It is something of a nightmare for the mass media and their advertisers these days, trying to understand the psyche of the South African consumer, Chris Moerdyk believes.
For a start, most consumers are liars when it comes to answering questions from media researchers.
They say that the first thing they read in the newspapers are the editorials and stock exchange reports because they’re basically too ashamed to admit that they are far more interested in the fact that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting divorced. Or, that Paris Hilton happened to be seen at a nightclub with an unknown bloke wearing a hoodie and snake tattoos.
On one hand, these same consumers have become a lot more demanding with increasing zero tolerance for bad service delivery, shoddy products and profiteering. But, on the other, they appear to be dumbing themselves down to the point of zero intelligence.
The facts are scary. The majority of the country’s most watched TV programmes are soap operas followed closely by myriad mindless reality shows all of which suggests that the average South African couldn’t give a toss about anything else in life other than voyeuristic escapism. Even the obviously choreographed and completely fake pro-wrestling is among the most watched sports on TV.
What does that tell us? That all those millions of viewers are naive? Or that they don’t give a toss about whether it is real or not but just that it’s fun to watch?
In which case wouldn’t it be a good idea to allow cricketers to fix matches and for the players to be allowed to slap each other around and kick each other in the boxes?
TV is certainly not the only medium that attracts the more moronic among us. Print is no different. Just looking back at two newspapers that started up in the past decade, there’s the tabloid Daily Sun that rocketed from 71 000 to 235 000 circulation in less than a year after its launch to become the country’s most read daily. And it’s still around today.
At roughly the same time as the Daily Sun was launched so too was ThisDay, an intelligent and informative, quality newspaper that struggled to sell 20 000 copies a day and which eventually had to shut down. A tragedy.
Fortunately, as an aside, its brilliant editor, Justice Malala, is still active today as a senior executive at Avusa and weekly columnist in The Times and on television, giving outstanding and often acerbic insights into the politics of the day.
All of this tells me that consumers are saying to hell with being informed, intellectually stimulated or improving their lives. They just want more guff about two-headed babies and any speculation available on when Brangelina will split up and who is shagging whom in Hollywood, parliament, the Free State or on the set of Isidingo.
The same trend is apparent on talk radio, with the shows getting the most number of callers being those involving anything trivial, sexual, or on any subject of an intellectual capacity well below gutter level.
An even scarier picture of the average South African consumer will be revealed between the lines in this year’s Sunday Times Top Brand Survey due for release in a few months time.
Once again it will probably show that not only do most consumers confuse brands with companies and not know the difference between local and global, but for every 1 000 South Africans researchers ask for a favourite brand they will probably get 500 different answers.
And even more frightening is the fact that as far as the citizens of this country are concerned, it seems that any organisations that shout loud enough through brand advertising and PR campaigns about how great and magnanimous they are, the average South African will believe it all implicitly even if service deliveries are more than pathetic.
I remember one of these surveys showing that the majority of the respondents voted SAA the best airline but reading between the lines it was clear that the vast majority of those respondents had never ever flown in an aircraft before.
This annual survey is extremely valuable to marketers and advertisers, especially if they read between the lines. And for comparing where they were last year.
It’s a minefield for the mass media and marketers out there and it makes me wonder whether the bulk of mass market advertising in this country is actually naïve and simple enough.
Maybe those media and advertising purists among us are wrong to point derogatory fingers at that loud, abrasive, brash, creatively disadvantaged crap one sees on TV in the USA.
Maybe we are also wrong to condemn those endless infomercials that go on and on and on saying the same thing over and over again.
I used to hold infomercials in complete disdain until Glomail showed me some pretty convincing research that proved that the target market for those products actually needed a full five minutes of repetitive reminders to spur them into action.
Maybe the media and ad industries are wrong to insist on a new entrant having tertiary education.
Could it be that the best advertising strategists and editors are those who bailed out of school after grade 8?
It’s scary to be in media and marketing these days, particularly if you have the disadvantage of an IQ that runs into double figures.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk