Thursday, January 27, 2011

Only as good as the proposition

How often do communication campaigns really deliver ROI? I'd wager it's less often than most of us like to admit. A big splash of media will certainly drive brand awareness, but that's rarely the objective.

The new Co-operative Food ad is beautifully constructed, well executed and quite witty - with a refreshing, respectful tone of voice. But does the proposition stack up? Any parent will recognise the horror of the "weekly shop" - so it clearly addresses a need, but is the Co-op really a credible solution? The proposition is: "Only buy what you want, when you want it. Great food within easy reach". But to me the ad simply cries out "online shopping!", one thing the Co-op doesn't offer. Do busy families really have the time to "save time" by shopping more often? I can't see whose behaviour would actually change as a result of seeing this campaign.

There are some technical problems too. By tapping in to a real issue the campaign has the potential to generate dialogue. What would you do with the time you could save? (Remember Pantene's Swish mistake.) It should be well set up for social media... but there doesn't appear to be any - I couldn't even find a Facebook page. One problem is the ad lacks any signposting. There's an on screen url (rather faint and only visible for 4 seconds), but it redirects to the homepage not even a campaign landing page. And the proposition doesn't provide any good keywords (sadly, the brand name itself is not much good as a keyword either) from which to search likely social content. Sure enough, embedded in the website is the option to "tell us what you'd do if you could save time". But I wonder how many people will visit. A Facebook App could have gone a long way... Top 10 ways to spend Saturday morning... Vote on how your friends should spend more free time...

I'm a fan of what Co-op offers, and of it's recent marketing: it's done a fantastic job of revitalising it's image (from Londis to M&S). It's absolutely right to set the sights, next, on taking share off Tesco et al. But the brief for this campaign was probably flawed from the start.

What about Holland and Barrett's "Buy one get one half price" campaign? The problem for H&B is almost certainly footfall/consideration. The vast majority of us simply walk past the door. An ad offering a discount on "anything" and "everything" is little incentive unless you know a bit about the product range.

This kind of promotion is pretty expensive to run, so it simply has to deliver. The money "saved" by recycling last year's creative (and indeed the effort "saved" by recycling last year's mechanic), must be justified against that. I'm very unconvinced. A few years ago H&B was telling consumers to "come in for the price, stay for the advice". That may not have been effective ("advice" may not be their USP), but at least it laddered a benefit.

H&B reported a strong December (like for like sales +2.3% when, as we know, the economy in general was going backwards). Why have they had to revert, so soon to this campaign (which has already been extended into February)? Holland and Barrett has a long, rich history but with ownership having passed from a cash and carry to a pharmacist to a supplement manufacturer to a private equity group over the last 20 years, it is hardly surprising they appear to have forgotten what their proposition is.

And without a good proposition, no campaign will succeed in doing much more than (temporarily) increasing awareness levels.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Brave New Year

Two instant lessons from Christmas retail:
1) The move to online is accelerating.
2) Consumers are squeezing brands and retailers viciously by demanding deals and discounts.

Next's figures (a reasonable barometer of the High St) are down, blaming both "extreme weather conditions and increased competitor discounting". But its the discounting - not the snow - we have to worry about, for that's where the pressure on margins lies. The snow may come and go, but in a cut throat retail environment, with so many companies in weak positions, the discounting is sure to go on.

The move to online is the obvious root cause of HMV's woes. This is the sharp end - how much future is there, really, in high street music and video selling? Will shutting 60 stores really save their business? Does a 20% drop in share price adequately reflect the possibility of the company collapsing?

Online shopping on Christmas day itself is predicted to have reached £153m in the UK - and been a more popular pastime than attending a Christmas church service. That's where we're at, people. (A very effective piece of PR for IMRG).

So first priorities for 2011:
1) Make sure your brands' online presence is right. Invest some time reviewing Search Engine performance - and doing something to improve it. And ensure your online retail distribution is sufficiently broad.
2) Think - hard - about how to compete in a perpetually discounted world. How can you offer discounts without undermining your brand? (because simply refusing to discount is probably suicidal). And how do you demonstrate and justify the added value that will make consumers buy the premium variant when low cost alternatives exist? Time to shine a bright light on brand architecture - so often the darkest recess of marketing strategy.