Confessions of the Admen

In all walks of life and throughout history, people have projected their own worldview onto their surroundings to help better understand it: we also tend to use mental shortcuts (heuristics) to help us make decisions, but these can often be misinformed and ill-judged.

The author(s)

  • Andrew Green Ipsos Connect, UK
  • Daniel Blackwell Ipsos Connect, UK
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Our own Perils of Perception studies show that around the world we readily use stereotypes and biases to form opinions. On topics ranging from obesity, internet penetration to immigration, it seems that we are quite incapable of estimating the state of our own nations!

People working at advertisers, at creative agencies and at media agencies are responsible for making multi million dollar decisions about where money should be invested.. They tend to be younger, more urban and more digitally savvy than the population as a whole. They think about media and behave differently from the rest of the population.

As well as thinking and behaving differently from other people, they also seem to project their own behaviours onto that of others when asked how they think other people behave. For example, they believe that the UK population spends only half of its viewing time watching television programmes live – when the true figure is 87%. And they predict that more than a third of TV viewing is on devices other than a television set – when the figure is in fact just 2%.

It’s not all about you…

One of the first lessons a budding market researcher is taught is not to project their own behaviour and attitudes onto those of others. In other words, the ‘sample of one’ fallacy. It’s not always an easy rule to follow: we naturally draw on our own experiences and opinions when we are designing questionnaires or analysing results.

But it is important to let the data speak for itself as far as possible, to listen rather than to opine and to try and truly understand what the people we are talking to are thinking and doing.

A study by Accenture in 2011 found that 23% of senior managers they spoke to described personal experience as ‘very important’ when making decisions about their customer needs. A similar number preferred to rely on ‘simple’ data and facts, while 17% credited more complex data analysis. Five years on, there is of course far more data available to make decisions. But people’s own preferences and prejudices undoubtedly come into play when sifting and interpreting these data.

‘Déformation professionelle’ describes the tendency to perceive the world through the point of view of your own profession. Take an architect, for example: when they look at a building, they see a structure and appreciate its form and lines. To the layperson, whilst they may like or dislike the building, they just see a building. One could say the same of photographers or film-makers: they will look at photographs and films differently to non-professionals.

The question is: do media planners and buyers see the world as others do, and does it affect the decisions they make?


People working in media agencies and in advertiser marketing departments are responsible for helping advertisers to make decisions on where best to allocate their budgets. To do this well, they need a good understanding of their clients’ needs and of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the media options available.

It might be assumed that this would make them heavier than average consumers of all forms of media. In fact, data from both a small-scale diary study and a larger online recall study suggest the opposite: media and advertising professionals are lighter than average viewers of commercial TV and readers of printed publications.

They are, on the other hand, much heavier users of social media and many newer, digital forms of television. In short, their behaviours are quite different from the people they are likely to be targeting their advertising at.

It is certainly hard to estimate the ‘correct’ share of budgets that should be going to each medium on a macro level. Many factors come into play, including reach, the time spent using each medium, the level of multi-tasking, the creative fit of a medium and message, the cost and much more.

Advertising on the internet and mobile will overtake television in 2017 to become the world’s largest medium. This increase in spending has accompanied massive growth in the reach and time spent with digital media.

But in looking at all the influences driving digital media spending forward, what is the importance – if any – of the behaviour and attitudes of the people making media allocation decisions? Are they investing ahead of real changes in people’s behaviour, or merely keeping up with them? Certainly, those working in and around the advertising business need to ensure that they continue to look carefully at the data available on media habits to ensure they understand how people outside their media bubble are behaving.

The author(s)

  • Andrew Green Ipsos Connect, UK
  • Daniel Blackwell Ipsos Connect, UK