Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Confessions of a Marketing man

I watched Sliding Doors over Christmas. I saw it when it first came out at the cinema back in, ooh, 1998 or whatever it was, wowed by the kooky alternative-history concept and expecting an equally kooky film. At the time I recall emerging disappointed that the film had turned out to be quite heavy viewing, leaden in some parts as it strove for profundity, and certainly not the comic caper I had been expecting. On second viewing, with the benefit of more than a decade’s hindsight and experience, not to mention commuting experience, I was able to relate to the characters much more. But the thing that most struck me, the result of spending much of that decade working in marketing, was the absence of mobile phones.

Any self-respecting PR (if that is not an oxymoron) would these days be gadgeted up to the eyeballs. The sight of Gwyneth Paltrow’s character setting up her new firm from a boring old office with an old fashioned landline seemed far more of an anachronism for being set in the recent past than the secretaries tapping away at their keyboards in Mad Men. Not only would she be co-ordinating her friend’s restaurant launch from her Blackberry – she would doubtless be Tweeting about her cheating louse of a boyfriend, sharing her sadness at her redundancy on Facebook, and possibly moaning about missing that Tube on a blog. And as for the louse himself, conducting his affair via a payphone – it all just seemed hopelessly dated.

But that’s the thing about doing what I do. It is all pervasive. Not that other jobs aren’t, of course – people of all professions take their work home with them. But because consumer culture touches on every aspect of modern lifestyles – from the food we eat to the cars we drive and the way we acquire information – almost any situation can be analysed in marketing terms, and the individuals or groups concerned categorised into some segment or other.

I find myself trying to categorise and define myself as a consumer, to work out how I could be most effectively marketed to. I’m certainly not an “early adopter”, to use textbook terminology. I was disdainful of mobiles for years, only joined Facebook when I began to feel left out of office banter, and have only recently sent my first Tweet. Needless to say, I do not own an IPhone or anything similar.

Even during my brief dalliance with the glamorous world of TV, I found myself far more interested in the marketing of programmes than their production – partly because it is so much more innovative a process. Marketing tells us about people, their lifestyles and their habits – and that is the stuff of which stories are made.

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