Who do you think you’re talking to?

A few decades ago, there was an attempt by the South African Advertising Research Foundation (SAARF) to depart from stereotyping consumers according to race. Back in the late 1980s, it was a pretty revolutionary, pre-democracy thought – let’s classify people according to their lifestyle, rather than their colour.

So, Johan with his three bedroom, two bathroom house and Toyota Corolla, was classified as identical to Tsepho, with the same assets.

It was called the Living Standards Measure (LSM) and supposedly did away with fifty years of racial stereotypes at one swipe.

Or not.

LSMs have been a bone of contention ever since they started rising from eight original standards to ten in 2001, and then escalating into super categories and lots of hissy fit contention. Groups were even subdivided into 7 Low and & High. Ownership of a sewing machine became a determining factor.

What is the point of this kind of differentiation when it takes no account whatsoever of the psychographics powering these markets? Owners of the same automatic washing machine may well be driven by opposing motivations of pride in having whiter than white whites, or greener than organic wastes.

And then there are the ultra-fashionable descriptors of elite Black Diamonds and the “emerging market”. Maybe they both use the same good luck muti, and both fear witchcraft cursed lightning strikes. And money doesn’t make consumers more sophisticated, just look at some of the political elevatees.

The main reason for the desperate search for a reliable, quantifiable social classification mechanism is so that the media can charge advertisers on a per capita basis for a defined audience deliverable.

The trouble is that trying to establish a rigid definition of consumption has rubbed off into defining the attitudes and nature of the consumer for our communications with them. And that doesn’t work.

If we’re talking beer drinkers, it could be Castle or Stella Artois. BMW drivers include scooters and top end 4 x 4s. You can’t use broad strokes. You have to delve deeper.

Communicating in a meaningful and persuasive way with a particular target market means that the audience is defined by the nature of the product and the nature of the consumer, in equal proportions. Lazy boy, quick fix stereotyping can’t deliver the end result of sales from an advertising message.

If you want to get to an “Afrikaans” market using music, you’d better know the difference between Die Antwoord, Steve Hofmeyer and Jack Parow. And that means getting under the skin of the psyche of your potential buyer.

In the South African arena, marketing cannot follow the lead of the American gurus. Sociologically, there is a profound distinction between the assimilation processes of the two societies.

In the USA, the driving philosophy for immigration is the “Melting Pot America” where Latinos, Caucasians, Chinese, African Americans and everybody else becomes the same kind of citizen, regardless of background. We all sing the same anthem before school and aspire to the same apple pie and motherhood standards.

In our country, we have the “Salad Bowl SA” situation with dusky olives, pale cheese and masses of iceberg lettuce living side by side, gingerly touching at the edges in a glass cage.

Americans deal with language issues by having a Spanish channel. We start off with 11 official languages before adding Portuguese, Urdu and Guggerati for internal markets, never mind our Malawian, Congolese, Somali, Nigerian and other immigrant populations.

Let’s get down to the old debate of culture versus colour, nature versus nurture. Do the same aspirations work across all the barriers?

No ways.

In most cases, the maxim of ‘exceptions prove the rule’ tends to be the governing philosophy. How many herd boys become president? 99.9 percent, recurring endlessly, are still walking barefoot, cow dung between their toes, unable to read, write or count. The upward mobility myth, unlike Obama’s American dream, just doesn’t exist.

How many blacks implicitly trust their white colleagues? What about whites feeling their black peers are only there because of BEE?

Whenever someone approaches me with an opinion or solution based on these kind of market numbers, I’m sceptical. It’s a bit like an accountant designing a car. If you’re working with statistics, you aren’t qualified to talk about people.

Stereotypes are so much easier to work with than human beings. You don’t have to think, to question, to understand. The numbers speak for themselves. But unfortunately, they speak gibberish.

That strange beast called a target market is not numerical. It’s philosophical.

It’s all about human perceptions and behaviour. Not how many bodies there are in a suburb. Or whether you have a sewing machine.

A brief for an advertising campaign is the motivation for a letter to another human being. It could be joyful or a warning, good news or the results of experience. The so called ‘audience’ is not a gathering of applauding bodies, it is a unique individual, in his or her home environment. The medium is not the message, it’s irrelevant. Your listener could be reached by SMS, TV, car audio, cinema advert, roadside hoarding, or whatever communications tool you want to use or can afford. Just so long as the convincing story is told.

Yes, many people can share the same aspirations. I want a big house. Give me a 4 x 4. My child must go to university. But you can’t apply stereotypes to how those aspirations can be satisfied by your particular brand.

If it’s mielie meal, then maybe pap can satisfy hunger, help a child study, eventually build a future career. How relevant is that to the braaivleis market?

We need to delve deeply into the mental and emotional interaction between a brand and the consumer. There is a level at which we can communicate with the needs and preferences of each person we want to reach.

A brand like Coca-Cola is a social catalyst, not a taste sensation like Iron Brew. Your communication is entirely different for the two brands. But both feed on the same buying resource.

Bottom line – stereotypes don’t buy, people do.


No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment