The Bubba Problem

So, you send out a survey, conduct a few focus groups, pair it with some A/B testing, and you’ve got your target audience, right? Not so fast. Lindsay Nelson, Planning Director at Victors & Spoils, says that the individual is always stronger than the demographic. So, she created TIP—The Identity Project, to enable consumers to feel heard, empowered, and involved.

Lo and behold, The Bubba Problem, by Lindsay Nelson:

I’ve long been someone who dreads having to use the word “consumer.” I cringe when well-meaning but, sorry, out-of-touch clients depend on “the data” to guide a creative or strategic decision. And yet, our industry is more than a little obsessed with this thinking right now, and everyone is using data to serve their own purpose and push their own agenda.

It’s just kinda lazy, an easy out. Whether it’s leaning hard into profiles, personas, or demographics, data-dominant thinking reflects a lot of generalization that pretty much never makes the work better.

For example, I once had clients—and internal creatives, at another agency—dismissively refer to our target on an account for a big national food brand as “Bubba.” It always made me think: “Who the f*ck do we think we are?” Assuming this target was a bunch of drooling baboons that we could talk down to made me feel, frankly, pretty icky.

To boot, I’d think: How is denigrating the people who support our clients’ business going to push us to make smarter, cooler, more relevant work?

It isn’t. The biggest problem with basing your creative or strategic thinking solely on stats, reports, and numbers is that it assumes the lowest common denominator. It generalizes and lacks insight.

What I mean is, ironically, glomming together or reducing the individual humans who buy your product to a series of abstract personas doesn’t get you closer to them.

Here’s another example: Watch a yogurt commercial and just try not to see the fingerprints of demography all up in that work.

This is exactly the kind of thinking our planning team works to push against.

We’ve talked in a previous Victors & Spoils blog post about making “work that resonates with real people by involving them every step of the way,” and about our belief as an agency that the individual is always more powerful than their demographic.

So that’s where the idea for The Identity Project (TIP) came from. Sort of.

During a particularly caffeinated morning at our favorite coffee shop, fellow planner Justin and I were talking about identity: Where does it come from, how do we form it, and express it? How is our identity shaped by our experiences, or those who share our bloodlines, but whom we’ve never met? You know, planner sh*t. Our thought was that it would be cool to give people an opportunity—a mouthpiece—to talk about that stuff. How good an exercise would that be for participants to explore, and how good and helpful and grounding would it be for us, as an agency, to better understand people as they really are, not as their generation or age, income, and geography would dictate.

But once we got into the project, of course, something else came to light. The bigger, brighter thing we got out of this was something less specific. More essential, more human.

Underlying the responses we got back from our TIP participants was the idea that what unites us as people is much more than when we were born, where we live, and how we make money day to day. In other words, it’s more than the story our obvious personal data tells.

We heard about the struggle between the person we ideally want to be—the high-level beliefs and philosophies we hold—and the person that we need to be every day, like, in the real world. Reality means we’re constantly grappling with those beliefs and sometimes compromising them.

Suspecting this would be true for lots of folks, we surveyed about 300 people who backed up those exact sentiments:

V+S Bubba Problem

96% said, “I have an idea of the kind of person I aim to be.”

V+S Bubba Problem

81% said, “Who I aim to be is sometimes different than who I am day to day.”

V+S Bubba Problem

And on that discrepancy, 80% said: “I feel uncomfortable when my beliefs and behaviors don’t quite line up.”

In other words, there is a struggle. A disconnect. We heard folks admit that we all think or feel one way about the person we want to be, while we likely operate another way. And because we’re human, there’s a pendulum swing of discomfort between these states of belief and behavior. The further we swing away from our beliefs, the more discomfort we feel.

This is a space in which we at V&S want to spend more time—in this discrepancy. You can call it a space of insight, or tension, but this discomfort is universal. It’s something we all feel and experience. We realize this space between our beliefs and behaviors is a ripe and rich territory.

And we see this is a powerful opportunity area for brands, to be able to play in the pendulum swing between who people see themselves as, ideally, and the reality of who they are in their day-to-day lives, needs, habits. Understanding this pendulum swing allows brands to become more attuned to their position and the real value they add. It helps them be more empathetic and more authentic, and ultimately to forge far more meaningful relationships with the people they want to reach, in both what they offer and how they communicate.

Here’s where we come back to the point about data. Because we could never have reached this level of insight with numbers alone.

Don’t get it twisted. There’s nothing wrong with data. It’s just not as powerful as our industry believes it to be, because it’s superficial. Alone, it lacks the passion, flaws, nuance of what it is to be human. We believe these things are not only an essential layer of great strategy and creative, but ultimately where the real opportunity for a brand lies.

The participants in the survey showed us this in The Identity Project, but we see it every time we work with them. They remind us to remain skeptical of face-value facts alone, instead dig in with individuals, ask the right questions, ask follow-up questions. They remind us to stay curious and open, to look beyond the numbers, so that data can be a jumping-off point, a hypothesis. But we know there’s always more to discover when you treat people more like people, not “consumers”.

In return, our survey participants are engaged and invested in helping us get to this kind of thinking because we enable them to feel heard, empowered, involved.

So that’s where we’ll be pushing ourselves to think and play, strategically and creatively, as an agency. It might be a challenge; it might be uncomfortable to confront, but it will definitely be interesting and will certainly take us beyond the (expected) numbers.

So long, Bubba. Sh*t’s about to get real.

—Lindsay Nelson, Planning Director, Victors & Spoils