Are we on the brink of another dangerous pandemic called Narcissism?

For a little while now I have been becoming increasingly aware of my professional mortality – I just can’t see how a soon to be 50 year old man will be listened to when it comes to the changing narrative around personal identity and how to target a twenty year old he, she or zie.

That’s not to say anyone over 30 is irrelevant – experience and expertise is an IP that can only be built with time. But it is true to say that every agency needs a healthy mix of youth and experience to remain on trend. As the elder statesman at Realia I have the experience, but certainly my cultural reference is Gen X rather than Gen Z. My taste in music is just one example of my ever ebbing ‘nowness’ and therefore coolness (is ‘cool’ even cool anymore?). Was I ever cool? Probably not. Anyway, apparently, Messrs Barlow and Grohl just aren’t down with the kids. (can we say that anymore?)

My bigger concern isn’t about me looking like less cool than William Hague in baseball cap (Gen X reference – google it!), it’s actually about the apparent epidemic of narcissism and how we effectively market to Gen WIIFM (what’s in it for me?).

My Mum taught me well. I’d always walk in the road rather than on the path to let a woman or old person pass. I’d hold open doors. I’d offer seats. Still do. Draw the line at throwing coats over puddles though – that’s practically medieval. Question for me is, am I being courteous and polite or outdatedly chivalrous and sexist?

Let’s spring back to the last Valentine’s Day. I was at St Pancras and the air was full of amour. You couldn’t move for heart shaped balloons, red roses and bottles of bubbly, such is our determination to get our leg over at least once a year. And yet no-one, not one person, could smile at a stranger, let someone on the train first or say thank you for anything. At all. Period. Are we really all so self-absorbed? Is being nice now a sign of weakness?

We walk past people who are clearly in distress. We cross the road to avoid conversation. We don’t say thank you to held open doors. We must even create badges so pregnant women have half a chance of a seat on the tube.

Thankfully I have no cause to be on Tinder and no interest in Love Island; but let’s face it, these are not mediums for those interested in other people’s wellbeing #SelfObsession.

We have for some time now lived our lives through our mobile devices and the benefits for all are clear to see. But I do worry that it is impacting on our ability to cohabit and communicate in the real world. To see the world for what it is. To see ourselves for who we are. And who we aren’t. We can’t be face-tuned all the time. Quite apart from anything else, I would wager that instances of pedestrian/vehicle collisions, bruised toes and dislocated shoulders have increased immeasurably since the only thing most people see is themselves.

I’ve been away recently and so not at my usual gym. The place I used was a case study in narcissism – packed full of steroids and collagen. The full-length mirrors aided the preening peacocks take in their own magnificence, of just how beautiful they were. It’s fair to say a chubby, sweating grunter was not going to be afforded any acknowledgment other than perhaps a little sympathy and huge relief that they aren’t like me.

So, how as marketing folks do we address this challenge? How can we effectively communicate with someone for whom it is all about me? How do you create a commonality of interest and then a desire in an individual so entirely focussed on their own life? Is Insta verification the only mark of success?

Honestly, I think it’s about time we took a long hard look in the mirror. At ourselves. And recognise that self-gratification will not make us happy. And it will probably spell the end of the species.

But in the meantime, we still need to sell, and this is where the nearly 50-year-old still has real relevance. Because experience tells me that the approach has to put the audience at the centre of the proposition. It has to answer the WIIFM? It has to come from people who look like them. And whatever the call to action, it has to be low touch, high impact and timely. And the proposition has to make them want to aspire to be associated with it – so they can tell their friends just how clever they are.

When you think about it, when has marketing ever been any different?

Connect with me on LinkedIn to continue the conversation! 

Paul Williamson
Managing Director

Leave a Reply