I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read that ‘The Empathy Delusion’ is about ‘the London Bubble’. Of course, our research is all about the marketing bubble. It is about how marketers work. Not where they work.

It shows that no matter where you find marketers in the UK (the midlands, the northeast, Scotland) you will find an industry that is out of touch with the mainstream. Our work also challenges the assumption that Londoners are different.

Here is a chart that I’ve shown before. But it is worth repeating. When you get down to basic values and motivations, there is no difference between mainstream London and mainstream UK.

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Again, I’ve referenced ‘The Class Ceiling’ before. But here is another chart that is worth repeating:

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Advertisers and marketers may finally be waking up to the fact that they work in one of the most elitist professions in the UK. Unfortunatley, all the talk about the ‘London bubble’ shows we still don’t really get it.

A fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error has its origins in a series of classic experiments conducted by Jones and Harris (1967). And it has subsequently been argued that it provides ‘the conceptual bedrock of social psychology’

Here is a laypersons’ definition from HBR

The fundamental attribution error refers to an individual’s tendency to attribute another’s actions to their character or personality, while attributing their behavior to external situational factors outside of their control. In other words, you tend to cut yourself a break while holding others 100 percent accountable for their actions

Interestingly, the fundamental attribution error is a bias that marketers may be more susceptible to precisely because of the highly individualistic and analytical thinking styles that dominate in our industry. In our ‘Gut Instinct’ whitepaper with Reach Solutions we adapted a series of experiments that showed that marketers simply pay less attention to contextual cues than other people.    

So, when I see advertisers and marketers insisting on talking about the ‘London bubble’, I see an industry, yet again, letting itself off the hook and failing to confront the deep biases that blight how we think about the mainstream. 

Letting ourselves off the hook

We love to talk about ‘cultural insights. But often this is nothing more than a set of sweeping and stereotypical claims about the character and personality of the majority that we choose to perceive as ‘other’. But when the industry is asked to grapple with its own behaviour it takes refuge in external situational factors that, we comfort ourselves, are outside of our control. The story goes something like this: ‘Look at the city we are forced to work in… you just don’t get to meet enough ordinary people when you work in the economic and cultural capital of the world!’  

I see more and more agencies talking about what I call ‘going on safari’…. the glib (and frankly ridiculous) notion that understanding the mainstream is simply about ‘getting out of London’.

Of course, none of the problems we highlight in our research have got anything to do with living in London. It’s about what marketers value and where (and to whom) we choose to direct our time and attention. 

Indeed, as the advertising industry continues to drift from west to east London, many marketers go to work every day in two of the most deprived local authority areas in the UK (Hackney and Tower Hamlets). There is no part of UK life that can’t be found right outside the front door of any London based agency.

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There is a great documentary on Amazon Prime now called ‘The Street’ by a guy called Zed Nelson. It’s about the relentless pace of gentrification in Hoxton Street in East London. It features all the people, the businesses, the shops, the pubs and cafes, the communities that agency types walk past every day.

I lived in London for over 20 years and spent a bit of time working in New York too. I heard the same excuses in Williamsburg, SoHo etc while agency types sneered at the ‘bridge and tunnel’ crowd that they blamed for ruining their newly appropriated, and now fiercely guarded, ‘creative enclaves’.

All of life is there for marketers, wherever they work and play, if they’d only care to look.