News & Opinion

Adland fails to understand what matters to the public new study reveals

Industry misjudges mainstream aspirations as public not interested in fame, money and image.

The ad industry does not understand the aspirations of the mainstream, new extensive research from Reach Solutions has revealed.

The Aspiration Window study investigated the question of aspiration amongst advertising and marketing professionals and the modern mainstream finding huge disparities. 

Reach Solutions director of group insight Andrew Tenzer said: “The Aspirations Window is open far too wide and it causes us to persistently miss the mark in capturing what really matters to the mainstream. This is a problem of market orientation - an aspiration gap that ruthlessly exposes our industry’s basic lack of understanding of mainstream people.”

Andy Atkinson, chief revenue officer at Reach plc added: “Reach is uniquely positioned in the British mainstream, delivering both trusted editorial and advertising which resonates with our readers. The Aspiration Window demonstrates the rife misconceptions about what matters to the public and what needs to be done to remedy this industry problem.”

The findings of the in-depth study – which focused on desires, aspirations and social purpose – are outlined below. The full white paper can also be downloaded here: reachsolutions.co.uk/insights.

1. People working in advertising and marketing wildly overestimate the mainstream’s focus on money, image and fame:

  • The advertising industry places significantly greater importance on ‘Extrinsic’ (fame, money and image) motivations than the mainstream do (indexing 130 against the mainstream indexing at 100).
  • Whilst the mainstream gives extrinsic aspirations a cumulative importance rating of 3.8 (out of 10), people in marketing and advertising predict that the mainstream would give aspirations relating to fame, money and image a rating of 7.4.   
  • Advertising and marketing professionals think that 82% of the mainstream want a high-status job and to earn lots of money whereas only 28% of the mainstream indicate this. This compares with 47% of industry professionals who personally desire this. 
  • Advertising and marketing professionals think that 68% of the mainstream want to own expensive possessions whereas only 11% of the mainstream indicate this. This compares with 18% of industry professionals who personally desire this. 
  • Advertising and marketing professionals think that 63% of the mainstream want to be famous whereas only 14% of the mainstream indicate this. This compares with 25% of industry professionals who personally aspire for this.

“Our data reveals the extent to which our industry misjudges mainstream aspirations – believing them to be far more motivated by fame, money and wealth than we are ourselves. This represents a profound aspiration gap and a basic lack of understanding of the underlying motivations of the people we seek to influence with our advertising” said Tenzer.

2. Social Virtue marketing strategies: No-one believes social virtue influences buying, not even the advertising and marketing community!

Covid-19 has amplified the social virtue narrative with many in our industry assuming that ‘doing good’ will be an increasing source of competitive advantage:

  • Only 20% of advertising and marketing professionals and 15% of the mainstream trust brands to behave in a social responsible way
  • Choosing from a list of reasons that influences their buying decisions, both the mainstream and people working in advertising and marketing rank social virtue related factors as the least important
    • Only 9% of the mainstream consider a brand’s political stance and affiliations to play a role in purchasing decisions versus 13% of industry professionals 
    • Only 10% of the mainstream consider a brand’s position on social issues to play a role in purchasing decisions versus 21% of industry professionals.
  • Crucially, when asked to predict the factors which influence mainstream’s buying decisions, advertisers and marketers don’t believe social virtue is important
    • 81% of people working in advertising and marketing don’t reference a brand’s position on social issues as important to the mainstream, 84% don’t reference a brands political stance and affiliations and 80% don’t reference concern for the environment
  • The mainstream care more about value for money 82%, reliability 67% and quality 66%, and the industry underestimates this significantly on each of these factors by an average of 20%.

“We have identified a clear disconnect between one of the dominant narratives in our industry and practitioners’ beliefs about what actually works. The simple fact is that even people in the industry don’t believe social virtue matters to mainstream audiences.  We believe the industry probably champions it to make it feel better about itself” said Tenzer. 

3. Our lack of understanding of mainstream aspirations is driven by the elitist composition of the advertising and marketing industry.

Building on the work of Sam Friedman and Daniel Laurison’s in their book “The Class Ceiling”, ‘The Aspiration Window’ data reveals:

  • 70% of advertising and marketers are from an AB background compared to 29% of the modern mainstream
  • The lack of social mobility, access to the advertising and marketing and profession and privileged make-up of its members is distorting its perception of mainstream aspirations because the industry, on the whole, has had different social, cultural and economic experiences from them.

“Our notion of mainstream aspiration is seriously flawed due to the elitist composition of the marketing and advertising industry. We need to start addressing the elephant in the room – social diversity” said Tenzer.

The white paper concludes that the advertising and marketing community can tap into mainstream aspirations more by collaborating with mass media experts, building brands more holistically in line with mainstream thinking and by becoming more diverse and inclusive. However, along with diversity and inclusion the industry also needs to factor in mobility and social class which continue to be ignored. If the industry doesn’t embrace all these factors then it will repeat the same mistakes in a ‘Groundhog Day’ fashion. 

The Aspiration Window was developed by Reach Solutions in-house insight team and research agency house51. It uses frameworks from cross-cultural psychology, anthropology and the social sciences. The research was conducted in February 2020, and then re-run during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis in April 2020 to see if the pandemic had any impact on mainstream aspirations and the industry’s understanding of them.

24/06/20

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