Change ads or risk being ignored, brands warned

Vulnerable consumers are more likely to assume that advertising is not relevant to them and require campaigns developed specifically to combat their tendency to block out marketing, a new report by Smart Energy GB has warned.

The report comes as marketers and agencies’ knowledge of their customers comes under scrutiny following the shock Brexit vote and Donald Trump election victory in the US.

Smart Energy GB, which is charged with rolling out smart meters across Britain, has made a series of recommendations for targeting hard-to-reach groups.

The report states that vulnerable audiences are less likely to regard public engagement campaigns as relevant to them when they do not seem to be "reaching out to them as an individual" and are more likely to be resistant to behaviour change.

"There is sometimes a correlation between groups which have not yet engaged with a campaign by taking action and vulnerabilities," it adds.

The report suggests adopting "specific visual styles and text which explicitly address the audience in question".

Using metaphor and analogy as a cultural shorthand were cautioned against. "Aligning visual imagery and messaging in a clear and literal way can be key to ensuring vulnerable audiences are willing (and able) to pay attention," the report states.

Campaigns featuring celebrities and experts tend not to resonate with vulnerable groups. The report instead recommends establishing "selected marketing partnerships" with third-sector and voluntary organisations. This approach has been pursued by Smart Energy GB through its "Communities Fund", which provides support to organisations that can engage vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups with its campaign.

Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Smart Energy GB, said: "Our job at Smart Energy GB is to make sure absolutely everyone in Britain knows about and can benefit from smart meters.

"One of the biggest and most important challenges we face is reaching people who may not hear about smart meters through traditional routes, or who might need additional support to understand how they could benefit," he added.

Vulnerable audiences mentioned in the report include non-English speakers, disabled people, older people, the unemployed and low-earners.