Six-Pack Demographics & the Politics of Fear

[October 20, 2009] 

Whenever agency folk gather round the conference table to review creative concepts, they enter the room in full view. Coffee cups slosh, florescent lights flicker and chairs squeak—as everyone settles in for the big presentation.

One person, however, enters silently and unseen, sits sullenly in the corner, yet manages to cast a shadow over the entire room. His name is “The Man in the Street.” Over the course of the creative presentation, he wields his subtle sway and, only minutes into the meeting, someone inevitably becomes his staunch, self-righteous advocate.

“I don’t see,” the snide and often outraged rant begins, “how you expect The Man in the Street to understandthat.”

I find this phenomenon very interesting. For one thing, you’ll notice that people who utter this phrase never identify themselves as “The Man in the Street.” He’s always someone else, isn’t he? The same is true for his alcoholic brother, “Joe Six Pack” or his obsessive-compulsive cousins, the “Soccer Moms.”

So here we are, espousers of MTV egalitarianism, who have carefully checked each concept for evidence of diversity. Here we are—using a thoughtless stereotype as our measuring stick for a creative concept.

“They” won’t get it.
In fact, it’s a stereotype so universally known and subscribed to, that this fictional character’s advocate can claim to know exactly how he’ll react—without the faintest burden of proof. “The Man in the Street just won’t get it,” we often hear, “you’ll get zero results that way.”

Now, I’ll go out on a limb and assume that the creative concepts you evaluate are based on a creative brief. I’ll also assume that this creative brief contains an audience profile, distilled from countless hours of carefully nuanced market research. Yet typically, even when this audience profile indicates that our target is “Highly Educated, High Income,” you can barely count to 10 before someone invokes The Man in the Street.

Just say no to Joe.
I say it’s time we put aside all this rubbish about “average” people and be honest. Let’s acknowledge that this fictional man is not in the room—and that when we advocate for his concerns we’re really expressing our own reservations, our own outrage and lack of comprehension.

Instead of relying on thinly-disguised scare tactics, let’s articulate our concerns in terms of detailed, actionable comments. Let’s give the Creative team room to find a creative solution—not a solution based on the politics of fear. By refusing to invoke outmoded boogey men (who are sometimes women) to support our evaluations, we’ll do much more than improve our creative process.

We’ll stop the shameful practice of placing our jeans-worthy selves on a pedestal of enlightenment and grace, while reviling our audience as a gang of obsessive, beer-swilling idiots, who need step-by-step instructions to open an envelope and “See inside for details.”


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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