Market segmentation is an age-old issue and each market seems to have its own specific concern. When I was in the US, it was how to speak effectively to minority groups. In Latin America, specifically Brazil, the big mystery is how to appeal to low-income consumers.
There is a huge socio-economic gulf between the people who make the advertising and those to whom they are selling. So how can one group effectively make a connection with the other?
Unfortunately, the most common solution seems to be to insult the intelligence of consumers on the lower socio-economic level. This market is plagued by all kinds of advertising characters, celebrity endorsements and cutesy brand icons.
There are hardly any real ideas. With a few great exceptions, it's form over content every time.
The solution may be closest to those who seem the most terrified by the issue. The challenge seems particularly daunting to big, global companies.
They are full of international executives, who are very experienced and sophisticated in some respects, but are often paralysed by their lack of knowledge of local people and their culture.
What's ironic is that these people are dealing with another challenge that could be considered even bigger. And in it may lie the solution to how to make contact with low-income consumers. Multinational clients are rising to the task of developing big brand campaigns that convey a consistent, relevant and appealing message across a variety of geographies and cultures. Some of the work we have done here in Brazil for Unilever has run in markets as diverse as the US, China, Israel and the United Arab Emirates. And this same work has proved to be a huge success among people in the lower socio-economic groups in Brazil.
Coincidence? Maybe not. Teams trained to develop global ideas become specialists at one thing: finding the similarities. Most people just love to point out the differences. However, in my experience, the differences tend to be superficial. When you dig a little deeper, it's amazing to see just how similar we are. The feelings and insights that strike a chord with us all are usually quite primitive, instinctive and universal. Our roots are pretty much the same. If we develop a sensibility to tap into this, we can find ideas that are relevant to people everywhere and at any socio-economic level.
Of course, it is ludicrous to say that form does not matter in advertising but, increasingly, many of our problems can be solved by focusing on the impact that great content can create. In this market, the biggest contribution advertising agencies can make is to help our clients to identify what to say, rather than just find flashy ways of saying nothing.