With major changes to customer needs and technology, organisations of all kinds are using marketing to leverage change. We take a look back at key campaigns of the last 12 months that examine how marketing will continue to develop in the future, and how marketers can engineer change with effective campaigns.
Described by industry commentator Mark Ritson as ‘brand leadership at its best’, JD Wetherspoon’s move to close all of its social media accounts across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram made headlines in April. The pub chain’s decision comes at a time when many organisations are still scrambling to crack social media, clutching onto the assumption that it is essentially ‘the’ marketing channel of the future.
By sailing in totally the opposite direction, Wetherspoon has reinforced a contrarian view of the world, calculated to connect with its core customer base – few of whom, it would appear, use social media for interacting with the brand.
Of course, there is larger iceberg lurking below the surface. News this year has been dominated by the fall-out from a string of major data-privacy failures, putting social media firmly under the microscope. Cleverly, Wetherspoon didn’t cite the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica data breach as a reason for its decision. Instead it framed it in terms of a ‘no-nonsense’ approach, rather than connecting it with any higher moral values.
With subsequent reports suggesting young people are leaving social media platforms, or at least switching between them, brands will have to keep a close eye on social trends in the coming year, especially when deciding where to allocate spend, and how to grow the marketing team.
Tesco – Jack’s of all trade
When Britain’s biggest retailer launches a new ‘budget’ brand, marketers are obliged to sit up and pay attention. After being dogged with a number of bad news stories in the past few years, including the ‘horsemeat scandal’ and financial mismanagement, Tesco is attempting to reclaim the retail initiative.
Top-level brand manoeuvres are the order of the day in this sector: Sainsbury’s bought Argos in 2016, before confirming a merger with Asda earlier this year, which leaves it a subsidiary of US giant Walmart.
With Jack’s, Tesco is directly taking on the budget chains, Lidl and Aldi, which have steadily eroded its core customer base. Some commentators have questioned the wisdom of trying to ‘out-Lidl Lidl,’ which has 20 years’ experience in the budget retail space. Either way, high stakes brand innovation is being applied by the nation’s largest retailers – and marketers will do well to watch how these initiatives develop.
Mark Dodds, chair of CIM’s Food, Drink and Agriculture (FDA) Committee, commented on the news, saying:
“The strategic motivations behind this branding decision are becoming increasingly clear. By giving a nod to its heritage, Tesco is making a concerted effort to differentiate Jack’s from the German discounters.
It will be interesting to see how much more of the Tesco brand is reflected in the new stores. Getting the balance right will be vital if the new companion brand is to succeed. If Jack’s is too different, it will have a tough job becoming established in the market. On the other hand, a brand too close to Tesco’s core runs the risk of cannibalisation of current sales.”
Iceland – ethical aspirations
Tesco competitor Iceland has taken a different approach to broadening its customer appeal. Earlier this year, the retailer announced it would be removing all plastic packaging from its products on a permanent basis, responding to the global concern regarding the amount of plastic waste being introduced into the environment every year.
By making this pledge, Iceland have turned what is essentially a supply chain decision into a story with which to burnish its ethical credentials. Interestingly, environmental issues are not thought to be top-of-mind for the typical budget shopper, who is generally more interested in value. It signals an attempt to reach into the wealthier middle classes – a demographic more concerned with ethics – and also, possibly, younger shoppers.
Iceland doubled-down on this move – perhaps encouraged by the response to its plastic announcement – by promising to stop using palm oil (the production of which is linked to deforestation), in all its own-brand products by the end of 2018, a point mentioned at a CIM FDA event at the House of Lords earlier this year.
Bodyform – reshaping social convention
Why should women be made to feel embarrassed about the reality of their periods? This was the core question behind a ground-breaking campaign ‘Blood Normal’ launched by Bodyform and sister brand Libresse – in collaboration with AMV BBDO – last year. In a video spot, the brand showed period blood for the first time in a global ad campaign, instead of conventional blue liquid.
The creatives behind the Bodyform campaign cite a global survey of 1,000 teenagers that found that 56% of them would rather be bullied than talk to their parents about periods. The brand was able to align its core offering – quality sanitary products – with a very real cause, that was only one campaign away from starting conversations, and seriously challenging a social taboo.
In some respects, ‘Blood Normal’, was a spiritual successor to Dove’s seminal ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, which, in 2004, encouraged women to feel comfortable with the way they looked. Brands have found issues facing women to be fertile ground for brand development, while the social climate has tipped more and more towards values and ethical considerations.
John Lewis Partnership – what’s in a name change?
In September, the venerable British department store announced a less-than radical name change, which would also impact its upscale retail arm; John Lewis & Partners, and Waitrose & Partners were born.
A radical rebrand this was not. But the move’s significance lies is its subtlety. Including the word ‘Partners’ draws attention to the structure of the business, which is based on a partnership model. It reminds customers – and the workforce – that those individuals on the shop floor own the business. From an internal marketing perspective, it’s hard to imagine a more high-profile way to recognises employee ownership, than by changing the brand name to reflect it.
Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman, explained the decision in a statement: “The John Lewis Partnership is a unique business with different ownership, a different purpose and a different outlook to any of our competitors… Our plans put differentiation, innovation and partner-led service at the heart of our offer.”
Clearly, the brand believes that its partnership structure is something to be proud of, and a key means of differentiating it from competitors. Also, such a subtle change sends a signal of continuity to customers, and reinforces the sense of a confident brand making a small tweak to an already-strong proposition. The process of honing the core proposition is something all brands will be doing, as market conditions become more competitive.
These campaigns all combine traditional marketing techniques with new ways of thinking about brand, directed by social and economic imperatives. Marketers in all sectors will be increasingly challenged to meet customer needs, while keeping abreast of significant technological and social changes. In that way, marketing will always have a foot in the past, but with its eyes on the future.