Waitrose goes naked

As the Christmas advertising hits our TV screens it’s interesting to see Waitrose go completely off piste and abandon the competition for the most expensive production. I’ve read some mutterings about whether this is wise or not but one outcome is certain; Waitrose will stand out from the crowd – zigging whilst the world zaggs.

The bar has been set very high by John Lewis and it would appear a number of ad agencies have had the brief that says ‘do me a John Lewis’. So we will be seeing a range of Christmas ads that a) don’t feature any products, b) are based on sentiment and emotion, c) will have a sound track from the 1980’s.

John Lewis and their ad agency adam&eve/DDB have effectively cleaned up at all of the awards bashes in 2012 combined with the regular news that the retailer to the middle classes continues to prosper when most of their competition are suffering. However to coin a phrase there’s no point in painting lipstick on a gorilla. It doesn’t make it more attractive.

And there are lots of gorillas out there as we can see from the bad news in the retail world. To assume advertising has been the only influence on the fortunes of John Lewis is naive and potentially a very expensive error for wannabe competitors. The creative work for John Lewis has been category leading, exceptionally well done and most importantly true to the brand. It isn’t expressing one thing in advertising and doing another in store, a mistake in my humble opinion perpetrated continually by M&S.

I am genuinely sorry for all of the people who work for Comet and I think they have been let down by a 2nd division product. In terms of brand equity Comet had entered the zone of ‘fading star’ some time ago, it just got left behind by better competitors. If the John Lewis promise of never knowingly being undersold remains true then why go to a large, atmosphere free zone on an impersonal trading estate to spend £1000 on a flat screen TV when you have the option of John Lewis? When times are tough, demand is flat or declining, why put up with a poor experience when you can have a good one? The Comet advertising didn’t do much for brand equity either. From memory the last TV work I saw from them was a cheap production featuring a series of white boxes with prices. Not uplifting or inspiring.

Another problem child at the moment is Argos. Again a ‘fading star’ out of step with the way the world is going. Argos is going through massive structural change and fingers crossed the management team there can turn it around. However their advertising leaves a lot to be desired. It’s the one with the alien family. I just don’t get the point of the current Christmas work other than I can order on-line and then go to an Argos outlet to pick up my purchase. I can go on-line with Amazon and they deliver it to my home. What is the benefit of opting for Argos? They singularly fail to tell me. I wrote a piece this time last year reflecting on the circumstances Argos find themselves in, predicting they were going to face difficult times. Not wishing to come across as a clever dick, just that the writing was on the wall a long time ago. Same with Comet.

I have worked with, and continue to do so, a wide range of companies and the most common missing bit of intel is any perspective on how their business is percieved. They always have masses of data on sales by product, by region, by channel, etc., but rarely do they have any mechanism that tracks their profile and reputation. Marketing in most companies is about the short term and rarely about the longer term. Given the shifting ground in most sectors it seems to me as essential to have a continuous method of feedback that rates a business by the public. The trend data arising from on-going tracking can act like radar; it predicts when the iceberg is in range.

Returning to Waitrose I hope they have their research out in the field already to monitor what their customers think about their brave move of stripping down their Christmas TV work to a bare studio with two chefs doing an average job of presenting a philosophy. Best of luck to them.

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