It's not what advertising is good at so much as what it can do better
A view from Russell Davies

It's not what advertising is good at so much as what it can do better

I've always thought that the best advertising people are those who are a bit suspicious of it. That may well be true of other professions. A degree of distance, a measure of not-drinking-the-Kool-Aid, might help you be good at your job. That's certainly true of Tom Ewing of Brainjuicer.

He writes – the best blog there is about marketing, culture and market research. He’s clearly engaged and enthused by his trade and the good things it can do, but he has also got a keen eye for its foibles and cant. Here he is on the dumbness and folly of audience cohorts – specifically, "millennials".

"The idea of generational cohorts comes from sociology. The idea was that a cohort is unified by going through a particular event while young – like the civil rights movement or 9/11. But marketers have steadily expanded the idea so the cohort is unified by much broader experiences and also by attitudes.

At the same time, it’s come to dominate targeting conversations – pushing demographic markers like age, gender, ethnicity and social background to the side.

A degree of distancce, a measure of not-drinking-the-Kool-Aid, might help you be good at your job

"But this expansion of cohorts makes little sense. The ‘millennial’ cult asks you to believe that a 34- and 18-year-old have more in common than a 34- and 35-year-old. And the fixed bounds of the cohort mean they always will. The same marketers talking about how we live in an era of constant change feel the best way to express that change is in fixed groups spanning two entire decades. This is horoscope thinking."

This is the best bit: "…marketers love it so much because it’s a genre, with marketing portraits of millennials as its purest expression. Millennials crave authenticity, yet are desperate for brands to engage them. They strive for uniqueness, but love to connect. They are naturally creative, with entrepreneurial goals. They sound great, quite frankly.

"They sound like exactly the sort of people you’d need to pay marketers a lot of money to reach. Come to think of it, they sound like marketers. They are young people as business would love them to be."

He is also well worth a follow on Twitter (@tomewing). His reports from conferences are candid, sometimes catty but never cruel, giving you the sense you’re gossiping in the corridor between sessions.

People like Tom are what make social media worth having – smart thinking, freely given, from a real person, with only a real person’s filters. Thanks, Tom. Very grateful.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service

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