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8 July, 2006

They'll love it

Perhaps I'm discovering something empirically which professional marketers already know by training: is there a significant mismatch between the personal preferences of those commissioning corporate imagery (adverts, websites, etc.) and the preferences of target audiences?  Is there a risk that inappropriate adverts might be published because older executives misjudge or are poorly advised about 'youth' audiences, and the converse?

The example which inspired my initial thought is this pair of billboard adverts shown by the Cool Hunter. To save clicking the link: a billboard on the left of a road shows the inner side of a bare female leg. The billboard on the other side of the road shows the right leg. The ad is for lubricating cream. I'm sure some people might find it offensive; I think it's in at least questionable taste. How did it get published? This wasn't the result of one man's idle thought, but must have passed several states of corporate approval. Did no-one have doubts?
I presume the designer was male and in his early twenties, and I presume the commissioning panel were in their late forties and fifties. The only way I can think the ad was authorised was that the former convinced the latter that although fiftysomethings might find it distasteful, the 18-34 target audience would be more accepting of 'racy' humour. Not knowing for sure whether that was true, the executives felt obliged to trust the 'youth expert' and ran the ad.

Another example I encountered recently is that of a HE institution which hired external web designers to refresh its home page.
When the proposed designs were first shown to the commissioning team, they disliked the imagery and direction taken but were assured that the designs weren't intended to attract administrators and academics in their forties, but were targeted at school-leavers, even 15/16-year-olds. This advice came from the design consultancy, which had something of a vested interest in saying their designer was right. For that matter, I wonder whether the fortysomething account manager knew whether his/her thirtysomething designer was adequately targeting teenage tastes.
So far as I'm aware, a small amount of focus group testing by the consultants suggested that the design was appropriate, but I get an overarching sense of 'emperor's new clothes' about the whole process – which fiftysomething accountant was going to have the courage of under-informed convictions and say he/she thought this was a huge mistake?

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