Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Coles reverts to Status Quo

Francis Rossi what are you doing? For old rockers, who won't even admit these days to being fans of 'The Quo' as 70s rock band, Status Quo, was affectionately known, playing the Cole's 'big red hand' guitars is a perfect symbol of fading youth and, indeed, relevance.

It's a startling revelation and even reality check for all of that vintage to witness the absence of Rossi's former long mane. In lieu, we see some thinning strands, swept back almost as a reference to virility and cool. And the glasses! Like having grandpop doing karaoke to the once proud, yet simple chords (or is it just a chord?) of Down, Down.

Yes indeed, Coles is pushing prices down and it's appropriate that this response to Woolies' newest, fresh food brand campaign is belted out by Status Quo. For it's a return to type for Coles, with it's price-led advertising leading a race to the bottom.

But as they push prices down, so they deflate the morale of people who remember the golden years of Status Quo. (Oh dear! Just remembered I still have a Status Quo vinyl at home called 12 Gold Bars. Don't tell Coles, they'll use it as a promo line in the confectionary aisle.)

As you look at Rossi who, admittedly, is quite a bit older than me, instead of reflecting on Coles low prices, you have to ask yourself: "Have I deteriorated that much since I listened to The Quo?" It's enough to prompt hanging up the air guitar for good.

The sight of those old rockers opening their guitar cases only to feign surprise at the tightly strung 'red hands' inside is quite sad. And then to bastardise a song that no one possibly thought could be further degraded to create the 'Down, down prices are down' lyric is just too much to accept. The rock gods and immortal chords in reflecting their mortality are, in fact, a reflection of your own.

I've got to hand it to Rossi, the vocals appear to hold up for at least the duration of the advertisement. It's more than can be said for some of his contemporaries, who still occasionally warble to entranced, or more likely effused, crowds in Victorian vineyards on Sunday afternoon.

It's clearly a bit of a lark for The Quo. Reputations cannot be tarnished when most of the viewing audience is either too young to know who these guys are, or so engrossed in mobile devices during the ad breaks to not even notice.

But the point of the advertisement is well communicated - down, down, prices are down. Perhaps not down as much as Status Quo's appearance fees these days.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The day Campaign Palace faced the schizophrenics

The older cohort of marketing types are looking back with some nostalgia at the evaporation of The Campaign Palace, the iconic creative hothouse circa the 70s to the 90s.

Some of their great work is featured here and I've heard much commentary about the demise of advertising creative in the age of YouTube since the announcement of the Palace's closure.

I did have some experience of Campaign Palace in the late 1980s. I was employed at then travel powerhouse, Jetset, in those years. I learned a lot - mostly about how bad agency briefings could be.

In one particular instance, I recall feeling pity, even remorse for even turning up, for Palace account director, John Poulakakis, who in Palace's dimly lit black boardroom faced a house divided. You see, like most travel wholesaler / retailers, we were not used to paying our own marketing bills - or at least not 100% of them.

For the most part, campaigns were funded by airline partners and anyone else you could rope in. Hence the rise and rise of the schizophrenic brief. On the one hand, we wanted campaigns that would build the brand of the fledgling Jetset Travel Centre retail network, on the other, in this particular instance, there was our 50% owner, Air New Zealand, who wanted to fill trans-Tasman seats in a damn hurry.

I'll never forget John's exasperation towards the end of the two hour briefing or, should I say, debate. The brand development brief around warm, caring Jetset retail types did not mesh easily with the frantic, price-driven rush to fill aircraft seats.

It was brand building versus tactical imperatives and, of course, who was picking up the tab. The meeting ended with no resolution and a Palace resolve to try to accommodate both briefs. I'll never forget the end result - half page newspaper advertisements divided in two, half featuring the Jetset Travel Centre positioning, the other the last-minute seat sale.

It was not a campaign that The Campaign Palace would later feature in its portfolio and, I note, one which does not feature in the highlights package. That meeting taught me much about putting crap in and getting crap out - whether you're programming a computer, or briefing an agency.

We did enjoy some good times with the guys at The Campaign Palace, but our schizophrenia soon resulted in a parting of the ways.

The key to their success was identifying the key message and developing creative that delivered it in an effective and memorable way. In their day, they were certainly the Antz Pantz in advertising (still so hot!).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Brand differentiation worth a sausage

Don't you just love a citrus grower who smells like oranges? And a zany farmer in the armour? And a truck driver with the joke I cannot remember? If you don't know who I'm talking about, the latest Woolworths TVCs created by Droga5 have completely passed you by.

Woolworths has taken a significant step to ending the price war with supermarket rival Coles and steer us to making 'quality' and 'fresh' decisions.  Commercially, it's a big call for the people running Woolworths' brand - a stance against being beaten to death by the big red hand that points prices downwards for Coles.

Woolworths has chosen to get back to brand differentiation because, as we know, discounting might bring market share, but it can also deliver commercial ruin and unhappy shareholders.

It will be interesting to see what they do with the stablemate Masters big box hardware brand. So far, my only recollection is the call 'Don't you just love competition', positioning the brand in the category as a rival to Bunnings.

I made my Masters debut at Mornington outside Melbourne the other week. It's certainly very tidy and not in the mould of a traditional hardware store for blokes, with the customary bins of plumbing bits and stands of stormwater pipe to fantasise over.

White goods take pride of place, with one of the glitziest arrays of washing machines I have ever seen. Some of the Samsung machines would not look out of place in a night club - perhaps they're for laundering money, but I digress.

I would not be surprised to see Masters positioning itself for the female handyman, if that is not a contradiction in terms, or perhaps the male housemaid.

But there is a real opportunity that the brand Masters have so far failed to capitalise on - and it's right on their doorstep. It's the sausage sizzle at the front of the store.

I was amazed to see that the sausage sizzle was an exact duplicate of the Bunnings sizzle. Heavy cotton canopy, six burner BBQ, same happy combination of community minded adults and kids folding snags in bread with onions and sauce according to taste. Sorry, girls and boys, you're going to have to put more sizzle into the idea if you're going to differentiate.

How about gourmet sausages with a selection of mustards from regional growers - maybe even one of those whacky Woolworths fresh food people grows unique mustard seeds. Perhaps the guy in the armour could serve them, while a tradie from inside the store lubricated the moving parts with some motor oil off the specials stand. Nothing wrong with cross-promotion.

As it is now, Masters is failing its first brand promise by not delivering the competition we love. The sizzle thing is just trademark infringement! I know a guy who goes to Bunnings every Sunday just for a look around and a sausage. Sad though that may be, the point is that Bunnings has trademarked the car park sausage sizzle as part of the retail experience.

Clearly, I'm unimpressed. I'm not a Masters convert and will chew over my future purchase decisions at the Bunnings sizzler.

Voicing her difference

I have the good fortune to have a 14 year old daughter who helps keep her middle aged Dad at least partially in tune with popular culture. Sorry, wrong - who totally immerses her Dad in popular culture by taking control directly and remotely of every audiovisual device in the household and car.

That's why I spent many consecutive weeks recently tuned into 'The Voice' on the Nine Network. It's an interesting concept. Remove the visual cues from the contestants to make initial selections based solely on 'the voice'. But that's not what this is about.

Over the course of the show, old dudes like me try to look cool by declaring the winner early in the series - sort of lording it over their teenage kids by bringing several decades of music cool and discernment to the task of blowing everyone away with their wisdom. How could anyone who had heard Slade, Kiss and Elton John not be better equipped to assess the contestants than those consumed by Chris Brown, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber? It's a lay down misere...

But these talent shows are really all about who can build their personal brand in the space of a few short months. Happily, I picked Karise Eden to win The Voice way back at her second appearance. If I had as much success at Flemington Racecourse, I would have time to more frequently keep this blog up to date.

Why Karise? Because among the other aspirers to the throne, her voice was absolutely unique. Close your eyes and you could be in one of those ice cool clubs in New Orleans listening revelling in soul. None of the other contestants on the show had the capacity to stamp their unique mark - their brand.

Good luck Karise. Don't compromise. Too many brands fail because they lose their soul.