Audiences are voting with their feet – and brands need to follow

We are living in an era of simultaneous globalisation and localisation – across the economy, popular culture and politics. The concept of the general public is ceding its primary role compared to smaller communities defined by interest, locality and mindset, even as those smaller communities link up across national borders.

We’ve seen it here in the UK over the past 15 years, where there has been a powerful move toward devolution across the country, which has brought cities and regions to centre stage in culture, politics and the economy. Advertising needs to move with this trend.

On 4 May, 4.6 million voters in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West of England, West Midlands and Tees Valley will elect their new combined authority mayors. Direct mayoral elections have been on the political agenda for almost 20 years, after successive governments, yet their introduction has been rocky. Referenda to establish regional mayors saw low turnout and enthusiasm. Bristol topped the turnout chart – but just 44% in the most engaged area, so there is an urgent need to rouse voters and make it clear what the new mayors will mean for them.

To address this issue, 23red was appointed to run the six regional campaigns to drive awareness and voter turnout. Our research showed that personalisation and localisation would be key, yet this was a central government brief, and we needed to keep the messaging consistent. We had to come up with a way to make a nationwide campaign locally relevant – especially for younger voters.

‘Our Mayor - Your Vote’ addressed the audience directly as individuals with different tastes and preferences as members of their local community. Voiceovers, imagery (much locally crowd sourced) and language were tried and tested for local relevance. Delivered through out of home (with a significant digital component), social and radio, the campaign made the case for voting and the results in terms of awareness and engagement have been very encouraging.

Yet, these mayoral elections are just part of it – localisation doesn’t stop at politics. Telecoms, utilities, charities and other players are embracing the trends as well. We are seeing big national brands go to extraordinary lengths to bring their overall brands down to a human-scale, such as with EE’s new 4G campaign that launched last month. As reported in this title, the campaign offers 21,000 unique combinations of local images and messages. EE needed to be sensitive to local needs and concerns, visually demonstrating that they are on the ground in their area.

As the largest utility company in the UK, Thames Water serves 15 million people across London and the Thames Valley. Thames Water runs local campaigns that target customers on a street-by-street level using out-of-home, social and direct mail in areas they were able to identify as high risk for key issues. Despite the challenges of communicating in this space, Thames Water campaigns like our Bin It, Don’t Block It, have succeeded in bringing down sewer blockages and flooding in high-risk areas.

The non-profit sector is joining the localisation and personalisation trend, too. As part of its work on loneliness among the elderly, Age UK put their excellent local data on risk of loneliness to use in a campaign across Britain that used digital outdoor to show – city by city – just how many elderly people were at risk of loneliness in their area. It took a well-known national conversation point and took it down a notch, making it specific, topical and local. The campaign generated tremendous buzz.

The proliferation of campaigns like Age UK’s reflect how much cheaper and easier it is to tailor messages to audiences. DOOH screens are cropping up everywhere. Social data is better and better as algorithms are fine-tuned. But as the ability to communicate directly with people as individuals, or as members of specific communities improves, so do people’s expectations. In social, the ads that stand out today are the ones that aren’t targeted and tailored – we simply expect to be spoken to directly in a way that wasn’t the norm even five years ago.

Now that brands and agencies have easy access to geo-targeting, social audience segmentation, and the host of other technologies that make advertising more flexible, we should expect high-resolution localisation to be the norm for campaigns.

Technology makes it possible, but this localisation trend is making it mandatory.

Jane Asscher is the chief executive and founding partner at 23red

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