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.