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Campaign of the year – Yes or No?

I watched the Scottish Referendum campaign at close quarters and with great interest. I even correctly forecast the result to within 3 decimal points. (Sadly, my confidence didn’t extend to a quick visit to Mr Hill’s website.)

From a purely marketing perspective, in my opinion ‘Yes’ wins Best Campaign of 2014. It engaged and galvanised a great swathe of the population, and achieved a shift in preference that any leading brand would be proud of. And with a conservative budget, to boot.

But ‘Yes’ would also be my winner of Worst Campaign of 2014. Why? Because, at the eleventh hour, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory.

And this was despite all the help the ‘No’ Campaign offered – from appointing a (plucky) square peg in a round hole as figurehead, to accepting from the outset the opposition’s premise that ‘No’ equals ‘Negative’. (Not to mention the effing desperate last-minute special offers.) Oh, where were the marketers?

But where I saw ‘Yes’ falter – returning to the brand analogy – is that they lost control of their salesforce. As polling day approached, Scotland became swamped by a tide of fervour. Only one opinion was allowed – and, opinion aside, that principle was not to everyone’s taste.

I’m surprised this escaped the antennae of ‘Yes’ HQ. Up till then they had barely put a foot wrong. But from where I sat there were alarm bells ringing all around.

Certain marketing tactics are prone to backfire. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 35 years north of the border, it’s that you can’t bully the Scots. And therein lies the mistake.

TT not PC

I was amused by a radio ad I heard last week, which I think may since have been pulled. It was for the Audi TT and seemed to have a dual audience in mind.

The script, in a nutshell, claimed to be the unadulterated first draft, and thus – like the car – a pure and powerful idea, unsullied by meddling incompetence.

I couldn’t help smiling. As, literally (that’s the real literally), a paid-up member of the copywriters’ union I can empathise with the frustrated scribbler. Clients don’t pretend they can draw… so why do they imagine they can write?!

However, a word of warning from one long in the tooth. Not all clients can’t write. I know of at least one who went on to win a Gold Award for Copywriting in a second incarnation!

You’re hot then you’re cold

Lately I’ve been hearing this Halfords ad about headlamp bulbs. The main thrust seems to be that you can’t change a hot bulb, so why not let the ‘specialists’ do it?  (For a small fee.)

Hailing, sadly, from the generation than can change a headlamp bulb – I can’t ever recall being prevented from doing so because it was too hot. In fact, I can’t imagine how quickly you’d have to leap out of your car and grab your screwdriver to discover such a state of affairs. Most people don’t notice until about 3 weeks later, when they’ve been flashed so many times the penny eventually drops. (‘Duh – maybe they mean me?’) Now, that’s ample cooling off time.

So this seems to me a curious proposition. I think there’s more of a market in finding blown Christmas tree light bulbs.

Nosing ahead?

I noticed on the radio that there’s a new Kleenex ‘Sensitive’ tissue available. For a moment I wondered if were for especially sad occasions – until I read the blurb and discovered it’s for those with… yes… sensitive skin.  (I thought that was what the balmy ones were all about?)

Having had a couple of decades in the wadding products business myself, one thing that struck me here was just how ripe for me-tooing this is – those pesky mults don’t hang around when there’s free innovation and advertising to be piggy-backed.

Of course, it’s never easy to create a proposition that threatens to boss its territory – but I rather suspect this one falls more into the paper tiger category.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Three days ago Betfair’s Sportsbook paid out on a ‘No’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum. (Sportsbook is the part of Betfair that operates as a traditional bookie.)

At the time – and right up to the wire last night, indeed – the polls were showing what was effectively a 50:50 split between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.  Momentum was widely reported to be with the ‘Yes’ vote.

A ‘wrapper count’ of window stickers had the ‘Yes’ camp ahead by about 2:1 in Edinburgh and 4:1 in Glasgow.

An informal ‘racket count’ had the ‘Yes’ camp ahead by about 10:1.

So, what’s going on? As I write – 4 hours or so into voting – Betfair’s exchange has the probability of a ‘No’ vote at 83% and the probability of a ‘Yes’ vote at 17%.  These figures have been rock solid all week. Apparently 17,000 people have staked an average of £450 on a ‘No’ vote. Who are they? What do they know?

The politicians on both sides have played down this information. Is this to avoid complacency (among ‘No’ voters) and premature capitulation (among ‘Yes’ voters)? The media are revelling in the apparent closeness of the contest. And the Scots are keeping mum, while the goodies keep flowing from Westminster.

And have Betfair pulled off a major coup? Whatever the outcome, they’ve got loads of free publicity (and no doubt they laid off their losses).

Still – by this time tomorrow everything will be clear 😉

The bank that likes to say Yes… er, No

You may remember earlier in the year RBS ran a campaign entitled ‘RBYES‘ – in fact the first of a handful of brands who have since accidentally (or otherwise) endorsed the separatist position with free mass advertising.

Coming back into Edinburgh last night after a few days working away, I spotted RBS posters now sporting a prominent ‘No’ message – and saying  something about ‘no tricks’ if I recall correctly.

I know the big guns are being wheeled out this week, and that presumably the ‘S’ in RBS will have to change after independence – so, I wonder, is this an eleventh-hour volte-face by the bank? Or just a marketing coincidence?

Braveheart v Bravehead

The Scottish Independence Referendum campaign is entering its final furlong. And thank heavens! It has been such a Grand National of communications that collective cognitive fatigue is setting in. I for one will just be happy to stagger across the line and get a cross on the paper, wherever it lands.

Despite 30-odd years of residency, a Scottish business, and a bunch of bairns, I still don’t feel especially entitled to vote – and I have a few Polish friends who keep asking my advice (it’s amazing to think the Eastern European community could swing it!). My best pal has switched sides in the last couple of weeks, and it’s a strange notion that three of our wayward offspring may well cancel out their parents’ considered votes.

As a marketing case study it has been a fascinating exercise, watching each side try to wrong-foot the other. The actual question on the ballot paper is skewed towards the Yes camp, but their Better Together opponents have that great brand equity on their side, ‘the devil you know’. Meanwhile, among native Scots, grass-roots pressure is clearly building ‘to do the right thing’.

I’ve been trying to assess whether this is a classic ‘heart v head’ conundrum. Probably it is, but the issue is complicated by the question ‘where does your heart lie?’ (In Scotland? In Britain? In your wallet?)

However, as I have said before, the last thing the Scots are is stupid, so I’m sure we’ll get the right result.

Wet behind the ears?

I saw a tv ad this afternoon that had me rather bamboozled – it was for a hosepipe (I think it magically expands during, and shrinks after, use). The product benefit seemed quite intriguing – but, hold on a minute – it’s September on Monday. I became more perplexed when I considered that I was watching the ad in Scotland. Do I even know anyone who owns a hose?

Win-win referendum

If there’s a marketing lesson from the frantic exhortations of the No Thanks and Yes Please camps, then I think it concerns the power of selective perception.

Buying a round of drinks on Sunday night (yes, really) I overheard at the bar a vehement mini-debate relating to the Commonwealth Games.  Scotland had just won yet another medal in the pool, and the argument started off along the lines of: ‘Look at us – we’re good enough to stand on our own two feet.’

Of course, this thrust was quickly countered with: ‘Aye – if we’re doing so well, why would we want to change anything?’

Then there was the ‘Undecided’ in the group, who stated: ‘There’s no way of knowing if our good performance is due to being part of GB, or if we’d do better or worse if we were independent.’

In the absence of being able to run some kind of A:B split, this latter point of view of course has some merit.

Listening to the argument as it ran on (repetitively thereafter), I couldn’t help thinking that people will interpret the ‘facts’ (ie. in this case Team Scotland’s impressive medal hall) to reinforce their own attitudes.  Given that most of what happens in the future can only be a matter for conjecture, I suspect there will be enough futile wind bagging to drive all of Scotland’s wind farms for the next 7 weeks.

As for a perspective coming from over three decades of residency, I’d say this: 1) don’t waste your breath trying to tell the Scots what to do, and 2) there’s no need to anyway – the word ‘canny’ (like most things) was invented north of the border.

What car?

Down the years I reckon it’s the automobile industry that has spent the most money floating ideas. Where they have floated off to, however, I have no idea. Like helium-filled balloons, they only stick around when they are firmly attached to their owner.

There’s an ad right now which is certainly very watchable – but everyone who mentions it to me does so in anonymous terms. Perhaps if you really could buy zip-in seats as an optional extra the brand name might start coming through. Until then it’s a case of ‘What car?’.