A view from Maisie McCabe

Brands must consider different perspectives

Whatever you think of CHI & Partners' new ad for TalkTalk, it's clear that taking disparate viewpoints into account can only be a good thing...

People who work in advertising and the media are often accused of being out of touch with "real people". Even if real is probably not the right phrase (who is to say whose lives are more real than others?), it’s probably safe to assume there are rather fewer lifestyle perks if you’re a teaching assistant in Warrington or a shop worker in Great Torrington.

So it is interesting that our Private Viewers in this issue take different sides on CHI & Partners’ latest work for TalkTalk. The ad features footage from a real – by which I mean its actual definition of "not fictional", rather than just non-Ivy-frequenting – family’s house. Crispin Porter & Bogusky’s Dave Buonaguidi says it’ll only be interesting to people who work in advertising, while Al Young of FCB Inferno thinks the spot’s strength lies in its confidence in its banality. 

Personally, I thought it was a great example of a brand honestly trying to reflect its target market. The prevailing view is that today’s consumer demands authenticity and honesty from brands. Often this is attributed to younger people, but I’m not sure age comes into it. My 62-year-old dad can spot a brand not living up to its marketing as easily as my 24-year-old brother can. 

The 2016 consumer’s expectation of advertising came up at a roundtable on diversity I chaired at Channel 4 this week. We were there to discuss how we could ensure the recent Maltesers ads, which won £1m of airtime in a Channel 4 competition, weren’t so unusual in four years’ time. The ads follow a wider campaign with people using Maltesers to tell a story. Although, this time, the tales are about involuntary spasms, errant wheelchairs and lost hearing aids.

Someone at the roundtable commented that we needed to aim for a time when disabled people did not just play characters or scenes related to their disability – just as actors of black or ethnic-minority backgrounds shouldn’t play roles defined by their race. It was a laudable and well-meaning thought. Interestingly, one of the people with personal experience disagreed, countering that joking about how your disability affects your life is perfectly normal to people with one.

The problem is everyone sees the world differently. Viewing discussion of disability as pigeonholing is itself an inadvertent bit of pigeonholing – even if it’s meant well. Such a view suggests to people that their world and experiences are different from the norm. It could also be argued that by asking people to designate their ethnic background, you are reinforcing the idea that there is an "other" – even if the aim of asking the question is to ultimately improve diversity.

Just as we need to take into account the viewpoint of colleagues, clients and talent, we must do the same for our customers. As the Brexit vote showed, you can’t convert people if you don’t think about their point of view before trying to communicate with them. TalkTalk is doing this with its new campaign but, as Roisin Donnelly explains, hiring non-professionals is not a substitute for marketers doing their real job. 

maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com 
@maisiemccabe