Crisis of empathy in marketing and advertising, says Reach

July 9, 2019

According to a report by Reach, which investigated the personal and political views of the general population and the advertising sector, creative professionals’ capacity for empathy is noticeably low.

The investigation, ‘The Empathy Delusion’, was created after a survey of 2,019 British adults and 199 ad executives conducted through March. It scored respondents on a five-point scale looking at kindness, fairness, group loyalty, respect and purity. It also asked for self-reported political leanings.

The results are eye-opening, with only 29% of the public reported as being able to understand and identify with others – and advertisers and marketers were little better, with 30% being marked as perceptive and empathic.

Another part of the research saw participants asked what they’d do with a £50 voucher – and while 77% of the populace shared the money, ad pros came in lower, with 69% choosing to share it equally. In an industry characterised by needing to understand and speak directly to people, the results raise many questions.

When it comes to politics, advertisers and marketers showed a marked difference to the political leanings of everyday people. 44% of professionals said they were left-leaning – compared to just 23% of the general public. Non-marketers were much more comfortable in the centre ground – with 52% placing themselves there, compared with only 36% of the marketing sector. 

Co-authors, Andrew Tenzer of Reach and Ian Murray of house51, said: “People in advertising and marketing seem unable to reciprocate when it comes to what Haidt describes as the ‘ethics of community’ – a wide range of entirely legitimate and positive mainstream codes about tradition, group loyalty and sanctity that remain strongly relevant for the mainstream.

“The moral bias of people in our industry means we tend to view these mainstream concerns with suspicion. So, we need to develop a more pluralist outlook.”