Les Binet and Sarah Carter get a little bit angry about some of the nonsense they hear around them… like ignoring the 'still' majority.
We attended a conference by Thinkbox (the UK body responsible for TV advertising) the other week. There were a number of great speakers and an interesting session at the end giving useful facts on the current state of the UK TV market.
One headline struck us as particularly fascinating: 90% of all TV programmes are still watched live. When you consider how much TV technology has changed, this is quite remarkable. Despite on-demand viewing, digital recording and the ever-growing range of devices that TV' can now be viewed on, people still mostly choose to watch TV in the good old- fashioned way.
However the next day's headline in the Financial Times told a rather different story. 'Rise of TV on-demand poses ad challenge. Tenth of viewings now time-shifted' it thundered. A quarter-page of copy outlined this brave new world of time-shifted TV, completely ignoring the 90% 'still live' story.
We have come across this 'silent majority syndrome' before. Interestingly, it often seems to involve a 90% figure. For instance, still 90% of shopping is done in real shops, still 90% of media is consumed offline, and still 90% of 'word of mouth' conversations are spoken – on the telephone or heaven forbid, face to face. Yet in each case, people in our business tend to focus on the other 10% taking place online. Why is this? There seems several reasons.
Firstly, we focus on what's easy to see and measure. Online, it is easy for us track and record what people watch, say, do and buy. It's so much easier to measure sentiment on Twitter or Facebook than in the local pub. It's easier to track visits to a website than footfall in a shop.
But the easy availability of online data can quickly distract from the much bigger issue of what quietly continues to go on in the 'real' world. Just as 95% of the universe consists of dark matter and dark energy that cannot be seen, 90% of the marketing universe consists of behaviour that cannot easily be tracked. We tend to concentrate on the 10% that is visible.
Secondly, it's human nature for our eyes to alight on movement rather than stillness – to ignore what Sherlock Holmes would refer to as 'the dogs that don't bark in the night'. Ninety per cent of people who visit a social site don't post anything; we focus though on the 10% who do. Futurologists and journalists are big culprits here, since their whole raison d'être is to highlight what's new and changing.
Thirdly, the fact we are marketing and communication people means we are different from the vast majority. In the US and UK, we are less than 1% of the population. We tend to be younger, richer, better educated, without kids and concentrated in a handful of big cities. So it's all too easy for us to overlook how different our lifestyles and perceptions may be from the people we talk to.
We overlook the reality that 83% of UK new car-buyers are over 40. We're surprised to learn that scrapbooking in the US is a $4 billion industry – with more participants than golf. We have no idea that sewing and crochet in the UK are more popular than video games and that fishing, gardening and swimming are all more popular than going online. Yet we've never come across a reference to scrapbooking or sewing in a meeting or a brief.
So here's our advice. The next time you see a percentage in a headline, subtract that percentage from 100%. Spend a bit more time thinking about the larger number. Because that may just be where the action is.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Admap. Click here for subscription information.