I Think You’ll Find It’s A Bit More Complicated Than That is the title of a wonderful book by science writer Ben Goldacre.
If you know his work, you’ll be aware of his well-argued and witty discussions of rationalism and empiricism in his defence of the scientific method. I’ve been thinking about this in recent weeks as the nation has been gripped by a frenzy of oversimplification. Such thinking has become endemic in marketing and advertising, and it’s just not good enough.
Since 24 June, newspapers and broadcasters seem to think a 52% vote means they have to go to Outside London and point the camera at people who voted "leave" so we can understand this strange new country we now live in.
Most of the major TV channels have made documentaries about it. My nine-year-old daughter could work out that a 52% vote doesn’t mean everyone in the country voted "leave". Nor that everyone who voted "leave" is the same. In fact, they have as much variation between one another as the people who voted to remain. The people who write articles and news bulletins don’t seem to have realised that.
When marketing people and advertising agencies talk to one another, we constantly fall into the same trap. We are complicit in either demanding or supplying ridiculously oversimplified descriptions of the people who buy products and services, PowerPointing them to the point of pointless caricature.
Either we’re not being honest with one another or we’re really not as clever as we sometimes seem to think we are. So perhaps it’s time to reject this in favour of a different approach.
We are complicit in either demanding or supplying ridiculously oversimplified descriptions of the people who buy products and services.
You can’t hold your audience in the palm of your hand, whether they’re leavers, remainers, millennials, Generation Y, Generation X, empty-nesters or pre-family.
They’re a group of ludicrously complex and unique individuals who all have more that makes them different from one another than what makes them the same. So embrace that. Treat them as individuals. Create brands that can flex and adapt to them in all their individuality.
And when thinking about how your brand should communicate, ditch any notion of sidling up to a bottled audience demographic and instead think about your brand as another unique and interesting individual, just like your customers. Capable of joining in the conversation with them and being equally interesting, speaking in a recognisably human voice.
Be quirky, be distinct, be unique. You’ll find that, much like when choosing friends, people will like you more as a result, because you’re being yourself rather than a pale reflection of who you mistakenly think they are.
Craig Mawdsley is the joint chief strategy officer at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.