Caught in a Bubble

Are media, marketing and entertainment Bubble-Dome-USE-THISprofessionals caught in an inner city latte-sipping bubble that’s out of touch with the rest of Australia? How can they continue to be relevant to an audience that leads a life very different to their own? In a feature that first appeared in EncoreAmanda Meade finds out.

When News Corp’s group editorial director Campbell Reid edited The Daily Telegraph and The Australian in the late 1990s he prided himself on catching public transport instead of driving his company car and parking it in the company car park.

As busy as he was, Reid insisted the daily commute with the general public kept him in touch with the readers of his papers.

Earlier this month, Mumbrella reported on a survey which found many advertising agency personnel live in an inner city “bubble” that renders them out of touch with middle Australia. The survey, conducted by outdoor advertising company Adshel, found that 41 per cent of Sydney agency folk live in the city or inner city, compared to just four per cent of the general public.

Richard Riboni, the executive marketing manager at AAMI who created the successful Rhonda and Ketut campaign, admits he lives in the so-called inner city bubble but he makes a considered attempt to burst out of it and keep in touch with the mainstream. “I certainly think it’s very easy for people in the industry to produce work that appeals to what they’re familiar with which may not be representative of the broader community,” says Riboni. “We listen to customers in the AAMI contact centre, read what people say about our campaigns on Twitter, on blogs and on YouTube.”

Riboni believes social media is a good indicator of public sentiment and appreciates its instant feedback. Conversely, Mamamia publisher Mia Freedman blames Twitter for reinforcing an elite view at the expense of the mainstream. “I’ve noticed Twitter has become a real echo chamber,” says Freedman, former editor of women’s magazine Cosmopolitan. “The same voices going around and around, looking for the latest industry outrage. It can be such a destructive cycle to get caught up in that. You have to actively disengage from it if you want to stay focused on your readers – who are the ones who matter most.”

The Seven network’s drama executive Bevan Lee, creator of a string of top-rating drama series including Home and Away, Packed to the Rafters and A Place to Call Home attributes his success to his very ordinary roots.

“I’ve always said I was very glad I was born into, and grew up in, not impoverished but fairly straightened circumstances in the lower middle class in Perth,” Lee told Encore.

“I really didn’t extract myself from my roots in a geographic sense until I was well into my 20s and so I have that as a creative reservoir to draw from.

“I don’t think I could have created Rafters if I had been born into an eastern suburbs family. I understand the everyday Aussie from my past. If you live in the inner city, you do form the opinion that it is the be-all and end-all and I don’t think you are able to create for other people because you simply don’t understand them. I’ve had the ability in my career to create shows for a wider demographic because I haven’t turned my back on my roots.”

Freedman echoes Lee’s approach, saying she prides herself on creating media for the general public rather than for her peers, despite personally living inside the perceived bubble.

“There are two types of people working in the media: those who want to make content for their peers and those who want to make content for readers,” Freedman says. “It’s easy to get confused between the two. Twitter doesn’t help. And industry websites can also really skew your view of what you’re doing. I learned this back when I started in magazines. There were always editors and fashion editors who were obsessed with impressing other people in the industry which baffled me because those people won’t buy your product. And they’re a teensy fraction of the audience you should be targeting. On our editorial wall at Mamamia, we have pictures of the six different types of readers we’ve identified. One of those we call ‘they’re watching us’ and it includes competitors, professional rock-throwers and people we respect as well as people we know want us to fail.

“While we’re always mindful that these people are out there, and every so often they become loud and dominant, it would be a huge mistake to tailor our content for them. That would be like trying to drive a car while looking over your shoulder into the back seat. It’s a classic mistake and takes you straight into a downward spiral – or, to put it more colloquially – it’s a fast track to disappearing up your own bottom.”

Nick Cater, executive editor of The Australian, has written an entire book about this “latte-sipping elite” – The Lucky Culture And The Rise of Australia’s Ruling Class – which he says makes up most of the media.

“The cultural gatekeepers need to get out more and remind themselves constantly that the mood in the inner west of Sydney or north Fitzroy is very different – and often diametrically opposed – to that in the rest of the country,” Cater told Encore. He says a campaign launched by Coles this year, which saw the supermarket chain use shopping bags to push the ‘Make it possible’ cause against factory farming of animals, is an example of the narrow ideas of marketers failing to take into account the feelings of the punters and the food industry.

“Coles’ mistake in rushing to market with shopping bags supporting Animals Australia was an example of how out of touch marketing teams can become,” says Cater. “The backlash from farmers and the wider population was swift. Coles was smart enough to realise this and reverse the decision, but it shows how important it is for retailers – like political parties – not to become wedged on these thorny cultural issues. Woolworths felt it too when they withdrew advertising from Alan Jones only to feel the backlash from Jones’ not inconsiderable group of listeners.

“These misconceptions about the broader public mood are exaggerated by social media, which may be a useful forum for debate, but is a poor gauge of democratic opinion.”

But sometimes marketers get it just right, as was the case with AAMI’s Rhonda, a character so real she strikes a chord with the general public. Rhonda is no inner-city hipster – she is a dag. Riboni says: “It’s hard to dissect the elements that went into making that Rhonda and Ketut campaign a success but there is no doubt the character of Rhonda was central. She did silly things; she got tan lines in Bali and she made a fool of herself flirting with Ketut.

“Most Australians have been to Bali and whether people like to admit it or not they can see a little bit of themselves in Rhonda, or know somebody like her and recognise that it’s funny. I would suggest that part of its appeal is the relatability that came with her character.

“To an extent we all live in a bubble of our work, family and friends. What we have now with social media is the ability to have a greater understanding of what people outside of our immediate sphere are saying.

“Social media is just word-of-mouth on steroids. It gives us the ability to get a pretty good understanding of whether something has been successful or not way before our formalised tracking comes out.”

And Riboni believes the advertising industry is not the only sector guilty of sometimes misjudging their audience. Television producers, he believes, often foist overseas formats on the Australian public rather than creating something to reflect the mood in our backyard.

“The Real Housewives franchise is coming to Australia,” Riboni says. “I can’t imagine how something like that will work in this market. It’s an example of taking something from another market that doesn’t relate.

“Those type of formats tend to struggle in Australia because we are not the same type of personalities as the American population. It’s a different mentality. Australians like The Block where people are actually doing something. I think it’s out of touch with what is appropriate for this market.”

The Block has been unkindly referred to as ‘bogan TV’ but it finished on Sunday night with an astonishing finale average of 3m viewers across five capital cities.

Seven’s Bevan Lee says his pet hate is elitists who criticise mainstream success. He is unashamed about wanting to make television which celebrates the good in our society. And he is not a fan of the Underbelly franchise on Nine which he says glamorises crime. He says: “Rafters was a fairytale of suburbia. They’re an idealisation and a distillation of all that is good in family love. I chose to make the show optimistic and concentrate on love.”

And what of Reid in 2013 now he is News Corp’s most senior editorial executive? “I still commute by bus and train,” he says. “I get to read mX on the train in the evening to see how much people still love newspapers.”

Encore issue 25This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit for a preview of the app or click below to download.


  1. A lion says
    7 Aug 13
    12:37 pm

  2. At least this industry doesn’t have a massive focus on winning awards judged by people who are if possible even more out of touch with everyday people…

  3. simon lawson
    7 Aug 13
    12:48 pm

  4. Good article.

    Reminded me of an infographic that was doing the rounds a while back comparing the use of social media by agency people versus the general population. It’s worth a look:

  5. Ben
    7 Aug 13
    2:18 pm

  6. Its a fine line, key is def to understand and appeal to a “non inner city” audience but often that manifests itself as simply bad work. Exhibit #1: Coles – Superhero.

    US understand breadth of audience and diversity but are clever in the way they bring that to life. Allstate – Mayhem prime example. Broad appeal can = quality idea.

  7. Adam Hodge
    7 Aug 13
    3:37 pm

  8. Great feature Amanda. I’ve been just as guilty as the next guy in AdLand when it comes to this subject on more then one occassion. The one layer I would add to temper this discussion is the idea of marketing to the aspirational self. Women’s mags have done it for aeons. Magazines written for 12 year old girls write on topics and in a style for 15 year, 15 year old titles for 18 year olds and so on. Its simply because we as humans (inner city ad wanker, western suburbs aussie battler or country cocky) all want to aspire to next ‘next step up’ and the best advertising takes thin into account. You don’t develop an ad strategy for your actual target market, you write one for the target market they WANT to be.

  9. Marto
    7 Aug 13
    3:45 pm

  10. Good article. This happens in most fields though. A chef will always talk about flavours and foods with a greater deal of zeal than those who eat to survive, and sometimes doesn’t get why others aren’t so passionate. Advertising to the common Joe Public is for the most part a nuisance and distraction to them, something to change the channel to avoid if possible. I see some previous campaigns where companies (via their agency) really seem to think that Australian’s are super keen to jump on a brands website and play around. News flash – we don’t. Nobody except agency staff seem to give a shit about watching a ute be test driven around a track, or watching some random family soak up those stubborn stains with a good detergent. I have said it before and I will repeat it again – all most Australians care about are if its value for money, nothing else. The rest of the fluff in advertising is all done to impress others in the game, the general public have already changed the channel.

    NB: Can someone offer a decent explanation as to why Twitter is seen as an important meter? It is used by less than 8% of the population, and you can safely assume that the demographic of Twit users differs greatly from the 92% of those who ignore it. Unless of course this country is made up of entirely wannabe comedians, narcissists and sycophants.

  11. jase
    7 Aug 13
    4:50 pm

  12. The arrogance of trying to hang out with those less cool than yourself. Ugly.

    We are all just people with the same fears, doubts and worries.

    The best work occurs when one looks into oneself with honesty and humility.

    That’s how real bridges are formed, not deliberately hanging out with the plebs.

    Seinfeld looked at his world with bemusement.

    Funnily enough, millions around the world shared his findings.

  13. Ricki
    7 Aug 13
    5:15 pm

  14. Ben, how do you know the Coles Superhero is ‘bad work’? It’s too early to know how the average punter will react to it. Sounds like you’re making a subjective judgement to me because you don’t like the creative. ‘Good work’ is surely, effective work. We work in advertising after all. Is it effective? Too soon to tell. I note that the other ‘bad’ Coles work has all been highly effective.

  15. Ben
    7 Aug 13
    8:54 pm

  16. @Ricki…Absolutely subjective only but I can safely say the work is bad…It may well prove to be effective from a harder metrics POV. My point is that you can be effective and do good work – they are not mutually exclusive.

    Coles work is not good – it may be effective but that doesn’t make it right.

  17. Ben And Ricki
    8 Aug 13
    1:43 pm

  18. The great challenge of creating work is for it to be both creative but also not leave people with an ill feeling about the brand.

    You can make work, quite easily in fact, to move product. Keep the big media spend behind it and it becomes annoying. To the point where people complain about your advertising. This leaves you with a longer term problem, something Coles will have to fix in say, 5 years or so. Where their brand is wroth nothing. All they will have is price.

    This positioning is clever for a company, growing out of a bad place and regaining some market share and was cleverly instigated by the CEO.

    The only short sightedness is that he has done this at the expensive of his brand. So if the business strategy ever has to change in the future and I’m guessing it will have to at some point, thye are going to be in a whole heap of trouble.

  19. Ricki
    8 Aug 13
    3:21 pm

  20. Ben and Ricki….how do you know it is damaging the brand?

    I’m not saying I personally love what they’re doing but I’m not a typical consumer either. I work in this silly business. The only research I’ve been privy to in relation to the Coles work (and being subject to confidentiality I cannot disclose my source) showed a surprising affection for the ‘big red hand’ etc from the average punter. Who is complaining about it apart from the advertising fraternity? And I think you’re discounting their other messages that all feed into the brand perception – MKR, Masterchef, Curtis Stone, ‘Hormone Free’ etc. All of those offer propositions beyond price.

    I do appreciate opinions on this, but without the research to back it up, it all does look like it’s coming out of a bubble to me.

  21. InSilence
    8 Aug 13
    5:17 pm

  22. Good article until Nick Cater was wheeled out for a quote. Ex-Editor of The Australian newspaper, a loss making publication kept afloat by a US billionaire to spread conservative propaganda. Yeah, he’s down with the people. He KNOWS what people in the suburbs want. And of course it just so happens that when the people in the ‘burbs want is what big business wants! Who would have thought it? The Coles example is ludicrous. There was no outcry from consumers against the Animals Australia bags, the campaign was dropped purely due to pressure from big-agri. Most consumers would take the side of Animals Australia over factory farmers as shown by the outrage over live exports etc.

  23. AC
    12 Aug 13
    5:57 pm

  24. Isn’t it hilarious that the Rhonda character could be considered an example of stepping outside the bubble and nailing it.