I find it quite fascinating how many marketers in South Africa haven’t yet come to grips with the profile of today’s consumer. Let alone, tomorrow’s.
A lot of them, marketers that is, are still communicating with mass market consumers as though they were still living in the 1950’s. Working on the principle that the average shopper today is naive, gullible and convinced that when ads promise them that companies care about them, they believe every word of it.
There are also far too many marketers in this country who communicate with their target audiences as though we were still living in the middle of the apartheid era and that is truly scary.
Even the most superficial look at the modern consumer shows some extremely interesting changes.
Both here and aboard, today’s consumer is far less gullible, a lot more demanding, suspicious, cynical and with a lot less faith in glib promises.
Watershed influences on behavioural and mindset changes globally have been 9/11 and the Enron and Worldcom scandals along with the US invasion of Iraq. Equally, things like sex scandals in churches have also changed the way modern consumers think and act towards the products they consume.
Conservative politicians and businesses in the United States have long been on a mighty “fear and consumption” mission intended to get them to not only consume more but consume things that are home-made.
Remember the huge negative outcry when Janet Jackson “accidentally” bared a breast in the middle of a crowded sports arena is evidence of a new moral outrage that is growing in the USA.
Social behaviour and consumerism in the United States now seems to be an unhealthy mixture of fear, paranoia, moral regeneration, racism, religious fanaticism, prejudice, bigotry and intolerance.
And, as everyone knows, when the United States sneezes the whole world catches a cold, so there is every chance that this unhealthy mixture of social consciousness will start creeping in to other countries – South Africa being no exception.
Indeed, if one looks at the type of complaints that come in to the Advertising Standards Authority, there is no question that as far as local advertising is concerned, the South African consumer is becoming a lot more intolerant.
Our consumers are also becoming far less apathetic and are getting bolder and more demanding by the day. Undoubtedly, the advent of the toyi-toyi has demonstrated to all South Africans that unlike in the days of apartheid when protest meant either jail or being socially cold-shouldered, nowadays it’s quite ok to complain loudly and with determination.
What this all boils down to in terms of the opportunities that exist for the mass media and marketers today is that with the consumer having been let down by politicians, big business and in some cases even their churches, they are desperate for someone or something to trust.
The challenge for marketers is how to be able to communicate genuine trustworthiness and not just glib promises.
And equally, the challenge is to be able to somehow separate two very distinct groups of consumers in today’s world.
Those who actually take an interest in the world around them and consume news bulletins and continually improve their knowledge of current affairs. And those who have decided to bury their heads in the sand and not read newspapers, watch TV news bulletins or frankly give a toss about what is going on around them. But who simply indulge in voyeurism and escapism
Let’s face, just take a look at which TV shows are getting the big audiences and what newspapers are surviving better than most and it isn’t hard to see which of these groups is growing the fastest .
The only thing that is clear is that with both these groups, marketers are going to have to tread very carefully when communicating with them. Because both are as skittish as a new born colt and both are needing to be a lot more convinced before parting with their hard-earned cash.
Of course fly-by-night operators are always going to be able to cash in and will always find willing takers even among the most cynical of consumers. Because it is human nature to invest in a dream even if logic tells one that it might be unobtainable.
But, as always, the short term successes of the fly-by-nights always impact negatively on the long term prospects of genuine companies offering genuine products at genuine prices.
All of which is going to place more pressure on marketers because given the nature of today’s consumer, they’re going to have to work a lot harder to convince people to trust them and buy their products and services and at the same time they’re going to have to try and neutralise the effect on their market by the shysters.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
Want to continue this conversation on The Media Online platforms? Comment on Twitter @MediaTMO or on our Facebook page. Send us your suggestions, comments, contributions or tip-offs via e-mail to email@example.com.