In the "Mad Men" era of the early 1960's, slick advertising professionals dictated the American dream and defined what success looked like for a generation of post WW2 men and women looking for a sense of purpose. Ultimately, that sense of purpose was twisted and corrupted into the suave Brooks Brothers wearing, camel smoking, hard drinking company man that Hollywood movies like "Revolutionary Road" craft and project so well.
But, as warped as it may have been, those Madison Avenue advertising types were on to something; they understood that the people of that era were hungry, hungry to associate with a cause and they yearned to belong to something. Unfortunately, that something turned out to be the holy grail of ugly consumerism, but hey, who are we to judge?
Fast-forward fifty years and the need to belong is still evident. But while the man and woman of the suave sophisticated sixties was seemingly happy in their daze of camel filters and southern bourbon, the poor buggers of this era don't nearly have it so easy.
On the one hand, advertisers tell us to go forth and consume: Beer is cool, breakfast cereals are good for you, and a 4x4 is an absolute necessity, especially if you live in the suburbs! On the other hand, it's time to go green, drink five liters of reverse ionized water a day, eat organic lentils blessed by a monk form Tibet and drive a hybrid car designed by a hippie from California.
In this mass of confusion a sort of Cyborg has emerged - part new age consumer, part social media junkie, but entirely programmed by DSTV. Trying to define what it is to "be" in the modern era is like trying to be a reformed sex addict turned Bible-bashing preacher at a brothel. At best, a wee bit confusing.
It's almost as if we exist in a parallel universe that was once deemed unacceptable and on the fringes of society, which has assimilated and become the norm.
Allow me to explain, once upon not so long ago, one could look at a well dressed man in a suit and, based on some accepted norms and standards, assume he held down a good job, was probably married, played golf on the weekends and was a swell guy. To a certain extent, if you're over fifty, this residual image may still hold some sway. But in today's world the same guy projects an image of the smiling but corrupt politician, the ruthless lawyer or the psychotic, win at all costs CEO; while the guy with the long hair, the big muscles and the full sleeve tattoos is the one most likely to help your granny across the road.
It's the clash of these two opposing social paradigms that is generating some fascinating outcomes. The time is upon us where men and women are beginning to pick and mix their lifestyles and social choices in some interesting and peculiar ways and the "normal" guy is being pushed to the fringes of society.
It's the girl who pops a red bull before she starts her yoga class, or who does an all night clubbing session on Saturday and goes straight to church on Sundays. It's the husband with three kids who is training for his first ultra marathon at forty and the guy with tattoos and a ring through his belly button that runs a Bible school.
This is without a doubt the age of the individual, where men and women are making their own choices independent of the usual stereotypes; creating their own tribes if you will. This is the age of the "Cult of One", where individual choices and permutations are infinite. It's out with the beer drinking, polo wearing career banker and in with the tea totaling cage fighter who teaches fourth graders. Know that. Adapt to that.
So if you're in the marketing and communication business, who do you talk to and how do you talk to them? The place to start is with your existing customer base; understanding their real stories and not their LSM classification; understanding their desires and not their share of wallet. Develop communication and experiences that speak to them as individuals because, in the words of Fairfax Cone, "there is no such thing as the Mass Mind. The mass audience is made up of individuals, and good advertising is written always from one person to another. When it is aimed at millions, it rarely moves anyone."
Terry Behan is Executive Director at The Brand Union. He has lived and worked in Ireland, England, Greece, Germany and South Africa and has worked extensively with many of the world's best-loved brands.
The Brand Union is a global brand agency, comprising over 500 people across 23 offices. We believe that the experience of the brand is the brand. We create tangible, integrated, holistic brand experiences which create multiple positive moments of interaction for brand users.
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