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M25 Marketing: The Hegemony of London-centric Marketing

 ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ so goes the old adage, but are we growing weary of London and thus of life? Stacked like dominoes on overcrowded tubes, navigating the swarms that plague Oxford Street, the indignity of paying a fiver for a pint, these are just some of the trials and tribulations in life of a Londoner. And yet London is ever growing, as of 2015 the population of London stood at 8.7 million, according to the Office for National Statistics. Estimates put the projected population to hit 9.4 million by 2022; the population of London expanded by 5.7% between mid-2011 and mid-2015, compared with the overall 2.9% growth of the UK.  

Whilst the population of London might be vast, in fairness, the capital is pulling its weight when it comes to contributing to the economy. Despite accounting for 12.5% of the UK population, London generates 22% of the UK GDP. As of 2016, London was the leader of the Global Financial Centres Index the purpose of which, according to zyen who conduct the index, ‘The aim of the GFCI is to examine the major financial centres globally in terms of competitiveness’. London is ranked the highest, suggesting that its dominance is unrivalled. And with great GDP comes great power. As the financial hub of the UK, and arguably the world, London is often viewed a representative of England, much to the chagrin of Dudley dwellers and Ipswich inhabitants, not to mention the citizens of Cirencester. London is over represented in popular culture and even the news, the BBC has been accused of being ‘too London centric’. Fury came in the form of disgruntled Countryfile viewers who felt the program was too London-focused and ignored issues faced by rural viewers, taking to Twitter the furious farmers rebranded the program #Towniefile. Despite the rumours, life does exist outside of the M25.

Commuting and Marketing Opportunity

Both content and channels are considerable factors in determining the most successful marketing efforts and these are variable across the country. With regards to channels, the Underground and the larger London public transport system provides invaluable advertising opportunities. The tube has 3.5 million passengers a day and, as any tube traveller will attest, a strict no eye contact policy pervades, yet the gaze has to settle somewhere and a well-placed marketing campaign can provide relief for a roving eye whilst creating promotion: win win. And according to ExterionMedia, the sole providers of Underground advertising, 87% of commuters welcome advertising. ExterionMedia claims that 79% of tube users have researched or bought a product after seeing it advertised on the Underground. An estimated 36% of the country drives to work; this figure is highest in areas with a more rudimentary infrastructure which is often less urbanised areas where the transport system can be infrequent and inconvenient, thus radio advertising is more effective in reaching the target audience.

A United Kingdom?

It could be argued that brands are missing out on opportunities by focusing their efforts solely on the London marketing arena and ignoring regional differences. It is disingenuous to assume a singularly unified United Kingdom that exists without disparities, despite what the name might suggest, and marketing practise should reflect that. In fact, recent research conducted by MediaCom UK suggests that the population does not define themselves as British, preferring instead to be defined as English, Scottish, or Welsh. London centric marketing efforts run the risk of alienating a vast portion of the target audience; the CEO of MediaCom UK, Josh Krichefski, notes, ‘There was a lot of talk in 2016 about how the London bubble was skewing Business’ view of consumer opinion. However, this research clearly shows that the sense of identity and community across the entire UK is evolving, and brands and Business[es] cannot afford to ignore this’.

The political events of June 2016 may well disrupt London’s status as the financial hub, certainly Brexit will have an impact, whether that will be positive or negative varies depending on who you listen to. What is apparent, however, is that there were clear regional differences when it came to voting: Scotland and London both voted to remain in high numbers. Off the back of the Brexit vote, a second Scottish independence referendum has been appealed for and the once ‘United Kingdom’ looks set to undergo a turbulent transformation. The failure of marketers to predict Brexit suggests a London-centric approach that is alienated from the country at large, suggests KPMG’s Essex. He warns against using London as a model for the rest of the country, ‘…I think [London centricity] is really serious. If you’re in the business of understanding clients, audience and consumers it can’t be sustainable to be in a position that’s so distinct from the public at large. Diversity of opinion is really important.’ The current political situation is indicative of a fractious country, one that cannot be defined as a homogeneous group. Marketers would do well to remember that regional differences exist when creating campaigns and targeting audiences and adjust their content and channels accordingly.

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