Archive for June, 2009

Home comforts

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Andrew Curry writes:

‘Comfort brands’ seem to be one of the phenomena of the current recession, according to the current issue of Marketing, which talked to  our UK managing director, Will Galgey, as part of its research.

As Will told the magazine,

‘It’s definitely the case that people are retrenching to what they know and trust, and takes them back to times past. We’ve identified 10 key global energies; one of these is embracing the authentic, which means people want brands that feel grounded and real. We feel that is accelerating through the recession.’

And reassurance seems to be important; one of the few categories where trust hasn’t fallen is for independent high street retailers.

But there are some nuances here. Heritage isn’t the same as old-fashioned, suggest other interviewees in the article, and authenticity isn’t the same thing as nostalgia. Nor does ‘Britishness’ seem to be a winning strategy, at least on its own: the article qu0tes research from HPI which found that 24% of consumers agreed that during the recession they were trying to buy British, whereas 31% disagreed and 44% were indifferent.

But some sense of ‘localness’ does seem to have value in consumer’s minds, a point underlined by Nathan King of Dairy Crest, whose Country Life brand has done well from their advertisements showing Johnny Rotten doing irony about Britain. King sees this as a long term trend, not a recession blip:

‘The ’80s were very selfish, the 90s were a bit more holistic, and the noughties and beyond will be more community-based and back-to-basics… there’s still a lot of uncertainty. The economy will start picking up, but the mindset of the people will stay like this for quite a while.’

Our most recent research suggests that even in recession price is still only one part of the value proposition, and not necessarily the most important one. Companies need to draw on other qualities as well. Virgin’s anniversary ‘heritage’ ad was more about service, with a hint of innovation and a sniff of old fashioned glamour (or sexism). Country Life affirms its ‘local’ credentials by rebuking them, then reminds us that it’s a premium product (‘better butter’). You know what you want – and you know how to get it.

The picture, of Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, made famous by Hovis’ advertisements, is from The Latest on Advertising, and used with thanks.

25 June 2009 at 8:08 am 1 comment

Avocados, ethics and supermarket histories

avocado

Alex Steer writes:

The avocado pear’s name is the product of selective memory. Our word for the South American vegetable comes originally from the Nahuatl word ahuacatl, which means ‘testicle’. This unfamiliar word was borrowed into Spanish, but mishearing and confusion with the easier-to-remember word for ‘advocate’ or ‘lawyer’, avocado, led to this being used for the pear. Avocado was borrowed into English in the late 17th century, and has stuck.

The avocado has in recent weeks found itself at the centre of a standoff between two supermarkets. Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer have launched TV adverts – commemorating their 140th and 125th anniversaries respectively – in which they each appear to take the credit for introducing the avocado to Britain. The avocado is now an advocate in supermarkets’ increasingly fierce battle for market share, but it is arguing the case for both sides.

There has been no shortage of ads harking back to the past recently – Sainsbury’s, M&S, Hovis, Persil – and no shortage of commentators noticing this. Most have identified that behind these campaigns lies a perceived yearning by consumers for the securities of nostalgia and tradition. Hovis’s strapline – ‘As good today as it’s always been’ – resonates with wary, recession-weary shoppers who are longing for a little sanity. Nostalgia brands are brands that have stayed the course; brands you can trust.

But Sainsbury’s and M&S are not just saying they are reliable retailers. They are saying they are responsible, ethical ones, and that they always were: employing women, helping the planet, doing their bit for the war effort. These campaigns are histories, written to appeal to the values and good citizenship modern consumers seek from brands.

The demand for corporate social responsibility is relatively new, and it’s hard for older brands not to look like they’re jumping on today’s bandwagon, compared to new brands who have built CSR into their blood and bone. By framing their histories in terms of modern values, retailers are telling consumers that, unlike the avocado, they were always advocates, representing quality and fairness. It remains to be seen if consumers will buy this, or conclude that it’s all a load of ahuacatls.

The picture at the top – a photograph of a painting – is borrowed, with thanks, from Betweenland on flickr.

15 June 2009 at 9:09 am 2 comments

The end of the line?

fish

Camilla Parke writes:

I must admit that I sat a little uncomfortably through the opening minutes of The End of the Line, the documentary screened on World Oceans Day, in which violent shots of blood drenched waters were interplayed with images of bloated Europeans gorging on sushi. My guilt is not misplaced; as an unquestioning consumer I have contributed to the problem journalist Charles Clover uncovers in this film: the little known damage that overfishing is doing to the world’s oceans. Significant improvements in fishing technology, huge increases in consumer demand and poorly enforced, inadequate quotas have decimated our seas. The impact on biodiversity is alarming: if overfishing continues at its current rate, scientists predict we will be out of most fish by 2048.

The plight of one endangered species in particular – Bluefin tuna – was explored in the film, and the press this week have focused on those retailer and restaurateurs that have (and have not) responded to calls to find more sustainable alternatives. A number of places are getting it right, and have been for some time – Feng Sushi in London’s Borough market has been sustainably sourcing its fish for the last 10 years. But for larger companies, the challenges are more significant.

Japanese restaurant Nobu seem unfazed by petitions from its celebrity diners to remove Bluefin from its menus, content to mention its endangered status on the menu and discretely suggests diners choose an alternative. Others are responding more proactively: Marks and Spencer has committed to only using pole and line caught tuna in its entire range of products; Pret a Manger is making a similar commitment.

Alongside the statistics, one of the most powerful learnings from the film is the fact that it is still possible to reverse the fortune of our oceans – as Clover points out, the answer is ‘not rocket science’. Although one hurdle is the inadequacy of current policy, one of the most important things we can do as consumers is to make more noise. Ask shops and restaurants how fish is sourced, and avoid those that are unsustainable. This really means thinking more and consuming less – a challenge given our love affair with eating fish. But if we don’t want to go hungry in the future, do we really have any other choice?

The photo at the top is borrowed, with thanks, from the End Of The Line website.

11 June 2009 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Eight tips about segmentations

Insight Day (c) Jake Goretzki 2009Sarah King writes:

At The Futures Company we do a lot of segmentation work, for organisations trying to get really new insight into their audiences – who they are, how they behave, their attitudes and values. Segmentation helps our clients to drive genuine customer orientation across their businesses, with a shared perception of customers resulting in far more relevant offers. We shared some of our current thinking on how to get the most out of any segmentation project at a breakfast briefing for clients earlier this week.

Here are some tips from the presentation:

  1. Understand what you’ve already got – companies have plenty of data already, and it’s almost always more cost-effective to build on this. Add it to our insight and it can give you a real head start.
  2. Make sure you know what business question you’re trying to answer with the segmentation.
  3. Plan how you’re going to implement the segmentation before you begin – make sure you have a clear view of the end from the starting line and design your segmentation accordingly.
  4. If it’s your first time or there is a lot of change in your category, consider whether you need some exploratory qualitative research to help you understand how people divide and what questions you need to ask in your survey
  5. Remember that the segmentation work sits inside the business, which needs to be engaged in the process – before, during and afterwards. Bear in mind that you will have to resource embedding it in the business – both socially and in your daily business processes. You might need to access budgets other than the Market Research one.
  6. Avoid “the big reveal”. Get senior sponsorship for your project and take people along with you as you go, rather than trying to surprise them with the brilliance of the insight at the end. Less dramatic, more productive!
  7. Keep the segmentation story as simple as you can, without compromising the quality of the insight or the data. It makes a big difference if people in the business can keep the segmentation in their heads.
  8. Choose names for the segments which show respect for your customers and don’t caricature them. As the segmentation gets used by the business, the names will end up framing the way you think about customers.

It’s also worth looking at the post about segmentation in the public sector, based on an IIPS event held in the spring.

The cartoon is by Jake Goretzki.


9 June 2009 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment


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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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