The View From Inside The Ad Bubble

A very interesting byline in The Drum (illustrated by research that shows live TV viewing is significantly higher than online video, OTT, etc) convincingly argues that TV will not fade as the primary ad medium. One reason the author gives for folks in our industry believing otherwise is the "false consensus effect," which argues (in a far more sophisticated way than I have room to explain here) that marketers and agency folks differ from their consumers and tend to listen to one another instead of their audiences.

“The vast bulk of the money in any market at any time is in the hands of...people who want to meld with a peer group, not to outdo it, and people who are more eager to avoid social embarrassment or regret -- including purchase mistakes -- than they are to display dominance,” says Carnegie Mellon's Herbert Simon, who did the research and coined the term  in 1957.

Says the byline author: "The false consensus effect suggests that marketers assume consumers are (like ad folks) and create ads accordingly. This leads to attempts to persuade people that their product is perfect rather than reassuring them it won’t be crap. Striving to convey perfection often leads to a focus on intricate detail irrelevant to most."

This is an academic way of saying what we have always known: that the ad industry -- particularly the media side of the equation -- tends to focus on its New York navel at the expense of understanding how folks in the flyover states live and think. This is certainly one reason we have an idiot running the country.

Sadly, we take pride in being different from the "unwashed" masses who buy our products. We like niche TV show they don't, we get excited by movies that only do well in New York and L.A. We line up to eat at au courant restaurants that most Americans can't afford, read newspapers and books that most of the rest of the populace doesn't, and generally take pleasure in our "elite" status. After all, you have to be "special" to thrive in a city unlike any other in the world.

When you think about the number of people who run media properties, write for them or chair agencies or ad-tech companies that spend to keep the ad business going, it is a frighteningly small circle. Not only do they tend to flock together, but they listen to each other (even if some, especially at Fox, have proved themselves unworthy) and tend to live lives that insulate them from the rest of the country.

Since we pride ourselves in being in the know as quickly as possible, we seize on new research that supports our own POVs, no matter how flawed or inaccurate. Or we take what some say at face value because of their status in the ad community (anyone else tired of of the press quoting Marc Pritchard endlessly?). Thus we reinforce the bubble in which we live and make working decisions.

Earlier in my career, when I lived in Manhattan, I used to go to Milwaukee to visit friends. I was always stunned at how uninformed they were about the hot new Broadway play or the newest emerging band or how their idea of fashion was a company-logoed nylon windbreaker. Then I got over myself and found them to be among the nicest, most sincere and charming folks on the planet. What they didn't know really didn't matter in their lives.

And if you ever hope to sell them your product or service, you had better learn that same lesson.

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