UK Social Class System and Acorn Demographics

A visual study in to the relationship of ACORN Consumer Demographics and the UK Class System

This essay looks at two sets of published information of the UK Social Class Structure, the Published and widely used classification from the Office for National Statistics and the openly public ACORN Consumer Demographics published by CACI.

Authors Note: this article like the others in this category are part of my Masters Degree in Art and Design and are works in progress, so you’ll have to forgive the bad grammar and spelling in places.

The sourced information is intended to be used as an aid to visualizing the UK social class structure and show the relationship in education, wealth, health and location to consumer classifications.

If you are unaware of the CACI and the ACORN Consumer Classification, read on otherwise skip to the next paragraph: CACI collect and aynalise consumer data and preset their findings as formative insights in to understanding a UK consumer, in the areas of Living, how much they earn, where they live, how they socialize and so on, to build a holistic and accurate category of that one body of consumer “types”. This information is then sold to retailers and corporations looking to improve their profitable relationships with their customers.

‘ACORN is a geodemographic segmentation of the UK’s population which segments small neighbourhoods, postcodes, or consumer households into 5 categories, 17 groups and 56 types. ACORN provides understanding of the people who interact with your organisation. It helps you learn the who, what, where, when, how, and why of their relationship with you’.

Direct Quote from –

First of all we need to clarify what the current definition of the UK Social Classification is. In 1707 during the formation of the United Kingdom, England and Scotland used basic categories to categorise the majority of the UK population, this Archaric classification was divided in to Cottagers & labourers, Husbandman (or other tradesmen), Yeoman, Gentry/Gentleman, Knight, Baronet (hereditary, non peer), Peer (Noble/Archbishop) and the Royal.

The 20th Century has widely used a classification that although superseded, is still used today by older generations of consumer classifications. With the definitions being more than 50 years old its unlikely that modern generations fit the class criteria, however, hangovers of archaic social bigotry are still embedded within both higher and lower classes, preventing the current class system to be primary.

The National Readership Survey social grade classification achieved widespread usage in the 20th century for government reports, statistics and marketing.

The UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) Socio-Economic Classification made in 2001. The reasons for publishing a new classification were to cater for the dynamic restructuring of the modern social classes, its apparent the upper classes are becoming less dominant, and middle and lower are broader in their classification, this is likely to be due to freely available credit (during mid to late 90’s) and successful start-up business.

To gain an accurate insight in to sociological structure of the UK from a marketing perspective its far more realistic to realise a differentiation between both 20th and 21st century class structures. These factors and classifications benefit marketing campaigns to profitable levels, whilst under the guise of customer support, layman consumers are unaware of their own classification, the 21st class taxonomy identifies individuals as a number, reflection the cult 1960’s television program The Prisoner .

Visualising the Class System

Aesthetically the Class system is ineffective, offering little design structure by pigeonholing.

It also doesn’t allow for changes in stereotypes affected by geographic issues. So a holistic visual stereotype needs to be assigned in order to clarify its. Looking at the current social stereo types its easy to point the finger at certain members of society and speculate their position in either of the modern social taxonomies. However its harder to realise we’re all influenced by those agendas to pigeonhole by informed corporations to profit from consumerism, our very perception of one-another is often misled by materialism and our association (often obsession) with its cultural values.


To visualise the perceived social stereotypes a poster was developed (National Readership Survey Class Structure Poster), taking influence the 2oth century social classification, the other poster loosely looked at Guerrilla Semiotics of social stereotypes in the areas of “driving” (A Semiotic Analysis of Stereotypes). These posters although simply practice pieces used to illustrate a direction, are also examples of Culture Jamming which is further practiced in the flowing examples. To reasons for developing a Cultural Jamming experiment, is to simply explore the potential of this subject, taking influence from number 5 of Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

Written by Bruce Mau in 1998 –

With this firmly in mind, Cultural Jamming experimentations were started, closely looking at the UK’s cultural need desire (?) for materialism and corporations capitalising on this notion with affordable products. Interestingly this need or want to be “somebody” via the projection of materialism is not a new concept to socialism. Post WW2 saw the rise of commercialism and the desire for all things new, promoted by icons of the time, which in turn over-accentuated the importance for unnecessary goods. Painter, filmmaker and major figure in the American Pop Art movement Andy Warhol identified commercialism as desirable and obtainable in 1975.

You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.

Chapter 6 – Work, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again) (1975).

Using the idea of obtaining and possessing products promoted by our cultural icons, warning signs were developed to illustrate the acceptable ignorance we as a sociality so often embrace. These warning signs identify the corporation (using their logo, colour brand and slogan) and present a fact, rumor or hearsay which intended to deter the consumer away from the product.

corporate-warning-signs-1 corporate-warning-signs-2 corporate-warning-signs-3

This method to revealing the hidden undesirable nature of popular corporations, had to be taken further if just to see the warning signs in situ as a pleasing experiment. Faked or Photoshopped examples of the McDonnell’s Warning sign were created to visualise the impact it they might have been used as intended. these images are for experimental preposes only and not used as promotion, profit or resale means.

!!!! Images not available from this blog !!!!

Structuring The ACORN demographics with Social Classifications

With three important pieces of information, these being the social classification of the 20th and 21st century and the available ACORN demographics, a system of tracking or tracing lines through the ACORN social demographic was attempted. The tracing lines follow a perceived rout through ACORN Education, ACORN eUsers, ACORN Education and ACORN Social Scene for the 6 20th century social classifications. This experiment aims to discover a rout thorough the demographics which follows the life-line of those Social Types and ultimately highlights the marketing strategies used by corporations to sell to those Social Types more effectively.

Making sense of the wealth of information made freely available by ACORN was a challenge in itself, 52, 000 words were collected from public PDF Files and ordered in to their own specified devisions, each division and sub-devision were colour coded and printed as small tickets, indicating their Social Demographic and description of the devision within it. Those tickets were then tacked to a wall and string traced through them to find a typical rout of a Social Type.

Although, messy and somewhat confusing, visually the routs offer a unique insight in to the journey of a particular social type.

The Social (Commercial) Tree

Building The Social (Commercial) Tree

In conclusion the Social Tree concept needs refining and focus has to be made in the definition of social groupings, also a clear start/ finish needs to be added in order for the routs have substance. What has been beneficial and surprisingly informative are the demographics which has been encompassed by the Social Type rout, its clear that following a particular (perceived) rout for that Social Type predicts eventualities for monies, social networking, geographic issues and health. For example the 20th century classification for Social Type A, is likely to live within a large family home which is established, dine out frequently to socialise, have a moderate to high level of health, be highly educated, and frequently shop on-line. Although this may seam obvious when considering the common stereotype, its apparent that advertisements can use this information to accurately taylor the product from price to availability for its consumer audience. For example, a potential urbanite client with a high level of health, is far more likely to be affluent and well educated, which in turn determines shopping habits, this type is likely to pay more for products because of location and frequently perchance items online. Where as a Social Type C2, is likely to live in low income rural and urban households, be self employed and be of moderate to low level of health (due to smoking) and shop frequently in low priced bargain stores and are reluctant to perchance items on-line. This information is highly valuable to any marketing team or corporation looking to target their audience. Its unsettling to think that society can be so accurately categorised as a number or Social Type, perceiving folk in this way strips that individual of the qualities that distinguishes him or her within society and places them in a pen for “farming” profit. This anti-social categorisation of people is and has been the backbone of successful marketing for decades. This information is esoteric enough to go unchallenged and arguably important enough as a social document, however the challenge still remains to present this information in a visually coherent and engaging way.

To see the next part of this article, take a look at The Social Tree 2.