In today’s global economy, building real local knowledge is vital if marketers are to avoid the pitfalls of relying on data to reach consumers.
As the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America in November 2016 sent shockwaves across the world, a senior exec at one of the world’s leading ad agencies was asked how this piece of news might affect the worlds of advertising and marketing.
“The election has spooked the liberal elite away from high concept, ‘make-the-world-a-better-place’” advertising to “a more down-to-earth ‘tell-me-what-you-will-do-for-me’ approach,” said Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi.
He wasn’t the only one who recognised that marketing needed to switch gears.
“This election is a seminal moment for marketers to step back and understand what is in people’s heads, and what actually drives consumer choice,” said Joe Tripodi, chief marketing officer of the Subway sandwich chain.
“So many marketing programmes are orientated toward metro-elite imagery,” McCann's CEO, Harris Diamond, told the Wall Street Journal in November. Marketing needs to reflect less of New York and Los Angeles culture, he said, and more of “Des Moines and Scranton”.
It is impossible to underestimate the cultural change in the West represented by first Brexit and then the US presidential election result. Globalisation is on the skids.
Data from a recent YouGov survey of 19 countries reveals that less than half of respondents in America, Britain and France believe globalisation is a “force for good”. The young are keener, thanks to their more positive attitudes towards multiculturalism. In America, 46% of those aged 18-34 believe immigrants have had a positive effect on their country, yet the figure is just 35% for those aged 55 and over.
For those working with global brands in advertising and marketing, it has all come as a terrible shock. By and large, this group thought Clinton would win the presidency. But the polls were wrong. The lesson? Data isn’t telling marketers everything they need to know about consumer beliefs and behaviour.
Learning this lesson, HP, the personal computer and printer arm of the former Hewlett-Packard Co, is re-evaluating its reliance on online polls and seeing if it needs to increase its use of personal interviews and ethnography, which is when researchers try to understand how people live by visiting them in their homes or work environments.
David Sable, global chief executive of Y&R, a creative agency owned by WPP PLC, says it will continue its eXploring programme, which involves spending time with consumers in their own habitats. The agency has in the past done laundry with families in London as part of its research for a packaged-goods company. “If you want to understand how a lion hunts, you don’t go to the zoo, you go to the jungle,” he said, underscoring the importance of on-the-ground research with all kinds of people.
There are other steps, too, that organisations are taking to deal with recently-revealed aspects of globalisation. While most agencies have made some efforts towards hiring more ethnic minorities and women, they are now turning their attention to hiring staff from more varied socioeconomic and geographic backgrounds.
A diversity hire “can be a farm girl from Indiana as much as a Cuban immigrant who lives in Pensacola,” said John Boiler, chief executive of the US agency 72andSunny.
Then there is the cultural effect of globalisation. Instead of aggregating audiences into broader groups and painting those with the same brush, it can be argued that ad and marketing agencies should use more local advertising, and tap into the concerns of local communities.
In a world “demanding local distinctiveness, you have to have creative that reflects that,” said Harris Diamond of McCann.