Apr 6, 2012

We know what you’re thinking

We’ve already established here at WAS that we advertising professionals are conceited, egotistical, obnoxious, self-important, artistically frustrated, unfulfilled douche bags. So it comes as no surprise that one of the many things I hate about ad people is our Ivory Tower attitude toward the coveted target audience.

I secretly throw up in my mouth every time I sit at a meeting and listen to some Executive or Creative talk about what other people want and think. In Conference Room A is an ultra conservative, right-wing Ivy League WASP dude talking about how poor inner-city black kids feel and think about fashion; in Conference Room B is the power-hungry closet lesbian pushing 50, talking about which clubs the kids are hitting these days.

It’s one thing to look at market research to get a pulse on what people who are not like you thinking and doing. It’s quite another to ASSUME you know everything, especially what a working-poor single mother of three must deal with, when you have a live-in staff that takes care of your kids, does the cooking and cleaning. We are so cultured, so highly trained, so in tune with what’s hip and now, that we can instinctively tap into the minds of groups of people we’ve never had any contact with.

Allow me to name names: In my market, Scion is an automotive brand very popular among the urban poor, particularly wannabe gang-bangers who can pimp their ride for less. Of course, this is not a desirable/prestigious demographic for the brand managers at Scion. They see themselves – and therefore project Scion – as a hip, counter-culture, forward thinking, neo-art brand. The result? Very cool ads and promotional events that do not resonate with Scions actual shoppers.

This is perhaps the main reason why so much advertising is awesome, but way off mark. I pose the following theory: We subconsciously create advertising to impress our peers, not sell to our target audience. We are so infatuated with our own genius and want to show it off, that we forget the purpose of the job – to sell stuff.

Of course, one may argue that there’s an aspirational quality to projecting a brand image that’s a few notches above your audience’s reality, but I’ve been at the meetings and seen the thought process. The people at Scion whole-heartedly believe their own bullshit. And so do many clients. And that’s the scary part.

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