Advertising and marketing professionals are less fair than the general public

A provocative report uncovers low levels of empathy among advertisers

A provocative white paper from newsbrand Reach analysing the views of the general population and the advertising community specifically has uncovered worryingly low levels of apparent empathy across the advertising and marketing industries.

Generally speaking, just 29% of the ‘modern mainstream’ were found to have an aptitude for understanding others.

Advertisers fared little better than this depressingly low base with just 30% capable of a deep level of perspective taking and affective empathy, leaving the profession little better than average at understanding the emotions and motivations of others, signalling potentially big trouble ahead.

The Empathy Delusion was commissioned by Reach in response to an increasingly polarised and fragmented world dominated by Donald Trump and Brexit where large swathes of the UK population are becoming increasingly detached from one another.

However far from rising above the fray advertisers are very much part of this problem with ad land subconsciously at odds with the bulk of middle-income households with distinct left/right splits emerging among both cohorts.

Addressing the advertising and marketing sector specifically the report found that 44% identified as left-leaning versus just 23% of the population at large.

Meanwhile, a majority of the modern mainstream believed they occupied the centre ground (52%) versus just 36% of the ad industry with the balance professing right-leaning sentiments. Remain voters in the industry consciously dial down empathy when dealing with Leave voters it claimed.

To arrive at these figures Reach quizzed a sample of 2,019 British adults and 199 ad executives throughout March, scoring each on a 5-point morality scale based on kindness, fairness, group loyalty, respect and purity.

Left-leaning individuals are believed to favour traits tied to the individual; namely kindness and fairness over the other factors while right-leaning responders treat each of the five categories equally. These narrower moral foundations are believed to make it harder for liberals to tolerate competing points of view, according to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind.

Outlining how the industry should change co-authors Andrew Tenzer of Reach and Ian Murray of house51 wrote: “… people in advertising and marketing seem unable to reciprocate when it comes to what Haidt describes as the ‘ethics of community’ i.e. a wide range of entirely legitimate and positive mainstream codes about tradition, group loyalty and sanctity that remain strongly relevant for the mainstream. The moral bias of people in our industry, means we tend to views these mainstream concerns with suspicion. So, we need to develop a more pluralist outlook.”

Another experiment, where participants have a £50 voucher to share called the experiment game, saw advertising and marketing people share significantly less than the mainstream - 69% would share equally, compared to 77% of the mainstream.

Previous research has tracked growing 'anger' among the general population with Northern England and Scotland among the most disaffected portions of the country.

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