Friday, November 16, 2012


After three years on this blog, something changed. Sadly, it wasn't that crisis and instability went away. I think they're here to stay. Fortunately, it wasn't that marketing stopped being interesting. If anything the opposite. It was just blogging... we'd had our fill of each other. We both needed something new. We drifted apart. Looking back, I'm proud of Plan Phoenix as a time capsule of interesting thoughts, and challenges in a particularly disruptive and difficult period. But for now you'll find me elsewhere - on a project.

Alex Phoenix

If you want to find me -

(And no, I haven't migrated to twitter. I'm more interested in argument than assertion.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A sense of purpose?

BA's new advertising campaign claims that its motto "to fly to serve" "runs through everything we do". After several years of turbulence, it makes a lot of sense for BA to remind customers about the company's history - and the motto has stood the test of time. But is the claim true? BA's industrial relations have suggested a very different internal culture. One can only hope that the ad is some kind of sacrament - an outward sign of an inner grace, and that as much effort has been put in to building a sense of purpose among BA staff as is now being spent telling customers about it.

If so, BA would be a rare company indeed, according to a recent survey in the US. People were asked about the corporate culture of their organisation, classified into one of three basic types:
1. Blind Obedience ... command and control, top-down leadership and coercion
2. Informed Acquiescence ... Employees follow the rules, policies and procedures ... Managers rely on performance-based rewards and punishments to motivate
3. Self-Governance ... primarily values-based ... purpose and values inform decision-making and guide all employee and company behavior
Around a quarter of leaders identified their organisation as fundamentally driven by purpose and values. However, among employees it was less than 5%. Depressing. Evidence not only that a huge number of bosses haven't got a clue about the organisations they run, but also that purpose and values - the stuff of a good brand - are marginal at best, in most businesses. Dov Seidman, who devised this classification of types of corporate culture (and who commissioned the survey), has argued, convincingly and passionately, for many years, about the potential of corporate culture:
"culture as a conscious, deliberate, long-term strategy can be the key to differentiation, success and significance"
I can only concur. If brands are so important when it comes to engaging with customers, why are they neglected when engaging with employees (or shareholders, or regulators, or media, or intermediaries, for that matter)? It must be the biggest blind spot in business - lying somewhere between the briefs of the CEO, the Marketing Director and the People Director. Like Dov, I've argued for ages about the urgency of this issue. What is so frustrating is that it is easily addressed. What seems to be lacking is intent. Maybe this survey will act as a wake up call?

If your company were a stick of seaside rock, what words would be written through it? Would it be flattering? (Or unpleasant and fattening?)

(Of course, I must declare a vested interest here. Evangelism is one of Tomorrow:AM's core beliefs and I'm always looking for an opportunity to discuss solutions - for example by making brands stickier. You know where to find me.)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Flat pop

I've been a Pepsi buyer ever since I was a trainee sales rep for them (many years ago). But it's harder and harder to find Pepsi on the shelf. What happened to the brand that once "won" the cola wars (when the other guy blinked)?

Pepsi has made so many mistakes:

Range mismanagement
Focusing on PepsiMax - and using it, solus, as a reason to justify stocking Pepsi - implied to retailers that there's no need to stock Pepsi or Diet Pepsi at all. Cue yards and yards of eye level Coke products, and a couple of facings of PepsiMax down the bottom, in the speciality section, near the Supermalt. A great product variant has ultimately done terrible damage to its parent brand, due to inept management.

Product failure
Even 20 years ago it was a barely concealed secret that Diet Pepsi was an inferior product. Nothing - least of all perception - has changed. Maybe that's why Diet Pepsi has only 236,362 facebook likes right now, (as a benchmark, Coke has almost 35m). Pepsi has lacked any meaningful brand architecture strategy.

Circular mis-insight (aka staring up your own fundament)
The classic mistake: define the consumer in your own image. This happens all the time - endless brands are mistakenly marketed to funky-20-somethings, by funky-20-somethings, regardless of what their real consumer base looks like (let's face it, more often than not (s)he is really fat and 40 with 3 kids, but who want to write that on the creative brief?). There can be few better examples than this...
the demographic of people who march to the beat of their own drum, who say no even when it's unpopular, who say yes even when it's an uncomfortable change, who change a hundred-year-old brand icon because the new one is simply more beautiful and fitting for our times.
If that's who you think you are trying to engage, you can hardly be surprised when you don't sell much pop.

Presentation pretension
In the now-infamous Arnell brand redesign document (if you've never seen it, but fancy a laugh, click here) Pepsi's logo was compared to the Mona Lisa and to a Nautilus shell. Yet there was not one mention of shelf standout. Pepsi wasn't even trying to win at the point of purchase.

Management panic
So many changes of leadership - a management carousel - culminating in last week's replacement of the US beverages CEO. These may, of course, be as much symptom as cause.

I was in the salesforce that launched Pepsi Blue in 1996. I remember the scepticism then. But that campaign (the blue Concorde, the blue newspaper letterheads, Pepsi in the space station, and so on) had a few of the fundamentals right - it was all about generating mass-market awareness and it was all about product standout. It may have been a bit thin on content, but these are, after all, carbonated soft drinks. Substance they are not. Whatever; compared to what has come since, Pepsi Blue was genius.

What's the secret ingredient of Coke? No secret at all. It has simply remembered who its consumer is, and what market it is in. That's the real thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

When the going gets toxic

According to Marketing Magazine it was
"pressure from advertisers [which] forced the shock closure of the UK's most-read Sunday newspaper, the News of the World"
That's to rather overclaim advertisers' influence. As the ensuing events have demonstrated, there are forces at work even more powerful than where we spend our media budgets. But the story does open up quite thorny questions about where ads are placed. I wonder to what extent marketers feel responsible for the media content they pay for? The printed press, just like its online equivalent, as well as broadcast TV, relies on advertising revenue. Every ad placement is a cash-vote in favour of that channel.

In general brands work hard to build wholesome reputations. Yet the attention to detail doesn't make it onto the media plan. Many media brands are, at best, salacious and scurrilous. The ethical brand manager would struggle to reconcile the two. One might argue that marketing decisions are purely commercial, without an ethical dimension. But even then, it's clearly far from ideal that the major channels to reach great swathes of the audience are so incongruous with the brand's own message. And in a wiki-world, where reputation is everything, such "its only business" arguments are valid only if you believe you could stand on them, even in the heat of an as-yet-unimagined crisis. Could you? I couldn't.

The truth is that, for most of us, media channels are but a means to an end, a necessary evil to be endured (as they have been for politicians). The question, of course, is just how necessary. Renault has said it will not be advertising in any News International titles for the timebeing. Is this as noble as it sounds? Does Renault believe the competition are, ultimately, a better fit for its brand, or is this just a crisis management response? Would your brand choose to be identified with the sentiments expressed on any of these covers:

Of course, the last one is a viral spoof. But what brand would freely choose to be associated with a publication that attracts such parody (even if it were undeserved)? As Marshall McLuhan observed almost 50 years ago, "the media is the message". Too often, I fear, our message is expediency. Not good enough. Unless one of your brand values is "prejudiced", of course. But it probably isn't.

And now for something completely flippant

Enough of the heavyweight issues... let's talk about meerkats. What on earth are comparethemarket doing?

One can be fairly sure that the reason people go to comparison sites is to:
a) save money
b) save time
Just how does a free soft toy fit into that user experience?

Have they not seen "monkey" - effective as an advertising character selling tea, but not as a promotional "benefit" when buying digital TV.

If a free toy is enough to sway people from one comparison site to another (and I'd be surprised) then it can only mean there is no product differentiation, no proposition. Sorting that out would be a much better place to invest time and money.

I thought the initial campaign was very clever - as was the spoof website that went with it - but it needed to move on, long ago.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Accessories in greenwash?

I've argued previously about the increasing importance of transparency in marketing. So what if a whole industry is being less than transparent? The electricity industry is awash with green claims – and the big companies are establishing and reinforcing their links with a range of green brands. Does it matter if there's a gap between claims and reality?

The UK government sets legal targets for renewable energy supply (called ROCs). The required % increases each year. Companies that fail it pay a financial penalty, which is redistributed in proportion to the total renewable energy produced. Poor performance is penalised, and good performance is rewarded, but – crucially – there’s a simple “cost” of missing the targets. Of the big 6, only Scottish&Southern met the ROC target for 2009/10 (which was 9.7%). The others paid penalties. ScottishPower (8.4%) were closest. EDF (7.0%), Centrica (6.8%) and Npower (6.0%) were all substantially below target, with E.on (1.4%) trailing in last (all figures from

As a commercial decision that’s fair enough – E.on simply pays the financial penalty for their fuel mix. But despite having the lowest proportion of renewable in its fuel mix, E.on still manages to offer a “GoGreen” product, promising that: “by signing up to E.ON GoGreen, you can rest assured that the energy you’re taking from us is really making a difference to the environment. We will offset 1.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from your electricity usage". One wonders what GoGreen customers would make of E.on’s actual performance? E.on seems to be relying on the fact that they won’t find out – the company’s website has a nice description of how the ROCs system works, including the target %, but conveniently omits any reference to its own actual performance.

Npower is a bit more gutsy. Its “Juice” tariff promises: "electricity that is 100% matched with renewable sources at no additional cost to you". It also has a product branded “National Trust Green Energy”, making the same claim. Presumably it can make this claim if no more than 6.0% of its total supply is sold via these tariffs. But it doesn’t mean the “green” energy is any greener than the other products. Or that it is a “green” supplier.

EDF (better than average – but still more than a quarter below the ROC target), has run TV ads promoting its association with the Olympics and claiming: "we produce around half of Britain’s low carbon electricity". One imagines the claim is based on EDF’s market share and its significant move from gas-sourced to nuclear-sourced power. EDF also runs “Team Green Britain” activity in conjunction with the Eden Project. As a consequence, its website quotes Eden Project CEO Tim Smit:
The Eden Project shares EDF Energy’s vision... Tackling climate change is about more than individual action; it’s about people working together ... The Eden Project is proud to be a founder member of Team Green Britain and is looking forward to working with EDF Energy...
Similarly, the National Trust Green Energy website claims:
National Trust Green Energy is electricity that is matched from 100% renewable sources and as it costs the same as our standard electricity, there’s no extra cost to you! Join the thousands of National Trust Green Energy customers already choosing to make a difference.
A lot of green talk from companies that miss their legal obligations. And this entails significant risk. These companies’ reputations could unravel very rapidly if the mood changed – which in a socially networked world it can do very fast. Of course the electricity suppliers could withstand some reputation damage – they dominate the market, and we all need electricity. Maybe they figure they have nothing to lose?

The same is clearly not true for their “partners”. The National Trust, the Eden Project and LOCOG have presumably evaluated their reputation risk, and weighed it up against the shorter term financial incentives. But have they got their sums right? They risk being unmasked as the smily green faces fronting some very dirty business.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The wrong cut

So HMV looks increasingly likely to sell Waterstones.

They would be selling the only part of the business with a potential long term future. There may (or may not) be a future in retailing books, but there surely is not one in retailing CDs and DVDs. As planned purchasing migrates online (where its easier, cheaper and there's a bigger range in stock), then the remaining opportunity is for impulse purchases. I still buy books, for example, in railway stations and airports. But books have built-in functionality that HMV's products do not. There's an HMV at the airport, but what is the point of buying a CD when I've no way, while in transit, to get it onto my iPod; or a DVD, when my netbook doesn't have a DVD drive. Far easier to simply download something (and cheaper, too).

We may eventually do most of our reading on Kindles (who knows), but even if we do, we'll still be able to pick up a book out of convenience. No such future awaits the CD. It may make sense, in the short term, to sell Waterstones - given Waterstones poor performance and HMV's losses. But you wouldn't want to be left with a stake in HMV.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Some people can't relate and others have a lot to learn

When I worked for Britvic, the Tango brand director (who I have to thank for hiring me in to my first real job), bought all the tabloid papers each day, in an effort to know what the brand's consumers were seeing, reading and talking about. For a while in the 90s I attempted similar discipline to the internet - visiting the "big" sites that would otherwise be out of my repertoire, as an act of professional diligence. Futile, obviously. (When vinyl records were invented my grandfather decided to amass a complete set of all the 78s published - he had to abandon that plan quite quickly too).

It is no longer possible to attempt to see through others' eyes. The biggest websites each deliver a combination of search and social, so we all see them differently. (The top 10 by hits are Google, Facebook, Youtube, Yahoo, Live, Blogspot, Baidu, Wikipedia, Twitter and QQ. You are forgiven for not knowing Baidu or QQ if you don't speak Chinese). Content led sites don't feature very highly - and I suspect our choices, at that level, are as fragmented as ever (the BBC is #41, livejasmin is #44 - take your pick).

This is part of a general trend of cultural and social fragmentation. I sat today on the tube next to a guy little more than half my age, as we both listened to our mp3s. I take a little pride in my music taste, but I suspect my age is beginning to show. Mine may be the most ear-bleeding trendy guitar based music in town but, as Decca observed with much foresight when they turned down the Beatles in 1962, "guitar groups are on the way out". My neighbour was listening to Tinie Tempah, for all I know.

Aside from being an obvious problem for media planning, this is a seismic issue for brands that have made themselves "relevant" to consumers by simply mimicking the consumer's perceived interests: "You like XXXXX, so do we!" If consumers aren't into the same things, just what should a mass market brand align to? The few big unifying consumer interests (such as major sports) are not very differentiating. And in many spheres there's little to unify consumers at all. (As far as I understand, the unifying theme of fashion these last few months has been nothing more complex than "socks".)

Affinity marketing was always lazy - the "in thing" is surely an overpriced way to reach the audience. Winning brands have the confidence to carve their own groove. The trick is doing so in ways that consumers are drawn towards.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Going everywhere or nowhere?

Announcement today of the launch of "Everything Everywhere" branded stores - the joint name of the company which owns Orange and T-mobile. Isn't brand architecture a nightmare?

The rationale behind the new brand (until now it has existed as company name, more than as consumer offer) - rather than either maintaining two completely "separate" consumer brands or consolidating into just one is, presumably, that the company is trying to have its cake and eat it. By aligning the brands they hope to, over time, streamline the marketing spend, but by keeping both product brands alive they hope to continue to occupy two places in the consumer's consideration, not just one. There's a real risk that, under one brand, their market share simply couldn't be sustained. We can dismiss the company's claimed rationale, as explained by CEO Tom Alexander last year:
"What I wanted was a company name that did not distract or confuse from two very strong brands"
This doesn't ring true. T-mobile has nowhere near as much real equity as Orange, and anyway, now they'll have to invest in, build and sustain three brands. But who's to say, this strategy might work: there are certainly no hard and fast rules in brand architecture. Still, it remains to be seen how easily the "Everything Everywhere" brand can establish a distinct meaning. As Alexander himself has observed:
"We are going through this revolutionary step in the marketplace where people are getting iPhones, getting Google devices and we have Microsoft's Phone 7 coming into the market soon. It's not just about voice and text. It's about everything else you can do on a mobile phone. People are even talking about apps down the pub"
Quite. I find restaurants using an Urbanspoon app, with Google maps, on an Apple phone, via O2 networks. Do I really have the mental bandwidth for another brand in the mix? It will be interesting to see what they do after the 6 month trial...

Update 09:31 February 15

On Friday Nokia and Microsoft finally announced their anticipated collaboration. Makes a lot of sense. As the key competency set for mobile moves decisively from hardware to software, European manufacturers look suddenly exposed. Nokia's handset market share remains at 30%+, but Apple, with just 4% of the market is making 50% of the profit. Nokia is working hard for little return. It's a good fit: Microsoft is hardly the cutting edge of Silicon Valley, but Windows 7 is their best received platform for many years and anyway, both Apple and Google have begun to take on some of the same negative perceptions of corporate monoliths. So it adds real strength to Nokia's offer. And for Microsoft it pretty much guarantees them some market share which, until now, they've been unable to capture. Crucially, there wasn't an alternative solution for Nokia that made this much sense. The smartphone war is about to get exciting: Apple-iPhone vs RIM-Blackberry vs Samsung/Google-Android vs Nokia/Microsoft-Windows. Place your bets!

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Enough about you... let's talk about me

Rowse Honey's newly launched marketing activity has a lot going for it. They asked their own staff to write and film potential TV ads which are now online (, and they're asking people to vote on their favourite. It's a really nice demonstration of employee engagement - they've clearly managed to infuse their whole workforce with the joy of marketing. And what comes across is that they are a small, family centred company - quite an attractive, yet subtle, positioning for honey. Not bad, for their first ever piece of TV advertising.

There are at least three respects, though, in which it could go much further:

1) The awareness driving kicked off with a TVC about the potential TVCs - that's quite an investment in airtime when the whole thing could instead be given a chance to bubble up through social media. And in some ways a glossy launch TVC slightly undermines the "hand-made" credentials. If this is representative of the media plan as a whole (we'll soon see) then it's probably still too "conventional".

2) If only consumers could be engaged as deeply as employees. Clicking "Like" in Facebook is at least not as passive as simply watching an ad, but there could be a lot more scope. When can we submit our own ads? Is there a Sandbox on YouTube so we can share "unauthorised" (risqué) ads? "The birds and the bees,Take 1!" Can we write Rowse slogans? (One of the employees' ads concludes "We're Rowse Honey. We're not jacks of all trades, we're masters of one", which is not bad.) And so on. Involve us, interact with us, incorporate us!

3) It takes time and effort to engage consumers in dialogue. By and large, we want that dialogue to be about our product/ service. By and large consumers want to talk about their own lives and interests. So alarm bells should ring when we come up with ideas to talk to consumers about advertising. How much better would this campaign be if these were employees' films about bees, or about flowers? Then people could talk about their own gardens, or photos from their holidays. "Happy bees make the best honey. Send us a photo of your favourite flowers and we'll make posters for our bees to enjoy"...