Saturday, 23 August 2008

Now there's a funny thing....

I was invited by some close friends to accompany them on the Gay Pride Parade in Truro, Cornwall, UK.

I remember that my immediate response at the time was ‘what date is it on?’, and when I found I was not busy on the day, of course I accepted the invitation – I don’t deny I was flattered to be asked.

I suppose that I never really realised the extent to which the gay community is not accepted; the extent to which the presence of straight people on the parade might be symbolically important.

I took my camera, and after a bit I started looking out for disapproving faces in the crowd to photograph – and there were a few! There were also a few spectacular extroverts to shoot; but by and large what was the most revealing aspect of the parade was that most of the participants were, very obviously, ‘just plain folk’. There were many colourful and explicit T-shirts, numerous rainbow-coloured neckerchiefs, bandanas, wrist-bands and the like, and the behaviour of the whole parade was responsible, good-humoured and positive. So why, I found myself wondering, is so much fuss made? Why do some people find this particular minority so hard to take? Because when you get up close and personal, they are all so blasted normal!

I admit to having a very entrenched prejudice, and it is against bigotry. I am afraid that in Cornwall we are guilty of being a little slow to accept that members of minority groups, whether by race or by sexual orientation, are in all important respects equal to the rest of us and deserving of an equal amount of respect.

But today in Truro I believe we may have moved a little further down that road towards civilisation!

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Unconsidered Opinions

I read somewhere that for the first time, more than half the world’s population now lives in an urban environment. Only just.

When we see TV programmes about famine and war in Africa, the cameras are usually focussed on rural communities – or refugee camps which have been set up in rural areas but have now become tent towns. And that is of course as it should be: we need to be aware of the suffering of those desperately poor and mistreated people, so that we can all help in any way we can to improve their quality of life.

But that aside, I have been getting a little irritated by market research companies in the UK, or rather, I suppose, by the mono-vision of their clients.

A little while ago, I took part in a research project (it doesn’t matter what for) and was very happy to receive a modest fee for doing so. I was also more than happy to put myself on the research company’s mailing list to be informed of future projects in which I might take part. In fact I looked at a few other companies as well; and since then I have been getting frequent e-mails about forthcoming projects on all sorts of issues.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that I am always outside the age range that they are looking for (although I had thought that the ‘grey pound’ was quite an influential currency these days), but I am particularly irritated by the fact that these researchers are only ever interested in the opinions of people living in London, or such places as Reading or Swindon.

I can accept that users of Nokia phones between the ages of 20 and 30, or young mum’s using disposable nappies, are more interesting than keen gardeners between 65 and 80, but why should a young mum in Reading be more interesting to the marketeers than the same person in, say, Bovey Tracey?

The point I would highlight as an example is that the young mum in Bovey Tracey, as well as being just as important as the young mum in Reading, is subject to different day-to-day influences than her Reading counterpart, so her answers to questions would be different. The implication here is that the nearly 50% of the population (I’m guessing) who live outside the major towns are a completely unconsidered market by those companies who use the market research organisations. And it may be that the rural population doesn’t have as much money to spend as our urban cousins – but all the same, disposable nappies (or almost anything else) are used about as much by our rural young mum as by the city-dwelling equivalent.

Aren’t these companies interested in the fact that rural opinions may be different, but may also be just as important from a marketing point of view?

I suppose that I know the answer before I ask the question – it must be easier to find 30 young mums using disposable nappies who can take an hour out to come to a central location to answer questions about Huggies in London than in Bovey Tracey.

OK, so why not go a stage further and just do the research in the nearest branch of Tesco?

Well, obviously you couldn’t do that, because you would get an unbalanced response!