Avoiding mutton dressed up as lamb

One of the interesting observations following the comments about the BA campaign is the split of opinion. Based completely on a random sample of people who have commented I would suggest the two camps, for and against, are based on age. The ‘against’ are broadly under 30, the ‘for’ are broadly over 30.

What has struck me is how much this is a mirror of the advertising industry from an age perspective. The question is to what extent do people in the adworld use their own experiences and lifestyle to make judgements about all of society?

I’m currently working in the same world as BA and focused on a country. We have a mass of statistics from the airline, the country and the airports. Since January this year 38% of passengers were aged under 35, therefore 62% were over 35.; 45% were over 45. Also the older age group is growing. These facts throw in to sharp focus the reality of the customer base and therefore the process these people go through in choosing flights.

We held some focus groups in the UK earlier this month and the attitudes of the various age groups were also very clear. The younger you are the more you are likely to throw caution to the wind and put up with a poor service, for example, if the price is low whereas the older you are you are more likely to opt for better service and comfort.

Further the perception of airline choices are pretty shallow, with the exception of frequent flyers who do know the detail. For the majority of people thinking about travel they are making important decisions for possibly their main holiday of the year and perceptions become very influential. Virgin Holidays talk about ‘Rockstar Service’ and the TV spot attempts to imply everyone gets the same level of service but I wonder how many potential customers get put off by the claim?

The point is quite obvious when comparing BA and Virgin; strong brand properties aimed at differing segments of their market. Neither brand can expect to be all things to all men/women so they embrace their natural position in the market. Quite right too in my opinion as it is what good branding is about.

Returning to the question about the age groups and the well publicised facts about an ageing population I wonder how this will impact on the advertising industry. I have already flagged the issue elsewhere of how can a 25 year old empathise with  a 50 year old? It is very hard to do as most people, according to sociologists, find it very difficult to see more than 5 years ahead. We all have mental milestones that tend to be 5 years out at most. I assume this is why the BA work has been so polarising; below a certain age it doesn’t connect – it knows its audience and avoids the temptation to join the world of Facebook.

If I was going to have a snipe at the industry I get the impression there are very few middle aged planners around these days. It is a shame in many cases because there are so many experienced and smart people who could add much needed intelligence to business challenges in the wider advertising space.

However Sir John Hegarty’s agency BBH produced the BA work and John is no spring chicken, albeit youthful, talented, energetic, good looking – damn him – so maybe John’s numerous circuits around the advertising block helped to avoid the BA work becoming mutton dressed as lamb!


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