Bunhill: Direct Marketing - My Idea of Fun

By Rowan, Matthew | The Independent (London, England), April 2, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Bunhill: Direct Marketing - My Idea of Fun


Rowan, Matthew, The Independent (London, England)


So the novelist Will Self has been taken off the election trail, sacked by the Observer over allegations that he took heroin on John Major's campaign aircraft. Well let's get him back on to it because if his bizarre but acute observations on business are anything to go by, we'd all be much the wiser about our political leaders.

His novel My Idea of Fun , for example, introduces us to a direct marketing database broker who "can mash lists of prospects together to produce delightfully implausible juxtapositions: exercise-bike owners who take educ- tional holidays to Ukraine (there are only seven in London); lepers with a penchant for Janet Reger lingerie (surprisingly, several hundred in Roseland alone); Liberal Democrat Nintendo enthusiasts who are also Wagner buffs (not as many as one might have hoped for)."

So what's he on, then? Nothing, necessarily, because Mr Self's vision of market research is not far removed from reality. While we might think that "junk mail" firms are good at launching bombardments but awful at hitting targets, the process of selecting people for promotions is now a refined art. Companies don't want to waste time and money selling sky- diving trips to vertigo sufferers so instead they turn to "lifestyle" database firms which can build up accurate customer profiles from all those surveys and adverts we answer. This data crunching can produce connections we might never have made ourselves. As Tony Lamb of Conduit Communications, the relationship management consultancy, says: "If you ride a mountain bike, you might well drink more Lucozade." Or if you've ever answered a "customer satisfaction" survey at the end of a windsurfing holiday, you might get a mailshot for a mountain bike. And while Liberal Democrat Nintendo enthusiasts may be stretching it, if you're over 40, wear wellington boots, like cooking and listen to rock music then someone's got your number: stand by for promotions for garden seeds, onion peelers and Oasis records. So what kind of strange vision would Mr Self dream up for the election? A campaign involving chickens and dogs? Now that really would be beyond belief. It's been said that Britain and America are two countries divided by the same language. In which case, let's send the Plain English police across the Atlantic on a fact-finding mission. For while we might laugh at American euphemisms like "negative life function" (dead), "accommodator" (cleaning woman) and "retrofitting" (sacking people), we have to admit it: they know a good company name when they see one.

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