The RAC and its car-crash attitude to customer loyalty reflects marketing’s wider problem

Marketoonist - Customer loyalty cartoonI’ve had RAC breakdown cover since 2012. Their basic Roadside Assistance service means that if you break down, a patrolman will come out and try and fix your car, and if he (or she) cannot then you will be towed back to your home or your nearest garage to a maximum distance of 10 miles. This basic service is fairly standard now in the market.

So when I got my renewal letter recently which asked me for £50.98 (notice the price point there – why not £51?) for another year of cover I blanched, recalling how my premium has increased way above inflation over the years. When I first signed up in 2012, the price was £29. By 2015, it had risen to £40.82 for another year. In 2016 it rose to £46.40. Last year it went down to £45.79. But my latest bill represents an 11% increase in price. Last time I checked, inflation over the past year was 2.3%. Continue reading

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Direct Response Press, Attribution, and the Rise of Local Media

Picture of a Hillarys Blinds press ad

Hillarys Blinds – a good example of direct response press advertising

I had cause recently to undertake some research into the state of direct response press. Because of the ‘dash for digital’, it had been some time since we (at MCS) had looked at this medium and when we did, we were surprised that there was so little data ‘out there’ about it. We talked to media agencies, publishers, marketing bodies, local media organisations, and past exponents of direct marketing who led the boom of the 1990s. And yet very little data emerged.

Although we know how to create effective direct response press ads, we wanted to know answers to key questions, such as does Direct Response press advertising still work? What response rates should brands expect? Or is most of the audience online, and should brands put all their ad spend into digital? And has direct response been made redundant by the infinitely more measurable pay-per-click, online display and affiliate advertising? Continue reading

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The Conundrum of Brand Slogans

Unilever logo

Unilever – Bringing vitality to life.

The agency I work for, MCS, recently exhibited at the Suffolk Business Exhibition in Ipswich and we held a competition for visitors to our stand whereby they had to recall the slogans of 17 top brands. Most were flummoxed and the eventual winner ‘only’ got 11 correct (probably with a little help from the internet). Try these three (I’ve reversed them so you have to guess the brand from the slogan): 1) Trusted everywhere, 2) Looking after your world, 3) Bringing it all together.

Unless you work in strapline development, I’d be very surprised if you got all three correct. (The answers are Duracell, British Gas and BT). And this is why I suggest that brand slogans present a conundrum for organisations – how to get it right. Continue reading

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The Decline of the Agency and Rise of the Client: Part 2

In Part 1 yesterday, I explored how the empowerment of the client, the negative impact of overheads on agency fees, and the forced distintermediation of agencies from their clients, have contributed to a seismic shift in fortunes and status. In this second of a two-part blog on the decline of the agency and the rise of the client, I examine the evolution of the agency-client relationship, the impact of media fragmentation, and the paucity of creativity. Continue reading

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The Decline of the Agency and Rise of the Client: Part 1

Last week an MCS colleague emailed me a link to an recent article called How clients are de-skilling the UK advertising industry which mourns how marketers (the clients) have forced agencies to cut their fees so much in the past decade that it has affected the quality of the work. But the author doesn’t just blame the clients, he blames agencies as well because they have failed to demonstrate to brands where their value really lies – in their ideas and creativity.

Because MCS operates via a different agency model that mitigates the problems outlined above, it gives us an authority to contribute to this topic and examine further how and why agency primacy has been eroded over the years. In this first of a two-part blog on the topic, I explore the empowerment of the client, how many agency fees are inflated by the need to recover overheads, and how agencies are being distintermediated from their clients in three ways. Continue reading

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Why so many American TV ads are crap

Grab of US TV ad for Androgel showing a man

Androgel: Stop using it if your wife starts growing body hair and develops acne!

I have just returned from a holiday in Cuba where we were able to get some American TV channels in our hotel room. We loved watching the US channel TBS, which seems to show never-ending comedy, (its strapline is ‘Very funny’). But I couldn’t help but notice the nature and quality of the TV ads (which were also never-ending). Apart from the fact that every other ad was for pizzas, all-you-can-eat pancakes with maple syrup, or burgers – everything you need to pile on the pounds if you’re a couch potato whose idea of exercise is watching comedy all day – I didn’t really think much of the creativity of the ads.

Now I’m a great admirer of American comedy, indeed TV, and I think that in general it is far superior to ours. They are an extremely creative nation but this creativity doesn’t seem to extend to their TV ads which generally avoid the sophistication – and humour – of ads for UK audiences. The ads seem to patronise their audience or treat them as dumb, whereas I’d say the opposite is true here in the UK. Of course there are some great exceptions (watch out for the imminent Superbowl ads) but generally this was my impression. Continue reading

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The Battle of the Christmas 2012 ads

Screengrab of Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal in Waitrose's Xmas 2012 ad

Waitrose Christmas 2012 TV ad –
cheap and cheerful.

The battle of the Christmas 2012 ads has reached a crescendo. Not only is the advertising industry buzzing about it, even consumers are, with Netmums publishing research into families’ reactions to the superstore ads. According to the Yummy Mummies who were interviewed, 83% say their families look forward the seasonal ads of the big brands, and 55% claim they help foster the Christmas spirit in the family. Also, 23% get gift ideas from the ads while 20% admitted that their favourite ad influenced where they buy their presents. And when it comes to festive food, almost 30% of mums claim the ads influence where they shop. If all this is true then it is no wonder that the big brands spend so much effort on their Xmas TV advertising. Continue reading

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Customer promise and innovation are key to the fortunes of Monarch

I have recently returned from an excellent short break to Gibraltar, marred only by a return flight delayed by 6 hours. On return home, and that same morning, I was surprised to receive an email from Monarch Airlines apologising for the delay. Airlines don’t do that, do they? I contrasted this with the experience at Gibraltar airport and Malaga airport (where we had to be driven to catch our plane home), where the lack of information and total absence of Monarch staff whilst we waited was damning.

So is this discrepancy in customer service evidence of a disconnect between the brand promise and its delivery? I thought an investigation into Brand Monarch would be an interesting exercise, a kind of marketing scrutiny of Monarch Airlines. Continue reading

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Social Media is a game of chess

This article has also been published at Marketing:Blogged

Picture of a chess board with pieces and social media icons in spaces

The recent news that McDonald’s is recruiting an army of friendly bloggers in the US to write positive stories about it should come as no surprise. Indeed it tested the water in 2010 when it invited 15 bloggers to its HQ in Chicago. This latest effort appears to have two drivers: firstly, a desire to counter activity in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which it cannot control, where negative stories about it such as its ‘pink slime’ food additive were being circulated. The second driver seems to have come out of a failed attempt to successfully harness Twitter by paying to appear at the top of the trends list on Twitter’s home page to drive people to watch its new commercials online. Unsurprisingly, this backfired once McDonald’s antagonists found out about it. Continue reading

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What’s going on at WH Smith?

This article has also been published at Marketing:Blogged 

I had cause to visit my local WH Smith in Wood Green, North London, on Saturday. Disappointed at not finding some quality paper DL envelopes (very strange for a supposed top stationer) I trudged to the checkout with an inferior pack. I counted only three members of staff including the manager on the shop floor, and whilst the store was almost empty (it was near closing time) it occurred to me whilst waiting in the queue how easy shoplifters must find it, as the usual security guard wasn’t in evidence. I negotiated the convoluted path up to the tills – a ‘gauntlet of confectionary’ – to be served by the over-stressed, but very pleasant, young, female manager.

From this and previous visits, everything seems to be wrong with WH Smith for me. Gaps in their product range, demoralised and overworked staff, unacceptable queues at the tills, tired store layouts, and desperate marketing ploys like the confectionary gauntlet to squeeze out extra sales. I’ve even been propositioned before by a couple of salesmen for nPower, the energy supplier, who were allowed to ply their trade in the store! How much damage to the brand does that do? Go to Smiths for a birthday card and come out with an energy plan you don’t want! Somehow, Smiths seems to have lost its way. And I’m not the only person to thinks so… last year, Mary Portas branded WH Smith “a dump”. So in an effort to find out what’s going on at WH Smith, I’ve done a little research… Continue reading

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