By Ryan Deluchi
This year marks ten years since my first day in advertising, and I still remember it clearly.
Myself and around fifty other excitable millennial types (back when millennials were cool) had been crammed into a room in a trendy Soho agency as part of the Omnicom graduate induction day.
Granola was eaten, music was played, brick was exposed. All was good with the world. I put aside my worries of how I’d be able to afford to eat that month and instead chose to think about how lucky I was to be wearing jeans that day instead of a suit.
After we excitedly took our seats and readied ourselves for a day of inspirational talks and hopefully a Mad Men era anecdote or two, along came the inevitable ice breaker.
We were asked to stand-up if we were younger than thirty years old.
Naturally, we all stood.
We were then asked to sit back down if we lived outside of London.
We all remained stood, proud as punch of our new six bed house-share in Clapham Junction.
We were asked to remain standing up if we had a degree.
Again, nobody sat.
Finally, we were asked to remain standing if we considered ourselves as middle-class.
A handful of us adopted an awkward squat whilst briefly considering if our parents becoming recently semi-retired had changed our class definition. But by and large, the room remained full of obsolete chairs, each accompanied by a slightly perplexed looking graduate.
It was at this point we were invited to look around at each other. This, we were told, was what the advertising industry looked like.
In other words, nothing like the people that we were now being paid to sell to.
It was probably the single most important thing I’ve ever learnt about advertising. Whilst that does make me wonder what on earth I’ve been doing for the 3,500+ days since then, it has served as a constant reminder that when you work in our industry, you are very rarely, if ever, the customer.
And yet it’s also a fundamental marketing principle that gets frequently ignored.
If I had been given a pound for every time since then I’ve seen an idea disregarded because the urban-dwelling, educated, middle-class (and probably white) creative/client/account manager didn’t get it, then I’d be writing this from a yacht and not a café in Peckham.
And that’s just it; I am part of this problem too. Similar people congregate. We have similar experiences to bond over, similar ambitions to get excited about, and similarly inexplicable desires to pay over the odds for objectively disgusting things like Kombucha.
That’s ok. But the problem arises when entire industries are built within these siloes.
The problem with siloed thinking
As an account executive finding his way in the world, it always struck me as odd that the briefs I was shuttling between the creative and strategy floors were for problems like selling more printers in Japan, or shifting cigarettes in Russia, or making washing machines sexier to housewives (it’s safe to say Adland’s promise of glitz and glamour never really materialized in my career).
In other words, nobody involved in the creative process had a bloody clue what the actual audience was thinking. Even the clients only had a few poorly constructed ‘insights’ about how 30-55 year old decision makers in the IT industry also liked to spend time with their families.
That was ten years ago. But I could easily have written that sentence ten days ago.
So who is at fault here?
You don’t have to visit too many agencies to realise we over-index in white middle class urbanites as an industry. But culling them really makes as much sense as spending £3 on a bottle of yeasty tea.
Our industry attracts a very precise demographic; it always has and I suspect it always will. The make-up of our agencies is not going to change dramatically anytime soon, even if plenty is (seemingly) being done to drive gender and, to a lesser extent, ethnic diversity.
But as a group of people who get paid to sell more things to real people, we should surely try much harder at (in fact, be borderline obsessed with) opening up the creative process to real people.
And by real people, I mean normal people.
People for whom brand loyalty is still a thing. People who still get most of their advertising exposure through TV. People who feel ignored by politics and respond accordingly when they’re given a chance to be heard in a nationwide referendum. People who lead entirely different lives to us, with different values to us, often living in different countries to us.
What can we do about it?
The answer, like with most things it seems, might just lie with technology.
It has helped to democratize creativity to the point where we can get closer to audiences than ever before. It has created access and immediacy with these real people that could never have been possible even ten years ago. We’ve never known so much about the people we sell to, but are still failing to turn that into relevant communications with them. Technology can help bridge that gap.
Working in a company like MOFILM, I’m obviously biased. I’d be in the wrong job if I didn’t believe in the power of opening up the creative process to get closer to real people.
But ten years on from standing up in that sea of young middle-class homogeneity, I’m happy to be working in a business that’s doing its best to embrace creative talent beyond the physical walls of our office.Back