Oh dear, is that really who you think I am?

As chance would have it, two giants of the digital world – Yahoo and Microsoft – are running basically the same outdoor campaign at the moment. 

Each has a big new story to tell – Yahoo a full-scale relaunch, and Microsoft the latest iteration of Windows, Windows 7.  And without boring you with the details (which are, indeed, quite boring), both campaigns aim to work primarily through the not-unfamiliar means of showing the target market large, well-photographed pictures of itself.

For people who do indeed look like the slightly edgy, stubbly, deeply-dressed-down, almost withough exception white 20-somethings in the two campaigns, I’m sure this works well.  But for the 90-odd per cent of the population who don’t look like that – those of us who look older, younger, balder, fatter, blacker, more clean-shaven, whatever – all that these campaigns say is that these products and service are designed for someone other than us.  This is, of course, a counterproductive message.�

It’s an issue that arises in financial services all the time, not least because in such an abstract and intangible world we tend to latch on to the idea of showing pictures of our clients’ customers as drowning men latch on to lifebelts.  But these lifebelts can’t take our weight.  For every customer who recognises him or herself, there are a dozen who feel misunderstood and antagonised. 

(None more so, incidentally, than those customers and potential customers of Barclays all over the world, when Barclays introduced a global visual identity a few years ago based on the so-called “Gallery of Life,” a photographic library showing their customers in quirky situations and doing quirky things.  This was tricky enough in the UK, where they had brochures featuring one cover photograph of one person, or group of people, with whom the entire savings or personal loans or mortgages market had to identify.  But it was absolutely ludicrous in ethnically fragmented or divided countries like Malaysia, where Barclays had an impossible choice to do with which four out of the country’s five major ethnic groups they wanted to antagonise.)

On a more local, less global scale, we’ve worked on marketing communications for the wealth management firm St. James’s Place for 20 years without ever once showing a picture of what we think a customer looks like. Same problem:  if we show a duke, then our self-employed newsagent clients feel intimidated, but if we show a self-employed newsagent then our dukes feel badly out of place.

I’ve always felt strongly about this, and have flown one-man search-and-destroy missions whenever a client, or a creative team, have shown signs of succumbing to this unwise approach.  That being so, I’m grateful for Microsoft and Yahoo for their current poster campaigns:  they reassure me that I’m right to do so.�

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