Saturday, 28 July 2018
Vote Leave's "sophisticated" campaign was the Internet age equivalent of junk mailing
Back in the day we had two sorts of client - ones who paid lip service to the idea of targeted marketing and those who tried to use targeting to improve results. The former - typically financial services businesses of one sort or another - were great clients as what they really wanted to do was shove out their sales message through every available direct marketing medium regardless of any nuanced assessment of responsiveness. Mostly this is because the levels of response that made credit card applications, investment bonds and mortgages cost-effective was very low. This is (for those who remember back then) why everyone got so royally pissed off with the likes of American Express - except us direct marketers, we were making lots of lovely print margin for churning out essentially untargeted material.
The second bunch were much more difficult as conversion to sales, cost per response, cost per new order and so forth really mattered. They used agencies like us because we were (or so we said) at the cutting edge of sophisticated targeting making use of databases, expert systems, geodemographics, psychographics and other of the assorted computer dark arts. We used all those tricks, tests and personalised gimmicks - "Yes, SIMON COOKE, you could already have won FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS in our preselected prize draw..." - we were the Red Sparrows of marketing. Today we'd probably have strangely coloured hair but back then we were more Mad Men in our dress style.
Recently a bunch of people who, it seems, hadn't realised that careful, targeted marketing doesn't require Facebook, have discovered that those databases, expert systems, geodemographics and psychometrics really do exist and have been used to target advertising by political campaigners. Indeed, today's marketing Red Sparrows have cluttered up UK and US airwaves - besplendid in their best red hair - spinning the same bollocks we were spinning back in 1992. Carefully selected statistics - "using geodemographic targeting has been shown to lift response rate by up to 150%" (from nearly nothing to very slightly more than nearly nothing) - are wheeled out wrapped in words that probably mean little in this context but sound good - algorithm, profiling, psychology. Add to this how we continue to believe Vance Packard's nonsense about secret and hidden techniques used by marketers to trick us into buying stuff we don't want to buy, and you've a recipe for otherwise intelligent people believing that somehow the Brexit vote was all down to this occult science rather than a whole load of people, for whatever reason, really not liking the European Union very much.
What's come out now is some of the detail of Vote Leave's targeted advertising. And, it seems that Vote Leave - led by a man who tells us Marvin's brain is tiny next to his - were the sort of client we loved. The supposedly sophisticated targeting based on cunning psychology and profiling turns out to be broad brush targeting - "older men", "women", "middle aged people" and so forth. Here's a journalist completely failing to understand the entire point of marketing but, in doing so, revealing how simplistic Vote Leave's targeting was:
There's more but this will do. We were told - stern, questioning MPs interrogated visiting "experts" to ascertain this - that the Brexit campaign was uniquely cunning and sophisticated to the point of being sinister. Yet the truth is that they used the same level of targeting sophistication as Amex did in 1992 - not very much at all. This isn't to say that Vote Leave's online advertising didn't work but what's clear from this revelation is that it wasn't targeted at any level below the sort of broad brush demographics - men, women, old, young - that were used to target TV ads in the age of mass marketing. To put it another way, Vote Leave spent a lot of money flooding facebook with ads in the same manner that Amex leaflets flooded through your letter box back in the early 1990s. It wasn't sophisticated at all - for all the talk of physicists - it was the Internet age version of junk mailing, essentially spam.