MARKETING MIX: SOAP BOX; A new neurosis: too many people seeing your ads

Here is a very short Seasonal Quiz.

Here is a very short Seasonal Quiz.

Question: What does Gift Advertising have in common with Michael

Portillo, June Whitfield and the Labour Party?

Answer: They all have multiple audiences.

I once saw a notice on the outside window of an extremely pretentious

restaurant which read: ‘Staff Wanted. No Experience Necessary’. If I’d

fancied a go at being a wine waiter at Chez Gourmet, I’d have been

pleased by this news. As someone who was thinking of eating there, I


Even after 30 years, political parties still haven’t worked out how to

deal with television cameras at party conferences. The audience in the

hall, the party faithful, united in their allegiance and emboldened by

their numbers, is ready for more-or-less anything as long as it’s

unreasonable. Labour leaders at the Sheffield rally just before the last

election gave them premature triumphalism. Michael Portillo at the last

Conservative conference gave them a heady whiff of xenophobia. On both

occasions, the audience in the hall became inflamed with love and

eternal commitment.

But the cameras were also there, snooping and eavesdropping and relaying

these hot responses to another audience at home. And the audience at

home was altogether cooler: remote and heterogeneous; composed of many

hundreds of thousands of small, sceptical, half-attentive domestic

units. The audience at home loved neither the Labour leaders nor Mr

Portillo. Stoically uninflamed, they registered instead severe

disapproval. And between them, they accounted for a great many votes.

Both the Labour Party and Mr Portillo learned the hard way that you

forget about multiple audiences at your cost.

Convenience foods had already learnt it. They used to think that their

only audience was buyers and servers: ‘Makes a dishonest woman of you’,

promised the domestic caterer that she could get away with it; but the

promise was made in front of the family, the eaters, the real consumers.

These days most convenience foods wisely take their convenience for

granted and go all out on quality. Quality’s of interest to all

audiences - another lesson, perhaps, for Mr Portillo.

And then we have Gifts.

Gifts are different from every other purchase we make. Gifts have only

one initial function: to occupy the space within a parcel. We buy gifts

not because we want them but because we want to get rid of them.

The point of giving is to earn gratitude and affection. We want

recipients to open our parcel and look at us with wondrous, shining

pleasure. We want them to think that we have been imaginative and

thoughtful; that only we, in our sensitive, perceptive way, could have

conceived of that particular present for that particular person. So why

then, I sometimes wonder, does anybody ever choose anything that’s been

advertised as an acceptable gift ten times an evening on national

television since early October?

And, even more puzzlingly: why do some peddlars of gifts put all their

emphasis on how astonishingly cheap their products are? I can only

suppose that, like Mr Portillo and Chez Gourmet, they’re forgotten about

that other audience.

Jeremy Bullmore is a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group

and WPP Group


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