OPINION2 November 2017

Breaking the filter bubble

Media Opinion UK

What makes a community – is it the buildings we share, the facilities we access or is it about your neighbours? Research from Trinity Mirror and Spark Foundry looked at what community means.


In the wake of Brexit, fake news and an increasingly centralised commerce, the UK is (understandably) suffering from a community crisis. This has far reaching implications for everyone, including brands and advertising.

A real danger is that brands will be caught in an echo chamber, stamped as ‘establishment’ and not seeking to understand consumers. Recent data (from Crowd DNA and Trinity Mirror/Spark Foundry) suggests this is an increasing problem. A six percentage point increase in the number of people saying advertising doesn’t portray the lives of people in their local area ( 56% in 2016 vs. 61% in 2017 ) suggests we need to be more thorough in our understanding of local communities, and more overt in our portrayal of them.

With this in mind, a week after the general election, Spark Foundry and Trinity Mirror Solutions teamed up to understand what community means, and what communities need. Surveying 3,000 consumers, we aimed to burst some filter bubbles, and enrich our view of Britain today.

As a starting point, we wanted to explore the nature of identity. Through the use of implicit techniques, we discovered the ways we see ourselves and each other, is changing.

Despite a raging nationalistic outlook, the term ‘Britishness’ means something – it’s progressive and culturally defining. It’s not only the highest in terms of importance to identity ( 82%); it’s the term people are quickest to select – being British is a given.

The North/South divide is commonly referred to, but it’s not as important to our identity as many would assume ( 48%). In fact, consumers were slowest to select the term, suggesting a weak emotional attachment. Postcode also means little ( 44%), as communities mean more than just our surrounding streets.

However, most interesting of all is that consumers have a much stronger emotional relationship with their ‘city/town/village’ than they do with their nationality (English, Scottish, Irish etc.). People recognise that their identity is inextricably linked to their local community.

So what does this mean for brands? When brands understand what communities have and what they lack, they can contribute in the most meaningful way. A programme that works well in a city, might not deliver to a suburban community, much less a rural one.

We found that cities excelled in delivering experiences of discovery and challenges, yet they scored much worse on creating a feeling of belonging or comfort. Rural communities in many respects delivered the opposite. And suburbs were far more likely than either villages or city centres to say community spirit has declined.

So when we tested what community initiatives would appeal the most, the results made sense. Open and hungry for new experiences, city dwellers wanted free stuff and entertainment. Villages, on the other hand, wanted grass roots initiatives that they could actually see make a difference and which they could get involved in. Suburbs wanted information which creates a sense of pride back into their area.

We propose five simple rules to escape your filter bubbles to connect meaningful with communities:

  • Explicitly geo-target – let people know you are talking directly to them
  • Tell anecdotes not reasons to believe – evidence is better than theory
  • Get out of the office – widen your own experiences and contacts
  • Take a bottom up, empowerment approach – communities need to contribute if they are to care
  • Local presence is a hygiene; it is expected.

This study also poses interesting questions for the research industry. Given the increasing importance of our local area, we need to re-evaluate whether analysis by region gives a true understanding of who people are, and how they behave. When conducting qualitative research, perhaps it’s time to look beyond the big regional cities and focus on areas which are increasingly ignored in the interests of cost saving.

Heather Dansie is associate insight director at Publicis Media and Andrew Tenzer is head of group insight at Trinity Mirror