The new luxury of social mobility in advertising

How can you effectively market to everyone, if you yourselves, are not everyone?

The zeitgeist of 2022 is one of doom and disassociation… of rising costs, lower wages, fewer jobs and a dystopian view of opportunities for oppressed socio-economic groups in particular.

It’s hardly surprising. Elite fat-cats enabling 100x price rises on energy and suggesting purchasing a kettle to save £10 a year for next few years off astronomical utility bills is a further nail in the coffin of trust that young people simply don’t have in their government and country. At the time of writing we are appointing the 4th Oxford University graduate in a row as leader of the UK.

Talk about representing the people.

The “luxury” of accessibility

We’ve heard all the overly-persona’d marketing segmentation tripe about millennials and Gen Z craving experiences over possessions, and as much as I despise arbitrary DOB generalisations, the only thing I will concede is a paradigm shift in terms of what privilege and such actually means. In a hyper-social world the feeling of connectivity, networking and social validation, by contrast with a democracy that seems to not want to bridge the gap between the haves and have nots, we are witnessing the young creative population access social capital through different means. Migration being one of them.

I come from a fairly normal working class background. Growing up in Nottinghamshire in the English Midlands having moved around from Wiltshire — the son of a psychiatric nurse and a teaching assistant — I was already a misfit by the time I secured mediocre A-Levels and a 2:2 degree (part concentration issues and part the weight of distractions of ‘pitch & putt’, girls and recreational interests) and came out of uni, despite enriched by experience, as a kind of inbetweener, with a generic Geography degree to ‘bridge the arts and sciences’. In the end though, ‘I did alright’ as per my peers’ assessments, got a job at a huge data company and launched my marketing and media career, which borne the consultancy I run today.

But still, despite one’s achievements and continual yearning for personal development, it is easy to feel like a fraud in an elite industry run by Oxbridge grads, and I’d consider myself a seasoned and confident professional. You can only imagine how it must feel for the youngsters coming through now, especially from underprivileged backgrounds. I remember sitting in one of my first agency jobs, overhearing experiences of the skiing trips — which further alienated. As an industry, marketing and advertising is trumped by even the lucrative and seemingly bourgeois finance and insurance industries for social mobility, by enabling more working class talent into their industry.

In short, we are the worst.

But if we can stop this disparate rot now, the stark feelings of fraud should transition in the hallways of brands and agencies in the next 20 years.

Industry needs to enable this social mobility luxury

As I have always said, how can you effectively market to everyone if you yourselves are not everyone?

There are numerous things you can do to get involved. I myself proudly support a couple of amazing initiatives in the creative industries, ones which enable youngsters from other backgrounds to get ‘a seat at the table’. Common People is an amazing group that caught like wildfire given its cultural relevance, and its 250+ strong Whatsapp/Slack community of working class talent helps each other find roles, from internships to senior gigs. The collective empathy for those in a strained position is glorious.

Brixton Finishing School also do great things; having worked with them first-hand to support both outreach and talks in their ADventure series — they go into schools to offer pupils insights into working into marketing and advertising industry; making kids realise there’s a job for them, whilst their AD-cademy course is an excellent option for careers starters to accelerate agency and brand learning to get a nicely informed seat at said table. There’s others too; Creative Equals and Commercial Break to name but two. The point — they are all pulling in the same direction albeit with their slight differences. If you feel you want to affect change, get involved with one of them — they already have momentum.

Speaking of movement… geographical disparity has also been, and remains, a blocker for mobility, and access sadly feels like a far-off luxury. Those of us who lived in/moved to London for years and had access and mobility to tap into some of the most interesting work at the biggest agencies and global brands, no doubt moved there because we felt we had to. This is not something that the girl who’s never left Chesterfield or Plymouth can ever really attest to, and often doesn’t have the means or option.

Democratisation of knowledge of online courses will enable equal footing to anyone with wifi from Aldershot to Aberdeen. While devolution from the London bubble will continue to help this distribution of opportunity. But now is the time for seasoned advertising professionals to come together, to give rise to new voices from new corners of their world, and enable further identities to become the fabric of what could really be a great industry again.

Featured image: Hans Eiskonen / Unsplash

Simon Akers

Simon is a marketing consultant, media strategist and Founder of Archmon, a consultancy supporting the future of marketing. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, industry columnist, panellist and mentor and has worked with some of the leading brands in the world in marketing services and media agencies. He is passionate about supporting Davids in a world of Goliaths, and collaborates with fellow humans who want to do marketing the right way, and thanks to own experiences wants to support mental health and equity of young talent from all corners in the process.

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