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Jun 25

Not sure if it’s an age thing, or if it’s down to the fact I’ve spent more time recently working for not for profit clients, whose businesses genuinely do something positive for society, yet they have modest marketing budgets and therefore need to make every penny spend count, that I find myself getting really annoyed at big brands who from what I can see have more marketing budget than sense and are not using it to good effect.  Even worse, in my humble opinion some brands are actually switching consumers off rather than turning them on as the result of questionable marketing campaigns.

My case in point is the recent Warburtons campaign, the one featuring Sylvester Stallone. This annoys me for so many reasons: not only is it that I know the ad would have cost hundreds of thousands to make; the fees paid to Sly are likely to make our eyes water; yes I know he is an ex Hollywood A-lister, but really how relevant is he these days? What I genuinely question is what this campaign has done for the brand. Because as a straw poll of one, I myself am now utterly switched off to the brand, it was only when I found myself at the bread fixture making the split second decision Warburtons or Hovis, did I realise how much annoyance this campaign had caused me (yes I know some will find this sad that I am even bothered to get annoyed!) But I purposely chose Hovis because I did not feel connected to the Warburtons brand anymore. Had they chosen rather than to spend hundreds of thousands on a frivolous TV ad creative, but had run a sales promotion campaign that allowed you to collect tokens for a good cause, not only would I feel more empathetic to the brand, there’s also a higher chance I’d repeat purchase. That’s not novel thinking, when you’re working with a commodity with little product differentiation, a brand that shows its philanthropic side is surely more likely to engage consumers, particularly in an age when consumers are increasingly aware of the world around them.

At this point it would also be worth briefly mentioning Compare the Market, who I have admired for years, their genius meerkat marketing campaign revolutionised the market they operate in. I myself am the proud owner of five cuddly meerkats. But, really the latest ad with Arnie, felt too like Warburton’s in that the marketing team has too much money to burn! Ok, whist I totally get the connection in using Arnie to promote their free movie ticket promotion (which is more than Warburtons can say, what’s Sly got to do with bread?!?) I’m still not convinced, seems a little too predictable for a brand that is normally leading the way in being more creative in it’s marketing.

The next brand blunder comes from Southern Railways, who I think we can safely say have hit an all time low with regard to customer satisfaction, when it’s reported that less than 50% of their trains ran on time. Their latest “disabled-friendly” campaign, which don’t get me wrong is highly commendable, is obviously aimed at showing them in a good light in times of trouble. But the campaign actually acted to be opened to ridicule, I overheard a number of dissatisfied passengers sharing their thoughts on the “this is me” when I was stood up on a late and congested journey to London. I particularly liked the comment from a guy I who said – “yes Southern – this is me, the Dad who gets to spend very little time with his daughter most evenings, because my train is late, cancelled or both all to often…” You only have to go onto Twitter to see how hacked off these commuter customers are with the service and bearing in mind they are likely to make up the lions share of Southerns revenue, shouldn’t their latest campaign be aimed at trying to sort that out? Even a gesture of a free beer for commuters when they face lengthy delays to get home on a Friday night would go some way in changing customers negative perceptions of the brand & company. I’d suggest they needed to do something like this first and foremost or in addition to their current campaign.

I’d love to hear your stories of big brands getting it wrong big time! But equally interested in good examples of those getting it right, so please send to joanne@theprogresslab and I’ll post them in a future blog.