B2B International
B2B International

June 23, 2011

In her latest Thursday Night Insight, Simi Dhawan assesses the place of stereotypes and clichés in the world of b2b marketing

Political correctness credibly avoids offending others and yet conflicts with our psychological well-being. Whilst we’re fiercely encouraged – even warned, of the dangers of spurting out some stereotype or saying anything that might come across as casually anti-social, in psychological terms, we could argue that in some cases, our psyche inherently needs to build stereotypes to make sense of the world. Put briefly, the classification scheme in psychology termed “pigeonholing” suggests that we’re so overloaded with information entering our five senses each and every day, that we need to “group” some of it together or, at least, make general inferences (based on previous knowledge) to digest it all. Of course, that is not to overlook the dangers of making wrong assumptions – particularly those based on social stereotypes.

A few weeks ago now, myself and a colleague made our way in the early hours from Manchester to Liverpool, given that Liverpool airport was the nearest location from which we could enjoy a direct flight to Poland, courtesy of “Whizz Air” (recommended – if only for the shocking bright pink theme that runs throughout the logo, aircraft and cabin crew attire). On entry into the main check-in, in full view of all of Liverpool’s finest, was an enlarged poster, advertising a certain ‘commercial sparkling light perry’ that is not unfamiliar to some of us:

Now, whilst I have been unable to source the identical visual delight that graced our eyes that very day, if you imagine the above bottles surrounded by wide-eyed party-clad young females holding wine glasses, then you wouldn’t be too far off. On noticing this advert, I recalled an earlier conversation with my colleague that in the early hours, amongst the check-in counters of many a budget airline, you can often expect to enjoy the gleeful laughter of a “hen do” party or two. With this nostalgic recollection, I couldn’t help but think “good on you, Lambrini, you know your target market!”

About a week later a casual remark from a close friend revealed that Lambrini is actually manufactured in Liverpool – so was this more about inevitable geographical and commercial convenience or was this a targeted marketing ploy?

Still undecided, I went about reviewing other advertising campaigns to see if there was any more evidence to secure a view on how far stereotypes are played upon and it quickly became clear that my original suspicions were right. A few experiences (in front of the box) and conversations (in the pub) later, some interesting observations came to fruition – where the most active stereotypes appeared to play on the differences between males and females.

Amongst my “fieldwork”, the first growing trend I enjoyed was with advertisers seemingly offering females the “upper hand” at the expense of de-masculinising many a slightly ridiculed man. I share a personal favourite, as follows:

– The “Treat It With Respect” Toyota Yaris campaign wherein a young female who is begrudged by her boyfriend’s mistreatment of her beloved car two days before (when he spills some food in it) later gets him back by “accidentally” ruining a picture she takes of him and one of his favoured celebrities they bump into (‘Gaz’ from Supergrass, for those interested). See below link:

The second observation was the slightly shameless “tongue-in-cheek” manner by which advertisers blatantly flog their products by building their campaigns upon a broad cliché. For example:

-The Lynx Excite “Even Angels Will Fall” adverts revolve around vaguely patronising your average male by enticing them into purchasing a deodorant that is so irresistible that it will send a plurality of model-esque females in their direction – angels inclusive:

Whilst it might be easy to try and sabotage an advertiser’s attempt to allure their target consumers by advocating the use of general clichés, I hesitate to do so. It appears that this activity is a complete necessity if you are to successfully plan and execute your marketing activities by following The Four “R’s” Of B2B Marketing, namely:

1. Revenue – Marketers must generate revenue opportunities

2. Reputation – Marketers must build the company’s reputation/brand by engaging customers

3. Relationships – Marketers need to creatively strengthen relationships with customers/partners/media and reduce “distant gaps”

4. Relevant – Marketers must have something meaningful, relevant and of value to customers

Indeed, taking the aforementioned Lynx advert as an example, it does appear as though this brand has been successful in meeting these B2B Marketing guiding principles:

1. Revenue – It targets the advert towards those most likely to purchase the product (men) and makes use of TV as a medium which will easily reach a mass market.

2. Reputation – It consistently falls in line with other campaigns e.g. ‘the Lynx effect’ which similarly follows the theme of a deodorant that enhances male desirability from the opposite sex. (However, does this alienate non-heterosexual consumers?)

3. Relationships – By offering some level of consistency, this, in turn, enhances the brand image of Lynx. It makes it more memorable and clear to understand what the brand is about – avoiding any ambiguity or “distant gaps”.

4. Relevant – Although it is built around the male stereotype that within their “psyche” exists the shallow desire to attract the attention of beautiful women, it is altogether presented in a very “tongue-in-cheek” fashion. Often overly enthusiastic and quite openly a visual satire with angels dropping from heaven whilst passers-by look up in the sky in awe. In this way, it does not ridicule the brand or bore viewers, but entertains and makes us smile.

In B2B market research, whilst we approach each project from an objective stance, we would be lying if we told you that we never involve any common sense in our analysis. In a recent European research project examining bathroom usage of general home-owners, it would have been impossible to not have an expectation on “activities carried out in the bathroom” and was therefore a reassuring finding that more males than females trim their beards each morning (suggesting our data was representative of our prior understanding!)

However, it is often good research practice to include a few “sense check” questions in any survey, to help validate the accuracy of your data in general, where if something looks out of the ordinary, then you can assess your approach. In this respect, taking human experience and general judgements into consideration (even those that could sit inside a common finding or cliché) is not a disadvantage – but a valuable skill. In short, research is not an exercise employed to unveil a host of new surprises to the marketers commissioning any project; rather, it exists to further refine and build on our pre-existing thoughts and inferences. To further demonstrate my view that clichés can work in our favour, I (in clichéd fashion) end with a quote by the eminently wise Stephen Fry:

“It is a cliché that most clichés are true, but then like most clichés, that cliché is untrue.”