Bunhill: So are you a pebble dash subtopian?
Sunday 14 September 1997
No, you're not paranoid, you are predictable and the marketing men know you inside out. More alarming still, for those who constantly have to refute charges that people can be stereotyped according to their post code (Islington man, Essex girl), there really are a lot of people round your way who think the same way you do. For instance, I live in the north London "village" of Crouch End - an area where everyone is perceived as priding themselves on their youthful idealism but mature tastes. I like to think I'm different but, in the words of the song that I fear features in many record collections round my way, there is always something there to remind me ... otherwise.
I say all this by way of introducing the information services company Experian and its MOSAIC classification system. MOSAIC is a database whose details are gleaned from electoral registers, financial and retail data (ie our buying habits) and housing data and then crunched by computer to reveal the dominant characteristics of people in any given post code. Areas that have a lot in common with each other are pinpointed by mapping software so that companies using the database have a better idea of where they should target their marketing efforts.
More intriguing still are the classifications used by Experian to describe people with common attributes. For instance, if you live in an area with a rich ethnic mix, you are part of the "bohemian melting pot". You're well-off but not materialistic, you vote Labour and read the Guardian, and your direct mail will be dominated by promotions for records, lifestyle magazines and holidays.
Sounds a lot more exciting than being a member of "pebble dash subtopia" - in which case you're not very flamboyant, you're not keen to know your neighbours, but you do like DIY and going to the supermarket. Your fate: mailshots crammed with offers for home-improvement and garden products.
There are 50 other classifications in MOSAIC - "bijou homemakers", "graffitied ghettos", "suburban mock tudor" and "problem families" to name but a few - so surely such comprehensive coverage could be exploited by the spin doctors; how much easier it would be to deliver voter-friendly messages if they were aware of people's preoccupations in any given neighbourhood. Futuristic? Not at all, reports Richard Webber, a director at Experian. Politicians are already using this kind of information to make the right pitches to the right people.
So watch out in the bohemian melting pot when Peter Mandelson knocks on your door: "Yes, rest assured that we in New Labour are firmly committed to the preservation of joss-sticks." Or, if you live in pebble dash subtopia: "We are actively considering removing VAT from wood-filler, car wax and bathroom sealant."
Look away now ...
A time-honoured ritual was re-enacted at Bunhill Mansions last week when Trevor McDonald informed us that the highlights of the England-Moldova match would be shown after News at Ten ... "So if you don't want to know the score, please look away now." Cue face down in the cushion and the tortuous wait for the message that would return me to the living world: "And finally ..."
Some readers may even recall a time when the fact of impending highlights didn't stop the newscaster announcing the result anyway. This gave viewers precisely two seconds to fall back over the sofa, somersault out of the door, and bury their heads in the hall carpet with their hands over their ears. A painful process, perhaps, but one that did at least imbue the most excruciating 0-0 draws with a sense of anticipation.
So could similar tactics be deployed to broaden the appeal of business? I don't see why not:
"The highlights of today's plenary committee meeting on the future direction of EMU will be shown immediately after this bulletin, so if you don't want to know the possible ramifications for a basket of currencies now, please turn over to the film with lots of sex and violence."
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