I’ve been messing around with Yougov’s awesome interface that allows you to access and cross-reference data on people, places and things. It’s incredibly powerful for all sorts of reasons, whether you’re a journo or marketer trying to profile people, or whether you’re idly wasting time and marvelling at the more oblique data.
Some of it is genuinely useful – and could inform all sorts of research, strategy – even legislation. Some sample sizes and choices of questions make it less so – and the usual data analysis caveats apply – but it’s still fundamentally interesting.
I picked Wonga because they were the first brand to come to mind, perhaps unsurprisingly given that I’ve written about them quite a bit and it seems to be facing something of an existential crisis. It’s a very small sample size – 131 – but there are one or two things that caught my eye.
The typical profile of a Wonga customer, according to this data, is of a young male with a low income. He’s likely to live in Central Scotland, the North West or the North East and is politically left-of-centre. No real surprises there.
What is less obvious is that he is likely to work in Entertainment, Marketing/Advertising or Media – and not low-paid, unskilled jobs. More to the point, he’s not unemployed. Look further down the list of likely professions and we see Law and Business mentioned, though none of the professional associations are particularly strong.
Other revelations – Wonga’s most Platonically ideal customer favours Crispy Chilli Beef, Celebrity Gossip and Video Gaming – are more disposable, but the more eye-catching data suggests that the typical user of the payday loans company favours horse-racing and Wonga-sponsored Newcastle United FC.
There are Strong or Very Strong associations with Paypal and Capital One respectively, while Euromillions is also listed as a likely association. He is most likely to shop at Asda and least likely to shop at Aldi – curious, when you consider that he is money-conscious and likely to use the internet to shop around for a good deal. There is some suggestions of entrepreneurial activities, given the professions listed, likelihood of using the internet to buy and sell – and online ad platform http://theaffiliatepeople.com/ being listed among top websites visited.
Arguably any conclusions drawn are rather specious, but if I were Wonga I’d be interested to note that my most frequent customer is most likely to read The Sun, spend well over 40 hours a week online and up to 35 watching television (watching Family Guy and Jeremy Kyle most likely). There’s your ad buying sorted.
There’s a ton of more data behind a paywall – and more to be gleaned from it I’ll warrant. Combine it with the media scraped from your social media and internet use, it goes to form a powerful snapshot of your habits, likes, dislikes, inclinations and spending power. All of which forms the answer to every question you’ve ever asked about why you get served certain contextual ads. And if you tally half a dozen more of the points I’ve mentioned, chances are you’ve seen a Wonga adverts in print, on television and online in the last six months…
So, here we are again. It's still six weeks before Christmas Day, but the phony war starts earlier and earlier every year now. Christmas provides a unique and irresistible opportunity for brands to give themselves a boost going into the next year - a little bit like striking the first metaphorical blow at the press conference that precedes a bout of boxing, or invading Belgium.
In light of the collapse of Western civilisation that the Big Four supermarkets losing market share apparently constitutes, brand equity and brand power is ever-more important as our beloved high-street (not to mention out-of-town industrial estate) goes through a fundamental structural correction. Communicating what makes you different, better or cheaper than your rivals - and getting people to buy into that idea - is where it's at these days and television adverts are the primary weapon.
The money that buys prime advertising space - charged at up to £250,000 per advert for the best slots in the week or so before the big day - could probably fund a medium-sized African dictator for a year, so high are the stakes.
We live in the age of the multi-platform campaign so the power of the hashtag - not to mention multi-million quid cinematic featurettes - have been deployed this year amid a massive social media push to engage the yoof with ahh! and LOL! and WTF! moments: a penguin in love; fairies delivering bribes to Twitter users; a global war in which 20 million people died...
2014's Christmas adverts are the opening salvos in a new campaign - the campaign to see who lays the most convincing claim for the ground they want to inhabit for the next few years. Fittingly - but also tastelessly - many newspapers and blogs describe this as a battle of the Christmas adverts. Fittingly because it undoubtedly it is a battle, possibly for survival for some players; tastelessly because this year Sainsbury's has decided that it will use trench warfare as its setting for its Christmas advert.
It's a little bit like bringing a live grenade to a custard pie fight - poor old Monty the Penguin looks a bit stupid when you line him up next to the hot young cast of the Sainsbury's advert, whose real-life counterparts - unlike Monty, Jools Holland or Ant & Dec - were largely mown down by machine-gun fire once the cameras stopped rolling.
Similarly, everyone else is rather left in the wake of the Sainsbury's advert, like rubber ducks in a bath bombed by the Enola Gay. As a result of Sainsbury's fearless approach to adopting mass killing as a backdrop to a Christmas advert, I look forward to the supermarkets employing the Cambodian genocide, Balkan conflict, Al Qaeda terrorist atrocities and the Aberfan disaster in their adverts over the next year.
No doubt the likes of Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, would say call this strategy 'risky' - but on the whole I can only assume he'd approve. In these days, when the only arbiter as to what is considered an appropriate advert is how well it plays on social media, when acceptance on Twitter is the only validation required, it's the logical - the only - conclusion.
I saw the Sainsbury's advert breathlessly referred to as The Advert To End All Adverts, which would be quite witty, if not for its fundamental cuntishness. And it makes me wonder - if they think this is OK, what else is around the corner?
So, Merry Christmas. In the event that you aren't blown apart by a stray advert or simply shell-shocked at the horror of it all, do let me know which is your favourite below.
Aldi's first real misstep when it comes to advertising. The German brand has made a success of its brand proposition and physical offering by explicitly not doing what the Big Four have done since the year dot. Until now, where they sign up to the 'me too' brand of supermarket Christmas advert with a battleship's weight worth of food and a crap celeb (Jools Sodding Holland). There's the Gin Granny from a very early ad, when Aldi ads were still excellent, but fundamentally this is as forgettable as every other Xmas ad out there. Truly, Aldi has arrived.
Who associates hip-hop with Christmas? This chilly, charmless and actively aggravating spot for Argos does at least have the distinction of ditching the unloved Bill Nighy and Caroline Quentin-voiced sperms. A fundamentally horrible advert all told, though.
There's always something a bit no-nonsense about Asda's advertising, which rather suits the brand. Here's an advert that basically says 'if we're shelling out a million quid then we're damn well going to actually advertise stuff'. A little like an Asda shop then: a necessity that you're glad is over the second it is.
Can't argue with this one and as members of my close family frequently find themselves working on Christmas Day - meaning that the extended fam has often celebrated on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day to facilitate the best possible experience for them - I can relate. A nice ad, well intentioned and well made.
Frankly Debenhams only enters my consciousness once a year when I'm compiling these lists, but it is the season of good cheer so they're making an appearance. Verdict: inoffensive.
Call it a concession, an admission of defeat or even a cry for help. Perhaps it's just recognition of what and where Iceland is. Profoundly not aspirational, not middle-class, not classy. Oh, what's that speeding away into the distance? It's Aldi and Lidl. Cheap, cheesy - Magaluf in supermarket form.
As exciting, predictable and emotional as a Stephen Hendry tournament win in the mid-1990s. A triumph of efficiency - and that's all.
An extension of the Lidl Differences series of ads that have been running, where poshos are surprised to find the lovely nosh they've been hoying down their gobs is from that downmarket place near the estate. Minus points for the almost-subliminal smattering of words like 'value' throughout, which reminded me of this.
Myleene Klass and Christopher Biggins as brand ambassadors. Crikey - what statement is being made there?. At face value there's nothing particularly wrong with this; look closer and Myleene is busy turning beautiful, original, interesting wares at what looks like a Persian bazar into the sort of cheap and tacky shit with which you'd associate Littlewoods. Which isn't a great message, really.
Marks and Spencer
An expensive checklist of Christmas advert staples rendered as efficiently and lovelessly as a wall in a Barratt Home is plastered.
Utterly forgettable which, given that Morrisons is by far the least visible of the Big Four, is something of a problem. Just like their stores, I don't know what's supposed to set them apart. And if you employ the original cheeky chappies of television in Ant and Dec, why isn't your ad a little irreverent, like it was last year?
A beautiful slice of exploitative, offensive supermarket propaganda.
Tesco has never done Christmas ads well - coming as it does in the midst of the supermarket's biggest crisis in decades it just serves to enhance the suspicion that it's lost sight of what it is, what its strengths are and what the core message is.
Waitrose generally bucks the trend and this sets it apart from the rest of the pack nicely. Giving, showing resolve, employee stakeholding - there's a message I can get behind at this time of year. Truly abysmal soundtrack, like, but you can't have everything.
• Refresh your memories of the best and worst Christmas adverts – sob pitifully at advertising or enrage yourself to vein-throbbing standards – of previous years
What is beyond the pale, exactly? Is WWII beyond the pale? The Holocaust? Vietnam? The Troubles? Vietnam? First Gulf War? Second Gulf War? 9/11?
If the vast, mechanised slaughter of WWI is considered a reasonable hook - on which to sell your Paxo, crates of Carling and onesies - then what is unreasonable?
Is it the passage of time that makes a vicious, brutal, cruel war appropriate source material to advertise a greengrocer? Or is it something about the way we romanticise wars, as if millions or people being cut up into little bits by hot metal or gassed like rabbits is merely to be used as the set-up to the latest warsploitation novel?
What if this advert was for Nescafe, Go Compare or Toys R Us? Where does that notional bad-taste barrier reside? Over 15m people died in WW1; a relatively miniscule 2,606 perished when the Twin Towers were struck. Would we base an advert around that? What about a Jewish member of a concentration camp giving another a scarf while shivering in the snow? Too soon?
The get-out-of-jail card in this instance is the British Legion's blessing and a charity element, but fundamentally this remains an advert. It only exists because Sainsbury's wants you to do your Christmas shopping with them, as opposed to Tesco, Morrison's, Asda or - God forbid - Lidl or Aldi. That's what the function of those people - those real people who took part in this actual event, most of whom probably died violent, pathetic deaths before the end of the war - amounts to in this advert.
The Christmas Truce remains a poignant flicker of humanity amid unimaginable barbarity and suffering. 100 years later it is being leveraged to sell more Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Mince Pies to a misty-eyed audience waiting for the next segment of X-Factor. Shameful.
I'm still reeling from this advert, but I do find it kinda interesting that wet wipes vendors go to such lengths to claim their products are flushable that water companies are forced to market a frankly terrifying rap video that makes use of the charming triad 'pee, poo and paper' in an attempt to directly refute this claim.
Rob Smith, Thames Water’s chief sewer flusher, said: “Sewers are designed to take only loo roll, dirty water and human waste. Nothing else. But sadly we are seeing more and more fat and wet wipes - which should never be flushed even if the packaging says ‘flushable’ - ending up in our sewers. That’s a big headache for us, but it can also lead to sewage backing up into our customers’ homes and gardens, which is utterly hideous.
FWIW someone might want to tell Andrex:
"Watch MC Plumber and his and his assistants Dwayne Pipe and Ella Vamess who’ll let you know why ‘You Can’t Flush This’"