The last one being a bank holiday weekend we decided to do the traditional thing and drive to the coast. We went west from London down to the Christchurch/Lymington area. Very nice part of the world and the views of the Isle of Wight were pretty spectacular.
What hit me was the instant arrival in the real world rather than the unreal world of central London. Our first stop was for coffee and we pulled in to a service station on the M3. It was rammed and packed with members of the general public going about their holiday weekend.
Looking around I immediately thought about the monumental gaffes by many UK politicians recently, trying to pretend they hang out with the general public. ‘Pastygate’ being the most humiliating with senior members of all parties standing outside Greggs munching, yum yum, their favourite pasty. Hilarious.
The reality of being out of touch hit me hard. Most of the people in the service station were, I’m sure, good, upstanding members of society who all have real concerns about mortgage interest rates, declining disposable income, putting decent food on the table, etc. I was thinking I wouldn’t see George Osborne (pictured) stopping by with his family for a cuppa on the way to stay at an important person’s country pile in Dorset.
The most popular food item seemed to be buckets of KFC. A chubby family of six near us were tucking in to three buckets of chicken and chips as though they hadn’t eaten in weeks. The amount of fast food being consumed was just astonishing. Still no sign of the Osbornes.
The rest of the day continued in the same vein wherever we went.
I’m ashamed to say when we returned to London we headed straight for our favourite boozer on the Chelsea/Pimlico border where they do a very nice chilled house white.
When I worked with Dave Trott in the 80s he would often say “I wonder what my mum would think?” about a piece of work. Some of the agency folk around at the time would think this was a bit banal but he had a point. He meant the ‘ordinary person in the street.’ Dave oversaw a great deal of ‘popularist’ creative work – ‘Hello Tosh’ for Toshiba, for example – and the agency had a bit of a blue collar reputation in the ad world but not, of course, in the real world; many of the campaigns were very popular amongst the general public.
A great deal of creative work these days is more about ‘lifestyle’ and I wonder who or what drives this? My theory is that social media is a driver of this trend and it’s worth looking into it in a bit more detail. For example who are the leaders and who are the followers of Twitter? I would have thought it might be worth following someone interesting such as a celebrity or academic or politician. But Bill Bloggs from 4a Acacia Avenue? It would be fascintating to be able to quantify the number of true leaders versus followers.
My point is that, sitting in the M3 service station on Sunday, I would guess 99 per cent of the customers were receivers of information and not providers. It brought home to me the relationship between the relatively small number of people involved in broadcast communications relative to the population. I don’t know the actual numbers employed in the wider advertising world in the UK but the populations is about 62m so if 62,000 people were working in advertising then that’s 0.1% of the population. So my previous guess would be wrong – 99.9 per cent of the people in the service station would be on the receiving end with just me and the good lady representing the 0.1 per cent.
My comment at the time was along the lines of “everyone working in advertising and marketing should be obliged to go out and mingle with the general public every month.” Not a popular move I would guess.
If one is fortunate enough to live in the leafy NW3 Hampstead area of London, for example, it is quite common to see mates from the ad industry and sit opposite actors in a pub, or members of a successful band. It’s an obvious point but there exists a huge concentration of these kinds of people in London and an even greater concentration in certain areas. So that’s ‘our world’ which we just take for granted because that’s the way it is.
I used to live in Hampstead and my close neighbours included Boy George, Esther Rantzen, John Le Carre, Nick Mason, plus many more well-known personalities. On a train recently a young couple from Somerset started chatting and the girl asked me if I ever saw famous people in London! Truthfully I said to her Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher (I thought music names were the best bet) lived nearby and I see them in the local shops from time to time, and she couldn’t believe it. To someone from the Somerset countryside these are people she would only see on TV who live in a mystery, far away world.
Years ago I was sitting in a research debrief with someone from the Cameron/Osborne world on the subject of attitudes towards/consumption of wine. When the person doing the debrief mentioned the social habit of taking bottles of wine to a host’s home my chap blurted out “how ridiculous, wine doesn’t travel.’
Another pastygate moment.
My conclusion about our little trip to the seaside was confirmation that not only can politicians be out of touch but so can many of us by staying inside our cosy world of trendy offices, smart restaurants, wine deliveries from Waitrose, Soho House.
We should get out more often.