Skip to content

Angry Marketing

2011 March 2
by Greg Satell

Marketers tend to idealize consumers.  We like to think of them as happy, good looking, ambitious and technologically forward.  We feel that we need to keep up with them or get left behind.
But what if they are none of those things?  What if they are even…angry and predisposed against the lifestyle that we like to portray in presentations.
While working in Turkey, I encountered just such a situation.  As I dug deeper, I became convinced that it isn’t just a Turkish phenomenon, but a widespread reality that, to a greater or lesser extent, pertains to all markets and it is a reality we, for the most part, are ignoring.

Turkey – Where East Meets West

Since antiquity, Turkey has been at the crossroads between East and West.  Its largest city, Istanbul (previously Constantinople), was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire until it was captured by the Ottomans in 1453.  Today, the country borders Europe on one side and Syria, Iran and Iraq on the other.


In Istanbul, you can strongly feel both influences.  Strolling through the fashionable cafes by the Bosphorus, one can get the feeling of being in any European capital while at the same time see women in hijabs (called sharshafs in Turkey) and clearly hear the call to prayer five times a day from anywhere in the city.

Turkey presents an interesting quandary for marketers, because you have to take both worlds into account.  Whether modern or traditional, everybody is a potential prospect.  With that in mind, we set out to define how consumers differed between East and West.

The Demographic Divide

We started with the most obvious way to segment the population: geography.  We simply took those living in the Western part of the country which bordered Europe and compared them to the people living in the Eastern part of the country that bordered the Arab world.

We found that there were vast economic differences between the two groups.  Those that lived in the West had higher incomes, progressed further in their education and bought considerably more branded products.  This is exactly what we expected to find.  So far, so good.

We did, however, hit a snag when we looked at attitudes.  Usually with such stark demographic contrasts, you would expect to see similar diversity in outlook.  We did not.  As a matter of fact, we found no discernible difference in how the two groups responded to a wide variety of attitudinal questions.

Adjusting for Attitudes

Somewhat put out, we went searching for another factor that would explain the strange homogeneity of responses to psychographic questions from people of such diverse geographical and economic characteristics.  After some digging, we finally got lucky.

We hit upon one question which split the country in half:  “Should Turkey be closer to Western culture?”

Not only did it split the country in half, but it split each region in half.  While we expected to find two Turkeys, we actually found four.  This explained the lack of attitudinal separation by geography.  There were many traditional people living in the West (hence, all of the women with head coverings by the Bosphorus) and many modern thinking people in the East.

There was something else that was  strange.  The people with traditional attitudes could only be described as…well…angry.  They seemed to disagree with everything they were asked, even fairly innocuous questions such as “Do you go to the doctor regularly?” and “Do you try to eat healthy foods?”

Consumer Behavior

When corrected for geography, there was very little difference in affluence between traditional and modern thinkers.  They earned about the same amount of money and had about the same level of education.  However, the psychographic groups we created helped explain consumer behavior to a large extent.


Some findings, like aversion to foreign brands among traditionals, wasn’t surprising.  However, other things we uncovered were counter-intuitive.  For instance, the traditionals were more likely to use decorative cosmetics such as mascara and lipstick, while the moderns were much more likely to favor holistic products like face cream and body cream.

We also found much that we could put into practice.  For instance some retail chains were significantly more popular with traditionals, others with moderns.  They had different TV viewing habits, read different magazines, etc.  Moreover, because the segmentation was based on one simple question, it was easy to include in focus groups and other ad hoc research.

The Power of Community Values

When we followed up with focus groups, the initially strange results started coming into focus.  The traditionals weren’t universally hostile, it just seemed so from our perspective.  In reality, there were driven by the norms of their community and were very suspicious of anything that came from outside of it.

This started hitting closer to home.  In almost every country you have a deep split between urban and rural regions.  In the US, the divide between “red states” and “blue states” is every bit as pervasive as between “moderns” and “traditionals” in Turkey.  When research was done on Tea Party activists in the US, they were found to be more affluent and educated than the average American.

In Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants, he devotes an entire chapter to the famously reclusive Amish.  What he found was that while the Amish seemed to live in centuries past, they were surprisingly tech savvy.  They knew all about the latest gadgets and actively experimented with them to see which ones could fit in with their way of life.

While the Amish are an extreme case, we all, even subconsciously, are affected by community norms, regardless of our education and declared sophistication.  In Connected, Fowler and Christakis document that our social connections have enormous effect on traits ranging from substance abuse to obesity.

Universals and Niches

Another thing we found as we dug deeper was that for all their differences, the two psychographic groups did share some characteristics.  For instance, both groups valued education and were devoted to their children.  European football, of course, enjoyed fanatical devotion by all.

However, the differences could not be ignored.  Traditionals tended to be suspicious of anything coming from “outside.”  They were also likely to actualize themselves according to their prescribed roles (mother, father, daughter, son, etc.).  Appearances were important.  Children, even adult children, did not contradict their parents openly or smoke in front of them.

Moderns, on the other hand, often flouted social conventions, wanted to try new products, be in style and were more willing to take risks.  Women were more likely to work (Turkey is, after all, a Muslim country), strived to be in fashion and do things to treat themselves.  Generally speaking, moderns felt more free to pursue their own path.

All of these things, from shopping habits to media consumption to the attitudes themselves, were immensely valuable from a marketing point of view.  Depending on the size of the market and the competitive set, we could advise our clients to target traditionals, moderns or focus on universal attributes.

Re-Thinking Targeting and Segmentation

We’ve long known that demographic targeting has its limits.  Attributes like age and income will only take you so far.  People of moderate means will often buy premium beer and it’s common to see luxury cars parked outside of discount stores like Wal-Mart and Costco.

As media goes digital, our access to data is enabling new types of behavioral and social targeting.  However, the above example should give us some pause.  Things are not always what they seem and we should be suspicious of easy answers.

The idea of two geographical Turkeys was deeply ingrained when we first began our research.  So much so that we often had trouble believing the answers we were finding (for instance, Internet usage was nearly identical between moderns and traditionals).  We had to make sure to keep an open mind, or risked missing something important.

No matter how sophisticated technology gets, human nature will always surprise us.

– Greg

6 Responses leave one →
  1. March 2, 2011

    Last summer while my mother was in Greece to visit me, around that time (as she loves soap operas :-)) began watching a new series that was debuting in Greece that was a hit show in Turkey, I believe it was called Binbir Gece, (1001 nights)

    She kept expressing her surprise of how “things were in Turkey” in other words the shows modern style of scandals, divorce, infidelity, and so forth…

    But at the same time, the show seemed to have traditional elements, but one that I didn’t see was Religion. Anyhow, my point is we assume that we all fall into the traps of confined segments.

    That the assumption is if I see someone in Turkey that there is some kind of pre-determined way of being and living….

  2. March 2, 2011


    There’s plenty of religion there too. Turkey is a strange mix. I think that you see elements of this phenomenon everywhere, but Turkey is the most perplexing country I’ve ever seen.

    – Greg

  3. Jenny permalink
    March 2, 2011

    “We’ve long known that demographic targeting has its limits. ” – agreed!

    This reminds me of when I developed a business plan for a client in a small town.

    Through researching the community, we found that the majority of families had 2-4 children, owned their own homes, and that both parents were working. These facts were good news for my client. Of course, we came to understand that this potential group of customers had limited financial means as, although they were employed, the sectors in which they worked offered lower wages (manufacturing, retail, service).

    The downtown core of this small town had at one time 5 second-hand and/or thrift stores. This seemed to make sense given what we learned from the demographics. Common sense would tell us that at least some of the families described above might have used these stores to purchase clothing and other items they needed. And, in or focus groups and surveys, we found this to be true. However, what we also found is that most of those whose common sense should have taken them to the thrift store actually refused to buy anything that was used or second hand even if it was in superb shape and of much higher quality than what was available in regular retail stores in town. They would rather buy something new from the dollar store that was a cheap imitation or of very low quality than buy a name brand item that was used. They preferred to buy something they could clearly not afford (a $25 pair of new no-name blue jeans, which might be the equivalent of 3 hours of work at their $10-an-hour job) than something they could afford (a $5 pair of used Diesel blue jeans from the Salvation Army Shop). In writing this now, I’m reminded of a sort of “reverse” example: people who wouldn’t consider setting foot inside a thrift store (because it’s beneath them somehow) and who can clearly afford to buy Diesel jeans new in the store but instead buy them used off eBay for $10 +shipping (from entrepreneurial type who frequents thrift stores for items to sell on eBay). As you say, Greg, “No matter how sophisticated technology gets, human nature will always surprise us.”

    So . . .how did I advise my client? I gave them all the information we had gathered and we talked a lot of about pricing strategies. In the end, the client determined that this was not the right community for their business.

    Thanks again for another interesting post (which I have happily shared on my LinkedIn)

  4. March 2, 2011

    Thanks Jenny,

    There is another interesting phenomenon called “trading up.” People tend to trade up in some categories and trade down in some others (like receptionists with Prada handbags but bring their lunch to work). There’s an interesting book of the same name. If you’re interested, you can find it here:—Companies/dp/B002NPCVQQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1299077140&sr=8-1

    – Greg

  5. Jenny permalink
    March 2, 2011

    Thanks for the reading suggestion, Greg.

    The point I take away is that no one form of research can answer all questions for sure.

    Don’t know if you have seen this video but since you were talking about the modern and traditional meeting and specifically mentioned the Amish:

  6. March 4, 2011


Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS