The other day I was sitting opposite two blokes on the tube.
They were obviously workmates.
Both in their late twenties, both manual workers, one white, one black, one reading The Sun, one reading The Mirror.
After a while they finished reading their papers.
So they swapped papers and carried on reading.
I thought, hang on, that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
The Sun and The Mirror are completely different reader profiles.
The Sun is right wing, downmarket, Essex man, interested only in lewd jokes, big tits, material wealth, hanging’s-too-good-for-‘em, and ban immigrants.

The Mirror is more left wing, more caring, more intelligent, more campaigning, interested in equality and social justice.
How can the man who bought one paper possibly read the other?
Surely its values are anathema to him.
But you know what?
Those two blokes sat there happily reading the papers and I honestly don’t think they could tell the difference.
And looking at the papers, neither could I.
Because in that moment I was a punter too, instead of a sophisticated advertising executive manipulating the media choices of the masses.
In that moment, just like those two blokes, I saw two indistinguishable red-tops.
Same news, same gossip, same celebrities, same football.
Same typefaces, same photography, same headlines.
Because that’s how it is for punters.
What we think are massive psychographic and attitudinal differences barely exist to them
Because they don’t care.
Our world features very small in their world.
And we don’t get that.
Which is precisely why most of us do such a bad job at it.
We think they are watching every nuance of our advertising and media world under a microscope.
Just like we do.
And that’s why, recently, the media world was shocked by the headline on the front page of The Press Gazette.
“Study shows largest-selling paper is also least trusted.”
The media world was totally confused.
The reason they were flummoxed is the following figures.
The Guardian, which 39% of people trust, sells 200,000 copies.
The Telegraph, which 39% trust, sells 600,000.
The Times, 37% trust, 400,000.
The Mail, 22% trust, 1,900,000.
The Mirror, 13% trust, 1,100,000.
The Sun, which a tiny 9% of people trust, sells 2,600,000 copies daily.
More than twice as many as the highly trusted Times, Telegraph, and Guardian all put together.
The experts in the media didn’t know what to make of this.
“You would expect that an erosion of trust in particular titles would impact sales, but as you’ll see from our data, the level of trust in newspapers is inversely proportional to their circulation figures.
So what does this tell us?
That we don’t expect our media to have morals?
That we view it largely as entertainment?”
Hmmmm, what a difficult question to ponder.
Why does The Sun sell more than ten times as many copies as The Guardian?
After all, The Guardian is much more serious.
They put a lot more store in being sensible than they do in being fun.
A lot more effort into being didactic than being interesting.
Look in any advertising agency, everyone is reading The Guardian.
So how can that be, the survey makes no sense?
If everyone in ad agencies is reading The Guardian, surely all the consumers must be reading it, too.

Do you know what?
I think those two blokes sitting side-by-side on the tube could have answered that, without the expensive survey.

  • john woods

    Labour are pushing the fact that Ed Milliband is in touch with ‘the people’ because he has a similar background to them unlike the Conservative’s Eton set and yet curiously it didn’t seem to matter to them when Tony was in power. Is advertising similar? Is there enough meritocracy. Are there too many college graduates, too many ‘intellectuals’ and too many not in touch with ‘the people’? 

  • iain Maclean

    A clue may lie in the launch of Skeptic magazine in the US way back in the 80s.
    Each issue was devoted to one topic, such as Kennedy’s assassination.
    They ran a 10-way, split-run test using Time Magazine to find out why people would buy.
    Three or four executions were based on the same premise as the FT’s,, “No FT, no comment.” They used headlines such as, “Ever feel invisible?” with a pic of a hapless schmuck being ignored at a formal party.
    They tried old DM headlines such as “9 good reasons why…”
    You name it, they tried it.
    But one particular execution, which was based on a totally different platform outperformed all the others, more cerebral ads by almost 1,000%. Yeah, I know, please bear with me.
    It didn’t promise to win friends, influence your uncle, make you look sexy, or save you a fortune.
    It was a based on a basic human want that isn’t even on any list – even Dichter’s.
    What is that one basic human want?
    It’s something that people in advertising are waking up to again – particularly in social media and branded entertainment . 
    Howard Gosage put his finger on it when he said, “People read what interests them, sometimes it’s an ad.”
    That one basic human want, that made us what we are, is quite simple…
    That’s why most people buy newspapers.
    And perhaps the reason that the Sun sells 2,600,000 copies daily, is because it’s headlines are short, punchy and catch the eye. The same is now true  of the Mail.
    How many times have you craned over someone’s shoulder on the tube because a headline in the Times grabbed you?

    • Dave Trott

      It reminds me of when Graham Rose when became a director.
      I asked him what sort of director he was going to be.
      He said comedy.
      I asked why.
      He said “Well some people don’t like politics, some people don’t like art, some people don’t like intellectual debate, but nobody ever says “I don’t like a laugh.”  

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