NEWS25 June 2020

Study finds ‘aspiration gap’ between marketers and the mainstream

Media News Trends UK

UK – Marketers overestimate the importance of extrinsic aspirations to the mainstream population, according to research from publisher Reach and insight agency House51.

Aspiration goals positivity_crop

The latest of a series of reports examining the disconnect between the marketing industries and the mainstream, the ‘Aspiration Window’ study is based on quantitative research with consumers and interviews with advertising and marketing professionals.  

It draws on the work of economist Debraj Ray, who defined an ‘aspiration gap’ as ‘the difference between the standard of living that’s aspired to and the standard of living that one already has’. A gap that is either too narrow or too wide leads to aspiration failure; to motivate action, aspirations need to be attainable for the individual.

The report highlights the industry’s lack of socioeconomic diversity, finding that 70% of the advertising and marketing individuals surveyed grew up in a household where the chief income earner was social grade AB – compared to less than a third ( 29%) of the ‘modern mainstream’ respondents.

The research explored people’s attitudes towards different types of aspirations, finding that respondents gave extrinsic aspirations – those relating to fame, image and money – a cumulative importance rating of 3.8. The advertising and marketing professionals’ estimation of mainstream extrinsic aspirations, meanwhile, was 7.4.

For example, having a ‘high-status job and earning lots of money’ was considered important for 28% of respondents, but ad and marketing professionals estimated it would be important for 82%. Being unique and standing out from the crowd was important for 28% of respondents, compared with an estimation from marketers of 57%.

The findings align with earlier research conducted by Reach and House51 – revisited as part of the latest study – to measure the values of the mainstream with those of people working in the ad industry. These values had not changed (April 2020 compared with July 2018 ) and industry respondents continued to misunderstand the values of the mainstream.

Speaking at an IPA virtual event yesterday, Ian Murray, partner at House51 and author of the paper, said: “Ad land continues to overestimate hedonism, and, despite messaging about ‘togetherness’, continues to underestimate benevolence.”

The researchers also asked respondents to rate their overall quality of life and then analysed the ratings by household income. The analysis found that perceived quality of life increases in line with income, but with relatively small differences until income reaches £100,000 or more.

However, advertisers and marketers surveyed for the research saw a stronger relationship between income and quality of life, resulting in them underestimating the quality of life for people earning up to £50,000 a year and overestimating the metric for the highest 10% of earners.

Andrew Tenzer, director of group insight at Reach, said: “In every framework we’ve explored, there has been a gap. We believe the ‘aspiration window’ is open too wide. [Advertising and marketing professionals] persistently miss the mark in capturing the aspiration of the mainstream.”

To address this issue, the marketing industries must first address their lack of diversity, particularly in relation to social class, which is often overlooked in wider conversations about inclusion.

Tenzer added: “Diversity is finally making its way to the top of our industry, but there is a blind spot with class. Thinking styles correlate strongly with aspiration. Only by building genuinely diverse workforces will we address this.”


The report is based on two quantitative surveys conducted before and during the Covid-19 pandemic (February and April 2020, with 2,001 and 1,029 nationally representative UK adults respectively), 200 interviews with advertising and marketing professionals carried out in February, and 150 carried out in April. The researchers defined the ‘modern mainstream’ (n=1,143 ) as the middle 50% in terms of household income (£20k-£55k).