In 2007 14 Tesco stores closed their doors following bomb threats. Speculation grew about the motives. An initial suggestion that Tesco was being targeted by religious extremists was immediately rejected by police. Several national newspapers then suggested a link to animal liberation and pointed out that on the day of the threats there was a national day of action against Tesco by several animal rights groups.
While I do not know the identities or motivations of those who made the threats, I can provide some insight into why Tesco was targeted rather than key competitors Sainsbury's or Waitrose. It was almost certainly not down to ethical or religious reasons, but rather a number – specifically, a proportion: 31.3%.
To understand this numerical significance, we have to look back even further. On 29 September 1982 Adam Janus, a 27-year-old postman from Arlington Heights, Illinois, dropped dead unexpectedly. Adam's family gathered to discuss funeral arrangements. His 25-year old brother Stanley and his 19-year-old wife, Theresa, were both suffering from headaches. Stanley found a bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol in Adam's kitchen; within minutes he and Theresa were dead.
Chicago police realised that all three victims had been poisoned. Eventually seven people died in what became known as the 'Tylenol murders'. Investigators concluded that the culprit had visited various stores in Chicago and added cyanide tablets to bottles of Tylenol before returning them to the shelf. Why Tylenol? In 1982 it was the leading pain-relief brand in the US with a 35% market share.
Some years ago a British real-estate chain decided to implement a reverse formula when selling houses and apartments. We all know the usual real-estate jargon, using words like breathtaking, stunning and exquisite in every sentence when describing even the most miserable apartment: “This stunning apartment, presenting an exclusive panorama view of a breathtaking backyard in the central city is a must see…”
The interesting fact is that we all know the descriptions hardly reflect the reality but rather a realtor's imagination.
The reverse formula? Describing reality… yes you read it right – as it is!
Gone were the clichés replaced with realistic snapshots of the real apartments of houses of the streets of London. “This bump of a house needs more than love to turn it into something anyone can live in. The hall is less attractive than the worst you possible can imagine in Bangladesh – the walls are flooded with water and the floors are hardly visible due to the dirt spread across the whole house.”
Yes this was in fact the way the ads looked. Would you dare use this strategy?
The success was enormous – suddenly people actually began reading the ads, they were in fact so motivated by this new writing style that people were looking forward to reading them, sometimes as good entertainment but in most cases as they were real and honest.
Earlier this month Advertising Age announced their selection for the Top 50 marketing ideas of 2008 and the marketers behind them. This February they will be honored in New York. Congratulations to this years nominees…
• AmEx Members Project
Belinda Lang, American Express Co.
• Bakugan Battle Brawlers
Ronnen Harary, Spin Master Ltd.
• "The Biggest Loser" Product Line
Mark Koops, Reveille
Chris Fawcett, Sony Electronics Home Product Division
Brad Schwan, Procter & Gamble Co.
• Campbell's low-sodium soups
Lisa Walker, Campbell Soup Co.
• Carol's Daughter
Steve Stoute, Carol's Daughter
John Howell, General 5Motors Corp.
• Coors Banquet
Andy England, MillerCoors
• Dunkin' Donuts coffee
Audra Schlegel, Procter & Gamble Co.
A variety of newspapers and trade magazines run a piece themed 'Campaign of the Week'.
The format is probably familiar to you. A senior marketer names their favourite advertising campaign of the moment and explains why it works as a piece of marketing communications.
For example, I recently read a marketing director extol the virtues of the latest campaign for Levi's. She was taken with the "incredibly haunting quality of the ad, noted that it "held my attention for the whole minute and concluded that the campaign would "engage people with the brand on an altogether different level than in previous campaigns".
A marketer in another article found the ads for X-Box "clearly adult in tone and "deeply disturbing".
The problem with these reviews is that they display a fundamental ignorance of the prime directive of marketing. The first stage in becoming a good marketer is to appreciate the difference between being a producer of products and a consumer of products. As a marketer your job is centered on connecting the latter to the former.
When marketers forget this essential dichotomy and start reviewing ads, products and prices as if they were consumers, they become marketing gurus, and there is no place for gurus in marketing. It is simply impossible to step into the shoes of a consumer for a few moments to review the quality of a marketing output.
I recently met up with an old friend, Simon, a sales director. We had dinner near my flat and then I walked him to the nearest tube station, London Bridge.
Literally next door to the station is The London Dungeon. The Dungeon is remarkable not because of its assortment of grotesque waxworks in various states of dismemberment, but because of the queue that often stretches up the road from the entrance for more than 100 metres.
When Simon caught sight of this long line of customers he became excited.
So much so that as we were saying our farewells, he gestured to it and said: "That, my friend, is great marketing. You should write one of your blogs about the London Dungeon." His comment really hit home, because for the past two years I have continually encountered that queue and thought one thing: that Dungeon really needs someone to sort that out; it's got a problem with its marketing.
As a salesperson, Simon thinks marketing is all about a long line of customers waiting to pay and a turnstile continually turning: ker-ching, ker-ching, ker-ching.
As a marketer, I see that same long line of people, but my eye wanders to the people at the back of the line. I notice that some of these customers, faced with a wait of an hour or more, decide not to bother and walk away.