Leave your inner-city bubble of wine and food festivals and see the real world, advertising industry is told

Members of the advertising industry have been urged to leave their hip inner-city world and take a trip to outer-lying suburbs to get a grasp of how most Australians live.

Direction First’s Pamela Wong and Matt Jorgenson on stage at Mumbrella360

Creatives and marketers were told to “immerse yourselves in your customer” amid fears they are out of step with vast swathes of the population.

Addressing a room full of ad industry staff at Mumbrella360, Matt Jorgenson, strategic director at research firm Direction First said: “Most of us in this room are living in a bubble”.

During a session exploring how advertising portrays Australia’s diverse population, it emerged that while only 3% of Sydney’s advertising workforce live in the western suburbs, 78% of the general population live in those areas. Equally, while more than 40% of ad industry workers reside in the inner city, only 4% of the general population do so.

Such a disparity can lead to advertising that poorly represents the day-to-day life of  the broader Australian community, Jorgenson said, himself an inner-city resident and, according to the researcher, part of what talkback radio listeners regard as “inner-city wankers”.

“A massive chunk of the consumer groups you are targeting live in the western suburbs of Sydney. I ask you, when was the last time on a Sunday you decided to pop out to Quakers Hill, Rooty Hill or Doonside?” Jorgenson said. “It’s probably more likely you’ll to go to the Manly Food and Wine Festival. That’s fine, there is nothing wrong with that, but it means we don’t often see what is going on outside of the inner-city circle within Sydney and Melbourne.

“Our day to day is not always representative of day-to-day life in the broader Australian community and the consumers we are trying to connect with. We need to speak to people on their terms, not our terms.”

He added: “The first thing you should do is get out from behind your desk and immerse yourself in your consumer. Go out into the western suburbs and see what it is like in those areas.

“Get off the tourist trail and see what Australia really looks like out of the inner-city comfort zones.”

Direction First strategic consultant Pamela Wong added it was time for the industry to “ask ourselves some tough questions” about “personal judgements we make when sitting inside our bubble”.

“When sitting behind the glass of a focus group, how many times have you allowed your values to cloud your perceptiveness to what consumers are saying to you,?” she asked.

Such “unconscious” behaviour is not limited to advertising, she stressed, with Australia as a nation still “grappling with what diversity means”.

Wong: “We value and accept gender equality yet we have a gender pay gap”

Wong told delegates there is a “disconnect” between what we say we value and what we actually do.

“We value and accept gender equality yet we have a gender pay gap. We value and accept the LGBT community and we still have marriage inequality,” she said.

The session examined several ad campaigns and how they resonated with Australia’s diverse population and groups.

Jorgenson said diversity works best when it is “interwoven into the narrative” of an advert, rather than being the central focus, with Telstra’s Technology is Wondrous campaign held up as an example of how to portray the nation’s cultural mix.

Coca-Cola’s Pool Boy ad – which shows a brother and sister fighting for the attention of a male swimming pool attendant – was another example of an ad which naturally incorporated diversity “without a big rainbow flag waving experience”.

Among the big fails in advertising are tokenism and stereotypes, research undertaken by Direction First said.

“You can wander into this without even realising it’s happening,” Jorgenson said, highlighting Yellow Tail’s Super Bowl ad in the US which depicted a kangaroo as a DJ.

“Consumers hated it, so spare a thought for the way we stereotype without even realising it,” he said. “The bogan from the country, the useless dad who is domestically challenged, the Asian person who is really good at Excel. It happens surprisingly a lot so be mindful that people feel marginalised when playing to their stereotypes.”

Tokenism was illustrated by the Labor Party’s Employ Australians First ad which drew ire after featuring just one non-white Australian.

“Tokenism can comes across as insincere and appear that they’re only doing it because they feel they should,” Jorgenson said.

Yet there are exceptions where stereotypes can work, he added, with MLA’s lamb ad earlier this year – where a host of nationalities arrived at a beach barbecue as boat people – regarded as “hilarious” by many Australians.

“Even though it played to a load of stereotypes it played to a message of inclusiveness,” he said. “It made fun of everyone in Australia but brought us all together in that process.”

Consumers are also after authenticity rather than “airbrushed perfection” – although that can rebound as it did with an excruciating recruitment ad from the Department of Finance, which descended into comedy such was the stilted performance of the non-actors.

“Be careful how you use real people,” Jorgenson advised.

In addition, Wong said there is a tendancy for advertisiers to treat over 50s all the same, with the needs of a 65-year-old “often lumped together with those of an 85-year-old”.

“Older Australians feel advertising has an age bias,” she said. “If not ignored, they are targeted with face creams, funeral insurance and incontinence pads”.


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