Saturday 21 September 2019

Marketers need to shake off D4-dominated mindset

"Not all brands are guilty. AIB's sponsorship of the All Ireland Club Championships, SuperValu's Tidy Towns initiative and Lidl's sponsorship of Ladies GAA are good examples of brands that have reached out into communities around the country. But it's a small list." Photo: (c)John Reidy All Rights Reserved

John McGee

Many moons ago, I was press-ganged into going to a Big Tom gig in the Four Seasons Hotel, just outside Monaghan town. As a young whippersnapper whose musical tastes never strayed beyond the likes of the Clash, the Sex Pistols, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, it was the equivalent of being dragged kicking and screaming by your parents to a one-eyed dentist with a permanently shaky hand.

As the mini-buses from far-flung places like Lisnaskea, Aughnacloy, Newtownbutler, Cootehill, Dundalk and Castleblayney dispensed his faithful followers in the hotel car-park, it soon became clear that this was not going to be any ordinary country and western gig for which the good county of Monaghan has become famous: this was a Big Tom gig.

Such was their devotion to the big man, the hundreds who had travelled far and wide were excited beyond belief and hell-bent on having a good time. After my lingering cynicism had dissipated, so did I.

Having spent my school years in Monaghan and my summers in the leafy suburbs of south county Dublin, I was always conscious of the rural-urban divide. In Dublin, my peers went to Blinkers night club in Leopardstown or Peekers in Dun Laoghaire and God forbid if somebody ever dared to sing 'Four Country Roads.'

In Monaghan, my peers might go to whatever home-grown country and western band was playing in the local pub or hotel. When they graced the stony grey soil, Horslips in the Emyvale Inn was always a good night out.

Then there was the obligatory Saturday night disco in the Hillgrove Hotel in Monaghan town where local DJ Jackie Canfield would often throw in a country and western song alongside Lynrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' during the slow-set. Like any good marketer, Canfield knew what his target audience wanted.

So, when Big Tom passed away a few weeks ago, and RTÉ broadcast The Late Late Show Country Special as a tribute to the big man, it was literally the end of an era.

And anyone who expressed surprise at the staggering 594,000 people who tuned in to watch the show clearly doesn't get is that there is a world beyond the Pale that is often neglected or simply ignored by the Dublin-centric advertising and marketing world.

Country music might seem like an anathema to the many urban sophisticates working in marketing departments and advertising agencies, but it is one of many things that makes this urban-rural divide unique and precious and one which marketers and their advertising agencies really need to get their heads around.

Walk into any pub or hairdresser in any town or village and there's a good chance that the radio station will be playing in the background, a copy of the local newspaper will be on a table nearby and people will more likely be talking about the weather or the next county final than Robert Mueller's investigation of Donald Trump or Vogue Williams's latest diet.

Local radio stations and newspapers are woven tightly into the social fabric of many communities. Any analysis of the Joint National Listenership Research (JNLR), for example, will clearly show how stations like Highland Radio in Donegal and MidWest Radio in Mayo command huge audiences in their franchise areas.

For many people living in rural Ireland getting an adequate 3G signal, never mind 4G or high-speed broadband, is a daily challenge and many have difficulties relating to the plummy south county Dublin accents and urban hipsters that many advertisers and their agencies default to in their campaigns.

According to the last census, 1.1 million people live in Dublin and its suburbs but 3.6m live outside the capital. That's a huge audience that is often neglected.

"Marketers who ignore the true picture of Ireland may be missing a major opportunity to capitalise on the market outside of Dublin, instead of over focusing on what is arguably a very cluttered and competitive Dublin market.

"Perhaps lessons could be learned from the politicians who know the importance of knocking on not just the doors of Dublin, but the doors of Ireland," says Fiona Field, deputy managing director of Mediaworks.

Not all brands are guilty. AIB's sponsorship of the All Ireland Club Championships, SuperValu's Tidy Towns initiative and Lidl's sponsorship of Ladies GAA are good examples of brands that have reached out into communities around the country. But it's a small list.

"Agencies and marketers are not the only ones at fault," says Field. "This is evident everywhere and while technology has game-changed digital media and the resulting personalisation of the message, national media, and particularly the airwaves, are still rooted in Dublin.

"It must be irritating to a listener in Bandon to hear about the Red Cow roundabout every time a traffic report is read out on their choice of national station."

So, the plain people of Ireland may eat their dinner in the middle of the day and like Big Tom, but marketers and advertisers who choose to ignore them do so at their peril.

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