Financial Times

Marketers often underestimate consumers - study shows

By Jagdish Hathiramani

Sri Lankan marketers grossly underestimate the capability of consumers, according to a recent study aimed at discovering the gap between marketers and consumers with regard to creativity in television commercials. Responses such as “creativity is too high”, “I always assume my consumer is dumb”, “too subtle” and “television commercials have to be straight forward” were just a few of the comments by marketers that were noted by researchers.

Meanwhile, responses by consumers pertaining to Sri Lankan ads suggest that they were “very ordinary” and “Sri Lanka does not spend money” on ads. In addition, the study, which exposed local audiences to a number of foreign television commercials, found that the targetted consumers (housewives aged 28-38 and youth aged 18-25 from semi-urban and rural areas) proved highly receptive to the ideas behind the ads they were shown.

Comprising of 8 mini-discussion groups, the study’s stated objective was to ‘determine the degree of comprehension of international [television commercials] by the Sri Lankan consumer’. Introduced to an audience comprising mostly marketers, the study was undertaken as part of an ongoing ‘Knowledge Series’. Part one of this series, “Idea Vs. The Marketing Man”, was co-presented by advertising agency JWT and research firm Quantum Strategic Services on Wednesday, November 5, at the Galle Face Hotel.

An important feature of the programme proved to be the real world context brought to the discussion by panelists’ comments on the research. Panelist Nushad Perera, Chief Marketing Officer, Dialog Group, noted that there was a “huge disconnect between marketers and consumers”, adding that “we like to think that we have to spell out everything”.

Panelist Imal Fonseka, Managing Director, Hemas Consumer Brands, suggested that this was a symptom of a much larger problem, saying that “creativity is stifled, even before an idea gets to the presentation stage.” He also pointed to “misconceived notions that it is advertising that makes the brand… there are a lot of other things that need to be stressed before advertising”.

Thayalan Bartlett, Chief Executive Officer, JWT, observed that consumers were not what marketers make them out to be at all: “These consumers have little exposure to the world as we know it, but they are the most informed and aspiration driven people. They are more evolved than the consumer we know as ‘the rural consumer’… This is just one of several gaps that exist between the marketer and the consumer. He is thinking ‘thrive’ but we are thinking ‘survive’.”

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