Professionals) and my own favourite, “SITCOMS” (Single Income, Three Children, Oppressive Mortgage) became the contemporary jargon. As the eighties rolled into the nineties and computing power followed Moore’s Law, the term, “Database Marketing” succeeded, “Direct Marketing” and we told jokes like, “Old DM Managers never die, they just get broken down by age and sex”. Honestly, it was great. You should have been there.


So, inevitably as it now appears, the connection of all these computers started to bring with it the web and consequently real, instant targeting and accountability. As the new Millennium dawned the promise of “dot comms” looked like being realised. One, from my perspective regrettable, effect of this was to cut down on the prevalence of what was euphemistically termed, “business entertaining”. As agencies could be judged on the quality of their product, rather than the extent of their expense accounts, it became possible to use terms like, “Campaign ROI” with at least the semblance of a straight face. It also led to an explosion in the provision of marketing services, as large agency groups faced competition from legions of small competitors, each claiming to understand the new religion better than The Establishment.


Now, obviously, what we term the Marketing business has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to both providers and TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). You have your OTS, CTR, CPM and you can plot their impact on your KPIs and ROI. I am looking at a Google Analytics Dashboard showing me how many users of tablets in Munich accessed which of my web pages for how long and whether they were male, female or disinclined to adopt binary sexual stereotyping.


So has this moved us on from the old days to any great extent? Well yes, and no.


Marketing is definitely more accountable now and arguably delivers much better value for money than it did in the Seventies. Dominic Cummings' use of Big Data in his successful Brexit and “Boris for PM” campaigns has shown how mining to discover and exploit small pivots in an otherwise stalemated market can achieve remarkable results. However, it is not predominantly the medium which delivers, but the message.


When my 14 year old calls me a “Boomer” or I call him a “Millennial” it is not the same as calling each other “ABC1s”. These are terms which now convey, like Yuppy or White Van Man, a wealth of preconceptions. Tailoring the message which resonates with these target touch points is what delivers results, whether you are selling Brexit, Boris or Baked Beans.


While the ability to micro-target psychographically self-selecting audiences or social groups might appear to be Marketing Nirvana, without a creative idea and a message which speaks to that group you are wasting your opportunities, and you won’t get a second chance to make a first impression.


Just like in the 1970s, or for that matter the 1870s, understanding your audience and being a part of what they want is what matters. In the 1970s, Doyle, Dane Bernbach sold VW Beetles to the USA against fierce domestic competition by reading between the lines of the Zeitgeist. In the 2010s Tesla did it all over again. The delivery mechanism is very different and we no longer use phrases like “Above The Line”, but the strategy is exactly the same.


Accurate targeting is no good if your bullets are made of wax.


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