Thursday, October 14, 2010

When You Assume...

Many of us have heard this expression before:

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.

The language may be salty for some but it can be a very apt expression at times.  Sadly, today was no different.  I went to a local Starbucks and paid $2.26 for a $2.16 drink.  When I didn't get my change, I asked for my dime.  Both the person behind the register and the guy standing behind me laughed.  I walked off with my change and went to find a seat.  Five minutes later, the guy walked up to me and said scornfully, "Make sure you get that dime back!" and went on his way.

It was a nasty thing to have done and I was shocked at the behavior.  But really, the main issue is that the guy didn't consider that maybe that dime matters.  What if I were unemployed and had to watch every penny but occasionally treated myself to a drink?  What if I live paycheck to paycheck and have to account for everything I spend but, like the unemployed example, treated myself?  What if I were traveling on business and had a strict per diem?

He assumed.  He made an ass out of him and me.

Assumptions about how other people actually live and how they are marketed to has been top of mind for me recently.  I read this article the other day and it had me thinking quite a bit about assumptions and trying to fit square pegs into round holes.  A really striking data point: never married 25 - 34 singles now slightly outnumber their married counterparts (46% to 45%).  Just 10 years ago, married outpaced singles in that same age group by 20 percentage points.

And yet, as the article also points out, advertising targeting singles skews much younger.  And, very few companies and agencies have devoted resources to crafting messaging and strategies that are more suitable for older singles.   Thankfully, some are turning that around just a bit -- Coldwell Banker and NCL to name just a few.  

But the fact remains that marketers and advertisers are happier assuming that singles want to be coupled/married because it's easier to put together a campaign for homogenous people.  They find it difficult or maybe inconvenient to shift that mindset despite the changes in population.  The tragedy of it all is that many singles are happily and intentionally single.  And want to be spoken to in ways that are respectful of them and mindful of their needs as a buying audience.

And it's not just singles that aren't being marketed to properly...  This article covered the changing face of parents (age, ethnicity and sexual preference) in the U.S. despite the singular "look" of the young, and married, American mother in advertising.  

Really interesting: 42% of mothers in a study by Marketing to Moms Coalition thought that ads that target them are ineffective and 28% found those ads to relate to them as a mother unappealing.  Why might that be?  For one, there are upwards of 6 million children with same sex parents in the home, for example.  And, data that show that 64% of mothers are married and that almost 40% of 2007 births were to unmarried women.  Before anyone has an episode of "Teen Mom" dancing before their eyes, only 23% of 2007 births were to teen moms.

This is a great excerpt from that article that says it all:

"One 43-year-old mother of three young children told me that she's noticed an "interesting division" between news coverage and marketing. "There's a lot of press that talks about parents being older these days but marketing is still geared toward younger moms," she said. "Brands show younger moms or, at least, moms that are younger than me.""

All of this brings me back to assumptions.  We make snap judgments all the time based on very few pieces of data.  In many cases, we allow these snap judgments to inform how we design marketing strategies/campaigns and inform how we do business with one another.  

And we do this because it's easier. We do this because we don't want to think about extenuating circumstances.  We do this because we think people are just like us.  We do this because we think people should be just like us.  We do this because we think our products and services are fine "as is" and do not need revisiting and reshaping to fit today's consumer.

Why do you think we do this?

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. "Why do you think we do this?" I think you answered the question. Because it's easier, quicker, requires less thought and energy. It's also prejudice too, if you're not afraid to throw that word around. I'm not sure that folks put a premium on facts anymore. Or patience, for that matter. It takes time and energy to wait and observe and communicate, but I've found in both my professional and personal friendships that it's worth it.

  2. Thanks - patience always pays off not only personally and professionally. Not to sound like an old fogey, but technology has made us all have ADD. Not a good thing!