Disloyal and unfussed… our audience

What’s love got to do with it?

Fans can be a little scary

Omnishambles may be ‘word of the year’, but I prefer Meh (a winner a few years earlier. It describes the ambivelant behaviour of many viewers about what they watch


For some years, we’ve been sold the idea that consumers have relationships with brands in the same way that they do with people.  We’ve been told that consumers buy into the ‘values’ of these products, feel a kinship with fellow consumers, and in certain cases feel a ‘love’ for them.  There’s more about this sort of thing here.  The brand, we’re told helps to define who they are, to other people and to themselves: I’m a Lidl kinda guy, you’re a Sainsbury person, she’s into Tesco…  He’s a bit,… Iceland *.

Clever people working in the Customer Relationship Management area have developed a model to classify your clients. It’s often used in the business to business area, but seems pertinent to any transactional relationship.

The model describes four groups of people who buy your stuff.

So some people buy you and will continue to do so.  They like you, and feel loyal.  These are dubbed Apostles, because they will go out and spread the word, even at the risk of losing their lives.  In TV terms, they will not only watch Doctor Who whenever it is on, they’ve bought the DVDs and attended the conventions.  I know someone with a full-sized Dalek in her living room.

Other people like what you do, but they don’t feel under any obligation to carry on watching.  They will watch for as long as you keep them amused, then they’re off.  They’re called ‘mercenaries‘.

Another group isn’t blown away by your ‘stuff’ but keep coming back for more.  Like a strange sense of obligation they can’t explain. These are called ‘Hostages‘.

Finally there’s a group who neither think much of what you do, NOR feel any loyalty.  These used to be called ‘Terrorists‘ until someone thought better.  They are now called ‘rebels‘, or ‘defectors‘.  The idea is that such people can be dangerous if they keep turning up and moaning.  They might take up executive time, or write something nasty on trip advisor.  Or whinge to Points of View.

On my blog-roll to the right, you will see Martin Weigel’s name.  This eminently sensible, highly creative advertising person from Weiden and Kennedy, is on a mission to point out that this is all nonsense, and gave the keynote at this year’s Media Research Group to explain.

While it is common to focus on the loyal and satisfied consumers (ITV Core, BBC Global Minds are two ways I’ve seen loyal viewers described at past employers) the truth is that most people aren’t like that when it comes to inanimate things. The idea that a consumer’s relationship with a brand or a TV programme is akin to a relationship with another human is insulting to the richness of human connections, and exaggerates the way we feel about to things we buy or watch.  We don’t usually feel anything.

We’ve become used to the idea that the most valuable people are the ones who not only rate what you do, but who are also loyal.

So whether you edit Newsnight or Coronation Street, you pay the most attention to the ones who tweet about you, or like your Facebook page, or who watch every edition.  These are the people who will watch the programme, wear the t-shirt, and promote you to all their friends:  the apostles.  But hardly anyone does this.  I wrote a little about this phenomenon here.  Only around 50-60% of the audience to an episode to a series bother to tune in to the following episode, even if they enjoy it.  It sounds bonkers when you are loyal yourself, but you are not your audience.  Most viewers are not loyal and their satisfaction level is modest or irrelevant.  Or it’s high, but they like to watch different things – or are forgetful – so they drift off regardless of how satisfied they have been. Many of them haven’t really thought about the programme very much. Same as they don’t know much about the MP they vote for, the shampoo they buy or the jumper they’re wearing.

At the BBC we once found that 94% of our overseas distribution partners were classified as apostles in terms of how they felt about us.  Unless you genuinely are hoping to start a religion, or a small cult (and we were not) that’s way too high.  We’d have been better off with twice as many partners, and sacrificing a little loyalty.

There are viewers who watch a programme regularly despite not caring too much for it – perhaps they live with a viewer and sit in the armchair patiently playing with their iPad while their partner’s favourite programme is on.  But they’re not hostages…because they can’t be stopped from leaving, but they’re unthinkingly loyal.  And there aren’t many of them.

As Martin points out, when you free yourself from the idea that your main audience knows all about you and has invested part of themselves in you, then it becomes a more exciting challenge.  The apostles are great, but they can be so demanding: they are inherently conservative, objecting when you change, they think they own you when they don’t, and they are often inherently conservative. And they clap a little too easily. The non fans may be perfectly responsive to your best work, and there are far more of them.

Anyway, if you’ve found this useful, feel free to post a comment, or just, you know… look, I’d love it if you came back.


(* as we may have discussed elsewhere, the reason why you don’t see many dramas set in modern supermarkets is because of this rigid identification. Tesco shoppers don’t want to see a drama set in Morrisons)


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