Marketing for idiots

I wrote a piece for this week’s Marketing magazine, about the Census.

While I was researching it, I found that the questions have changed since the survey was introduced in its modern form in 1801.  I particularly liked the direct approach of the 1871 version, which asked whether there were any “idiots, imbeciles or lunatics” in the household.  Questions of political correctness aside, it’s a shame that this question wasn’t repeated in future waves of research, as the data would have been fascinating.  Is the British public becoming more or less idiotic over time?  Which towns and regions are particularly imbecilic?  Is lunacy closely related to certain professions (“you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”)?  And so on.

This data would then have been very useful for all those companies still targeting the hard-of-thinking (or the “Dumbass Daves”, as the inevitable segmentation study would no doubt call them). You know the ones: the geniuses that bombard us simple types with condescending advertising, inane social media feeds, dubious CSR initiatives, inappropriate QR codes, pointless apps, sub-standard products, hellish call centres and dodgy headline rates.

Yes, fifty years after David Ogilvy cautioned that “the consumer isn’t a moron”, it seems that many people in our industry still beg to differ – so it would have been fascinating to see whether the data backed them up, with some hitherto unnoticed trend towards mental incontinence over the decades.  For my own part, I would have expected the opposite to be true: i.e. that consumers are better informed than ever and that patronising them would be even less likely to succeed than back then.  But maybe I’m being plain stupid?

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