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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Who Do We Think We Are?

After all these years, are we still patronising our audience at our peril?

“The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife,” said David Ogilvy

Of course if you watch Mad Men (and who doesn't?) you'll realise that in the 1960s, defining the consumer as the average woman was hardly a ringing endorsement of razor-sharp intelligence.

Yet just because ad men have (largely) stopped groping receptionists in the lifts, smoking continuously and offering alcohol at every meeting, don't assume that anything's fundamentally changed. Yes, attitudes to women have moved on a bit, but attitudes to 'the consumer', hardly at all.

A friend asked me the other day why most ads are so simplistic and patronising. I didn't like to tell him the truth, which is that many marketers and ad people secretly believe that everyone else is stupid. 

If proof were needed, I had a (not especially bright) brand manager tell me that the direness of his ads didn't matter because everyone who bought his product was (I quote) 'a moron'. His product was good. I had, in fact, bought it myself. So why this assumption? 

Perhaps In his highly paid, graduate, master-of-the-universe role, and controlling a significant TV spend, he arrogantly believed he was manipulating the bovine 'masses'.
It's an extreme example, but not unique. I've lost track of the meetings I've sat in where both clients and agency people say… ”Well of course I understand it, but the consumer won't.”  

Because, of course, 'we're' cleverer than 'them'. 

So we continue to insult their intelligence with dialogue that isn't funny, homogenised Euro'people simpering at smartphones, sexist stereotypes of useless men, poor dubbing, plainly fake vox pops – and hectoring, shouty prices and claims.  

And yes, I've done some of these myself. 

We even communicate with doctors as if they were an undifferentiated group with preset knee-jerk responses (eg, 'doctors like golf, photography and travel….' as I was once briefed). It's laughable. 

Over the years I must have sat in hundreds of consumer groups and I'm usually struck by their common sense and ad-literacy.

Offered sincerity, they respond gratefully, as we all do. And the same can be said to their attitude to humour, and 'cleverness' and entertainment. 

They hate being shouted at, lectured to or patronised. They'll let us have fun as long as the point we're trying to make seems intelligible. They don't mind working to 'get 'it, as long as it rewards the effort and isn't forced or irrelevant. 

Sadly, I think they often buy decent products in spite of the ads. Their expectations of us are low anyway, so they simply make allowances for our habit of talking down to them, mentally filter out the relevant information and then decide. 

Crucially, in today's world they'll talk to each other on social media, check product reviews on the internet, and force transparency when we don't give it to them. Brands that show them respect are preferred.

Maybe we should speak to them as we 'clever' people would like to be spoken to. Every time we waste our opportunity to really connect, who's the 'moron'? 

I think it's us.

Article by
Pam Mason

creative and strategy consultant in healthcare

29th October 2012

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