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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Kata No. 8

Kata No 8: Audiences and how to look at them..


In Kata no 4 I reviewed a number of target audience descriptions I regarded as being misconceived or bogus even if they regularly turned up on creative briefs. At the time I promised to write a further routine based on target audiences I considered to be valid. Well here goes and it may not be what you are expecting. I could of course plunge into psychographics and geodemographics.  But that wouldn’t necessarily provoke or inspire. What I am going to do instead is to look at who is doing the observing. This makes a huge difference to how the audience is described. I have opted to do this having read a whole series of authors writing about the English. I have a favourite. I can’t claim it’s the best perspective but all of these descriptions are valid and all will give you a much better perspective than 18-34 old upmarket man who used the product twice a week.   The authors are as follows: Kate Fox the anthropologist writing about the rules behind Englishness, AA Gill’s denunciation of the English in the Angry Island, Wilf Self’s championing of Beckonscot model village as the anti-type and embodiment of everything he dislikes about England, the guide to understanding the English given to American troops arriving in Britain in 1942. And lastly Bill Bryson’s affectionate farewell to England – he’s married to an English girl – before moving the family back to America.  Some one is bound to be offended that I have only chosen accounts of the English. In my defense you have to start somewhere and the comparison should be informative. I have the advantage that a lot has been written about the English but it shouldn’t be too difficult to adapt the model to the nationality you want to describe.


1. The theoreticians view

kateBased on Kate Fox Watching the English. This is the most conventional viewpoint. The writer is on the edge of the group or at least tries to write from a close perspective. But the approach is abstract and analytical. In Kate’s case she is writing as an anthropologist. Which means she is looking for the rules or commonalities which characterise The English. The danger when we describe audiences for commercial communications is that we are usually far too narrowly focussed on their buying and consumption. They’re not nearly as interested in brands as we like to make out. But it is the proximity to the group which becomes a problem. Actually only rarely is the campaign aimed at us. But we select and embellish and patronise as if it were. The first lesson is to beware of the theoretician who lives on the doorstep. We may need to get further away to get a better perspective.

2. The insider’s view

You could also call this the confessional perspective.  I haven’t chosen an author here but I really shouldn’t have to. Bridget Jones, Nick Hornby, any contemporary author is capable of creating characters they know well usually because the author inhabits the same world and is being more than a little autobiographical.  But the advent of blogging means that there is acres of this kind of confessional material. What matters is the quality of the writing and the accuracy of the description. Transatlantic writers have better publicists – but I would worry if we have to resort to Douglas Coupland to get under the skin of a Brit.  And here the lack of objectivity is a positive benefit. The problem is that by virtue of choosing an audience you want to show how they respond to change and your chosen mouthpiece may not be as self knowing as you wish.A real insider can’t be objective even if they’re trying to be. But at least forewarned is forearmed.

3. The alien perspective


VictoryThis is based on the Instructions given to American Servicemen in Britain in 1942. Doubtful if you would really use this in a briefing unless you had gone particularly ‘gonzo’. But interesting because not only was this written over half a century ago – (there may have been a few changes in the interim). The writer writes as an outsider for outsiders. With the expectation that there are likely to be areas of misunderstanding. For example ‘If Britons sit in trains and buses and don’t speak to you, it doesn’t mean they are being haughty or unfriendly. Probably they paying more attention to you than you think. But they don’t want to appear intrusive.’ And the delectable: ‘The Britons have phrases and colloquialisations of their own that may sound funny to you. You can make just as many boners in their eyes.’ The ousider view works on the basis that the audience are going to appear odd. But this is to be expected and by building bridges with the writer’s own culture the author builds bridges.  This can be very useful when the brief needs to demonstrate an understanding of more than one group. Particularly useful when agency people assume they are like their audiences when nothing could be further from the truth.

4. The polemicist

This may seem odd but why not write about them from a hostile perspective? AA Gill’s attack on the English in the Angry Island is perceptive and hilarious. Not least because I really couldn’t find very much Scottish about him. Raised in Stanmore, educated in Letchworth and Cambridge and now writing on Fleet Street. But that doesn’t stop him raging against the English. Enemies find points of weakness and they exaggerate. Which makes them unreliable witnesses but very useful in identifying key identifiers – ones which the audience will often not recognise or will try to conceal. No reason why satire can’t be applied to audience description. Usually we are looking to inspire as much as to inform and most audience descriptions are unnecessarily worth and downright dull. How would your enemies describe you? Good question. If your audience is a bit chavvy then let your prejudices loose a little. It may give you much more insight into the group. But be evenhanded. Be willing to do this on audiences close to you. Otherwise the politically correct will nail you for a racist and a bigot.

5. The caricature

beckonscotThis is a variant on the last one but slightly different. Here the writer is using stereotyping in a way that is obvious. Its important because most stereotypes in creative briefs aren’t flagged as such. Caricature at least is what it claims to be. The writer can also be affectionate – it doesn’t have to be malign. What is unusual in the source I chose was that Will Self chose of all things Beckonscot model village. As a symbol of everything he had written against.   In other words you don’t need a book or even words.  Why do we have to use words all the time? It isn’t even as if the creatives can always be counted on to read them!


6. The traveller


brysonThis last perspective I found most useful. I was using Bill Bryson who a) knows the English because he’s married to one b) is an anglophile – has lived in the country for over 30 years, and c) uses a wide range of writing including polemic, caricature, as well as brilliant precise (and funny) observation.  Of course the outsider can get it wrong but little beats the  informed friendly outsider.  Which dear reader for the most part is you. You are usually separated by lifestyle if not mindset and demographics (and psychographics come to that) of the audience..

So cultivate the outsider perspective. Research can be a help but these days there are many more resources available to help you get under the skin.  You can observe. You can do media analysis. You can look at the things they make or value.  You can dialogue. You shouldn’t feel tied to performing some kind of quasi scientific analysis. It won’t be objective and unless you have some kind of insight it won’t be particularly useful.  Insiders always need to be interpreted because they don’t possess all the facts – and self knowledge is rarely granted. Do resort to using several literary devices – it won’t hurt and it builds up the dimensions of your audience’s world.



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