Thursday, 11 June 2009

Happiness and Demographics

Twelvety years ago, when I started working in media (well, ten if I have to count), attitudinal segmentation was very much the new thing. The idea that you could group people based on age and socio-demographics to inform a marketing strategy was understood to be too basic to be much use, while splitting the data held by TGI in too many segments was both counter-productive, and statistically unreliable as sample sizes quickly fell away to not enough to matter. So shared attitudes were seen as a cohesive centre around which target audiences could be compiled. Which is great, until you start building out a cluster group to make it statistically relevant, and find that the higher the numbers grow, the less interesting or defining that group is.

This seems to be really important in understanding the whole business of people and brands. For a lot of last century all media were mass, simply because media were expensive so there was no economic case other than mass production (ok there were punk, zines, comics, etc, but the Sex Pistols still had to sign to major labels to create a movement). Expensive media in the advertising world means that brand ideas have to be really simple, so that they can be communicated in 30". And really simple ideas make sense in mass demographics, because they have to be equally simple and appealing to lots of people. Thing is, grouping people by what makes them similar, by what is going to appeal to lots of them, means setting your sights on Average. Mean, median, whatever, demographics are all about average. And it's worth remembering that the average person has one breast and one testicle.

It is our personal interests, our hopes and emotions that really differentiate us, that really make us human. These are what no demographic survey can hope to understand; they wouln't make sense in demographics, as they would be averages again. But each of us has circles of friends who they share these interests and emotions with: who we hold data for. This hit me the other day in a meeting to work on a brief about happiness. Happiness is so incredibly personal, but also fundamentally linked to sharing experiences with other people, that it isn't a spreadable concept, but rather an inspirable one. A brand can't inspire happiness in large numbers of people (ok, of course it can, but by making better stuff or creating better experiences, not by advertising), but it can inspire happiness. It is the inspiration that is spread, not the emotion. This is fundamentally opposed to demographics, as it relies on each individual person joining in to mould, change or remix the idea into something unique to them that will make their friends, the people they know best, happy. And inspire them to change it again when they pass it on.

Can't tell you what we decided 'it' was, but at no point did the definition of 'it' include any reference to flashmobs. Or Facebook


faris said...

Indeed my friend. I think you are talking about the difference between a "segment of one" and an actual person.

Of course, actual people are part of networks, naturally occurring, that are crucial to understanding behavior, choice and spread....

Rock ON FX

Post a Comment