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Keeping things simple

When trying to understand our target audience, it is important to know who they are and why they are the target audience, as well as making sure you are asking them the right questions

Justin McCarthyI have been very fortunate to have spent the bulk of my working life in advertising, both in healthcare and consumer. Not only have I gained insight into the machinations of numerous client organisations, I have had the privilege of working with some really bright, creative people who think quite differently about almost everything.

The leap from client brief to the results of the creative team's thinking has always astounded me and brought me immense pleasure (albeit tinged with frustration that I didn't think of it nor would I have done given twice the time).

I have often observed that the most startling creativity, a mixture of the relevant meeting the unexpected in a clever, original and ingenious way has often been the result of the most simple, almost trivial brief. Not the brief for the multimillion pound launch of a new medicine or even the launch of a new electronic gizmo aimed at young professionals with a high disposable income. No, a much more every day occurrence - the staff leaving card.

This is particularly true for agency staff but is often true when we are asked to produce such a card for a client. You know the sort of thing: a cleverly mocked up front page of a popular but slightly inappropriate magazine or a famous figure with a retouched face in a compromising situation, supported by witty apposite copy and humorous remarks from the signatories.

These cards, whether respectful or not, engage, inform, advise, amuse and influence - responses which we would wish of our creative ideas for more serious projects. Why are they so appropriate, bang on brief and effective? The answer is simple, the creative brief given to the team was based on a thorough understanding of both the subject matter (the person leaving) and the target audience (the staff remaining).

Back in the real world, defining our target audience is comparatively easy compared with the task of understanding them. Similarly, knowing about our product is not as easy as defining what the important brand values are. In healthcare the need for understanding is further complicated by not being able to communicate directly with the patient, being restricted in what we can actually say to prescibers who are not totally free to do as they wish.

Is it any easier in the consumer marketplace? Not necessarily. I learned a valuable lesson while working on the Kellogg's account. Kellogg's spent tens of millions of pounds on TV advertising direct to the consumer. The account team became frustrated at not having access to the client on a round the clock basis. Surely they needed to be involved in the most vital and the most expensive part of their marketing activities?

When challenged, the marketing director said: You are 98 per cent of our marketing spend... but only 2 per cent of what we do. He explained that most of their activity was directed at a different audience and focused purely on maintaining shelf space in supermarkets, as once lost the space was almost impossible to get back.

This reminds me of the story of the man who walks into a bar with a frog on his head. The barman asks: Where did you get that from? The frog replies: It started out as a wart on my rear. When trying to understand our target audience, it is vital to understand why they are the target audience and the importance of who they are, as well as making sure we are asking them the right questions.

Justin McCarthy is managing director of MJL Advertising.
He can be contacted at or on +44 (0)1462 433 030

Innovative Thinkers in healthcare advertising - a special supplement from PMGroup Ltd

23rd July 2008


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