January 12th, 2008


Kartoffelgrafiken: market segmentation potato graphics

I'm writing this with Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective playing softly in the background (it's 3.30am). Now, why am I not writing it with, say, Neon Bible by Arcade Fire playing? Why did I make that choice of jam over bible? According to German consumer research firm Sinus Sociovision, the answer has something to do with potatoes. They've plotted attitudes, tastes and worldviews on a series of national diagrams (they call them Kartoffelgrafiken -- potato graphics) depicting "milieus". This first one is the sort of master diagram, a meta-milieu of meta-potatoes which basically shows how the others are laid out:

My friend Jan Lindenberg, knowing how much I like pretentious, precise, picturesque market segmentation tools from Mosaic to the Inglehart Values Map, sent me a link to these Sinus potatoes, telling me that I might be able to relate them to my entry about the Berlin Japanese in their bubble.

So I read a machine-translated blurb from the German marketers which told me that Mr Ortmann and Mr Urban, both in their mid-40s, both married with children, earning the same and living in the same kind of upscale house, might still be in totally different sacks of potatoes in terms of their consumption, their tastes; Mr Ortmann takes Ortmann Junior into the woods behind the stadium then to McDonalds, whereas Mr Urban leaves his son alone, preferring to spend his leisure time reading fiction, listening to jazz and sipping espresso. And if men can be so different, countries can too. Enter the international potato maps.

I began to click through the various countries Sinus has covered. The maps are based on the attitudes that emerged during thousands of phone interviews with people in the various countries. They haven't done Sweden or Japan yet (so Sweden can't "win" this one), but above you see how Sinus thinks the potatoes -- sorry, the attitude clusters -- shake down in Britain. The y-axis plots social status, the x-axis is an Inglehart-like continuum from traditional / conservative values (sense of duty and order), through modern consumer hedonism to something rather mysteriously called "patchwork / virtual society" at the end. (More information on the categories is here.)

On the British map, I feel like I'd be happy amongst the Ground-breakers, the Pleasure-seekers, the Modern Performers or the Post-Materialists, though probably not in "quiet, peaceful Britain" nor amongst the Traditionalists or Establisheds. Britain looks pretty progressive on this map, though; put all the percentage figures together and the people I could make common cause with represent 40% of the entire society. The others -- the Tories -- make up 60%, which is more, but not that much more. A rush and a push...

The American map adds an extra category on the status scale, "marginal". The USA seems to have a more extreme span from winners (called "Sovereigns" here, but presumably super-capitalist captains of industry) to losers (an 11%-sized potato marked "Disenfranchised", though they could as well have titled it "Sub-Prime"). Here the general area I felt comfortable with in the British map is occupied by a big potato marked "Mavericks" -- a word I have problems with, since the libertarianism it represents can be an anarchy of the right as well as of the left; nutty survivalists, vigilantes and religious cranks might well be blighting this potato like so many Colorado beetles.

The scary thing about the US map is that only 10% of the population seem to be "my kind of person" (Liberal Progressives; and they probably all live in New York). The rest are stuff like Old Guard, Materialists, Middle America, and "Adaptive Achievers". Okay, let's see what Sinus make of Germany, my adopted homeland.

The German map looks pretty much like the British one; there's a goodly clump of experimentalists, postmaterialists, modern performers, hedonists, any of whom I could share a cup of hot spiced gluhwein with. Here, though, there's one peculiarity -- the right wing types are joined by a group called DDR Nostalgists, left wing conservatives who want communism back. They'd probably approve of the Marx and Engels posters on my kitchen wall, anyway. Nice to know I have friends even on the trad side here. If I add their 5% to the friendly potatoes I get a total of 44% of the German population whose values I might vaguely share, which might explain why I'm here rather than in Britain (though it's not a huge difference). Sorry this is all about me, by the way, but you can have fun finding your own tasty potatoes.

Everything sounds cooler in Spanish -- Spain has a potato for Postmodernists, for heaven's sake, and for Vanguardistas! Then there are the Che Guevara-sounding Rebeldes Reactivos and the Progresistas Acomodados. When I add up all the Spanish progressives, though, I get only 39%. There are a lot of Tradicionales and Burguesia out there. Italy looks even more conservative; there's a bit of a gap where the experimental and postmaterialist types should be, and, outside of 17% Progressisti Tolleranti and Edonisti Ribelli, just a lot of Consumisti, Borghesia, Ambitiosi social climber types, and a huge clump of Tradizionali Conservatori. That potato alone is bigger than the Progressives and Hedonists put together. I'd probably be happier in Italy than Poland, though; according to Sinus it lacks any sort of postmaterial or postmodern class. The areas usually occupied by experimental types are, in Poland, taken up with "Popular Fun and Money Driven" (a big 18% potato), High Living Players and Status-and-Career-Oriented types.

China also doesn't offer much to experimentalists -- here groups of Affluent Contendeds, Golden Hedonists and Hedo-Materialists occupy the area where, in post-industrial countries, you'd find the windmill, art lab and solar panel fans. What's more, the Educated Specialists (the Intelligentsia and Civil Service, presumably) are way over to the Slow, Trad side of the diagram. Everyone else in China just seems to be mintin' it and lovin' the bling.