I had lunch with old University friends last week. All had held senior positions in government, law or business. They were urbane and charming and just the sort of “elite” many people on ‘Question Time’ in Wakefield last Thursday. detest.
But several of my friends disagreed with me. I was regarded as a naïve romantic for speaking in praise of what are described as the millennials. These are defined as the 16 million reaching young adulthood in the year 2000.
We used to think we knew what all sorts of “the people” thought and why they thought it. We used to think mass marketing worked. We trusted in our data.
And here’s what the ex-Chief Marketing Officer from Mars said:
“I’m not a great believer in targeting. Our target is about 7 billion people sitting on this planet. Out task is to reach as many people as we can; to get them to notice us and remember us; to nudge them; and get them to buy us once more this year.”
Not believing in targeting is as extraordinary as golfer Justin Rose saying “I’m not a great believer in putting.”
Because as recent events show people aren’t as the pundits suppose them. They are very diverse, opinionated and influenced increasingly by feelings rather than logic.
To judge from the alarmingly articulate vitriol in Wakefield this is a world where supposedly ignored and ignorant people are fighting back and sweeping the smart elite away. And the day after Wakefield, Zac Goldsmith’s 23,000 majority was astonishingly demolished in the Richmond by-election. So do any of us think that we currently really understand or empathise with each other? Certainly not when 70 year olds talk about Facebook and Jay Z with such bewildered contempt and when the millennials believe most of the older cohort betrayed them in the UK and in the USA by voting the way they recently did.
We’re deaf to the way voters, consumers or ordinary people think especially if we underestimate them.
This is a world where single issue campaigns like “the economy stupid” - (Bill Clinton 1992) or “Project Fear” (Lynton Crosby 2016) won’t wash anymore. Arguments now need to be diverse, reactive and fast/ More spontaneous and less crafted.
It’s a world where “the people” as an amorphous mass has ceased to exist.
Wakefield was frighteningly angrily vocal. This wasn’t a debate so much as a revolution about past slights. They would have torn my University friends limb from limb had they been there. Marketing anything, whether a candidate or a brand, is going to get harder. We’re flying blind.
Our best hope is our youth because the best young people seem smarter and nicer than ever we were. I can’t wait for them to be in charge because they see the world as it is and as it will be, not as it was.
Because they are the future and my friends and Wakefield are the past.