Don’t ask me, I’m just a consumer

Don’t tell my clients (or employers), but I’m not really a marketer. I’m a consumer. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to
watch the occasional focus group, where I sit behind intimidatingly mirrored
glass and listen to claimed behaviour, but most of what I know of the illusive
consumer is built around observing my friends, and by actually being one
myself. I do not see it as us and them. We are all consumers. So why is the notion
of “putting the consumer at the heart” of advertising still so foreign and
novel to so many people?

Maybe I’m a bit harsh, but when I see news
stories where the head of a major retail group in New Zealand says something to
the tune of “if we give the consumer what they want, we get good results”
(1:30 – http://www.3news.co.nz/Sales-surge-thanks-to-savvy-marketing/tabid/369/articleID/282384/Default.aspx), I want to cry. This should not be a revelation. 

This concept should absolutely be at the centre
of everything we do. Sure, we can occasionally make new products the
consumer does not know they want until they see it (thanks Steve Jobs, still
loving the iPhone), but the vast majority of what we do in adland is sell more
of existing products/services. So how do we do that? By putting some stoners in
a room that looks like we rented from the FBI and giving them a pizza while we
take notes?

As David Ogilvy said “The consumer isn’t a
moron; She is your wife.” Or boyfriend. Or neighbour, or family member, or
workmate, or drinking buddy … Or you and me. Why do we not treat them (and
ourselves) with a little bit more respect?

There are many ways in which media
strategists come up with insights, but all good media plans will be based
purely on consumers’ behaviour and attitudes. Shouldn’t the insight work be
done prior to creative execution? Should we not research what the consumer is
talking about and participating in prior to creating the advertisement?

We all want positive word of mouth
advertising done for us. We want things to go viral. We want to create stories
about our brands that spread. Here is a free insight: people talk about themselves.

If you want people to share your story,
make your story about the consumer, and give your brand a supporting role
(ideally as an enabler) in that story. Step back, give the consumer the

I was discussing this with some of the
older generation over the holidays and they said “Brands like Coke would never
do that. Their branding is too famous, too big.” Yet it is one of the few
companies to really do this. And although it was not as successful here as in
Australia, the results from their ‘Share a Coke’ campaign speak volumes for that approach.

How much more powerful would it be to find
out what actually matters to the consumer, what stories they are telling, and
then give our brands a supporting role in those stories via both traditional
and non-traditional media channels?

I want to participate in your advertising,
not have it stop what I am trying to do. Even better, I want your advertising
to participate with my life. I want it to stop being an interruption and start
being a part of my lifestyle in a way that doesn’t cause friction. I’ll tell
you what, I will even give you all my demographic and social graph data for
free to make it easier for you, so long as you treat that data with respect
and use it to make my life better.

I want things that make me happy, that give
me utility, and that are relevant to me. Give me that and I will tell
everyone how great life is, thanks partially to your product.

But what the hell would I know? After all,
I am just a consumer.

  • Anthony Gardiner is a social media strategist and self-proclaimed ‘askhole’ with OMD Word. 

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