Magazine article Marketing

The Big Census Question

Magazine article Marketing

The Big Census Question

Article excerpt

This year's survey may be the last, but should marketers be worried, asks Gemma Charles.

People in the 26m households across England and Wales will soon give the government a glimpse into their lives, as the census makes its once-a-decade appearance.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has kicked off a multi-million-pound marketing drive, created by Bray Leino and spanning TV, outdoor, experiential and PR, to alert the population to 'Census Day' on 27 March.

The campaign, which uses the line 'Help tomorrow take shape', features origami representations of objects such as buses and hospitals to illustrate the part that census information plays in the planning of public services.

The authorities are not the only users of the mass data-sweep, however Marketers, whether they realise it or not, often use information based on census results. Richard Tolley, interim marketing director of Taylors of Harrogate, says retail and service-based businesses find census data 'particularly useful'.

This is the world of 'micromarketing' - the targeting of communications to individuals based on their immediate local circumstances, and where talk of the usefulness of the census for marketers arouses strong feelings.

Keith Dugmore, chairman of data lobbyists the Demographics User Group (DUG), says that census questions about respondents' occupation and car ownership enable marketers to profile the nation's most affluent and poorer areas.

Key data resource

DUG members, including banks and retailers such as Boots and Marks & Spencer, rely on such data to inform store-location decisions and micromarketing. Census data also forms the basis of neighbourhood classification tools such as ACORN.

Debrah Harding, deputy director-general of the Market Research Society, argues that there is unlikely to be 'another single source that allows both social and market researchers to conduct analyses in such a precise and efficient way' as the census.

For marketers, the sheer scale of the census, as the single biggest collection of data on the UK population, is its USP. For some, however, the fact that the data is gathered only once every 10 years is its key weakness. The current population size of England and Wales is likely to be published in the next year, but it will be about another two years before more detailed data, used for commercial purposes, becomes available.

Data suppliers such as Acxiom and Experian source their own consumer data more frequently, and do so with marketing in mind. …

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