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Joined-up thinking goes missing; brand relevancy and context

27 Jul 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
Joined-up thinking goes missing; brand relevancy and context

If Boris Johnson is concerned about the impact of unhealthy food on the UK population, why is Rishi Sunak encouraging the nation to ‘eat out to help out’? Dominic Mills asks

Without wishing to be over-political about it, it is clear that one of the many failings of this government is its inability to do joined-up thinking.

The latest, and most glaring, example of this is in the upcoming HFSS ban on TV and online ads pre-9pm. And like many policies conceived in haste or as the result of one man’s Damascene conversion, it is flawed.

But let’s start with the joined-up bit first: if Boris Johnson is concerned about the impact of unhealthy food on the population, why on earth is his Chancellor encouraging the nation to go out and eat in his special August eat-out discount package plus VAT reduction until January?

Of course not everyone will spend this money on HFSS food, but an awful lot will, especially lower-income families.

Just a quick look at this list of restaurant chains which have already signed up to the scheme — Burger King, McDonalds, Harvester, Frankie & Benny’s (if there are still any open by then), Nando’s, Pizza Hut, Toby Carvery etc — will tell you where they think the nation is going to go and what it will be gorging itself on.

Even once the discount offer is done, the VAT reduction (assuming restauranteurs don’t keep it for themselves) will encourage money to be spent on the stuff Boris doesn’t like any more.

Then there’s the whole 9pm watershed business, a concept that seems increasingly outdated to everyone bar the policy wonks in Whitehall. You’d think that they might ask their mates in Ofcom about the nation’s viewing habits, and especially children’s.

If they had, they might have discovered that, as the ASA pointed out in the last consultation, children’s exposure to HFSS ads on TV had declined by 70% since 2005 and was down to an average of 1.4 a day.

But Whitehall continues to think children watch TV in an excessively linear fashion from say 3.30pm until they or their parents religiously turn it off at 9pm.

And all this, as the IPA points out in its letter of protest, for a potential decline in calorific consumption of 1.7 calories a day — about half a Smartie.

Madness of course, but none of this ever prevents the road to good intentions from diverting off to hell, as we found out with TfL’s ban last year when McDonald’s Happy Meals were allowed but one from Farmdrop featuring images of bacon, butter and jam — as well as good old fruit and veg — wasn’t.

That lack of joined-up thinking is devastatingly displayed.

Relevance and context: two sides of the same coin.

I’ve been thinking about relevance quite a lot recently, and not just in an existential, COVID-linked kind of way.

Looking, for example, at the IAB’s just-published research into buying habits, it is clear that relevance is a driving force.

Relevance isn’t always easy to define, although one dictionary says it’s about “being connected to the matter at hand”. Another definition would be, “appropriate to the current time or circumstances”.

Useful definitions both, and you can see how they play through to the IAB survey of consumer attitudes to brands during the pandemic. At #1 of those brands consumers felt more favourably towards is Tesco, followed by Asda, Sainsbury’s, Aldi, M&S, Amazon and Boots.

Yes they’re all retailers, but retailers which we’ve relied heavily upon during the past four months - and this lot, I would agree, have clearly stepped up to the plate when it was most needed.

What have they done best? In no particular order, they’ve:

• acted fast and decisively
• communicated well
• quickly implemented safety procedures
• prioritised care workers and the vulnerable
• taken care to protect their own staff
• been seen to behave responsibly

None of this is particularly exciting or innovative, and it may involve reining in any soaring flights of brand fancy, but it was what was (and still is) needed at the time — hence its relevance.

Those good people at Magnetic will also be taking the relevancy debate on further in a webinar with Kantar and PHD that I’ll be facilitating this Wednesday (29 July). Details and sign-up is here.

While the words might be different, it feels to me as though they’re driving towards a similar conclusion. Like Kantar, PHD’s Mike Florence believes relevancy will be a driver of long-term growth, and being relevant means connecting to consumers’ emerging needs.

But he will be bringing a planner’s lens to the issue, and asking how, if everyone is fighting for share of relevancy, media choice can provide the edge.

Which brings us to magazine media and context. If we accept — and the arguments are moving in this direction — that context really matters because it links to relevancy and drives attention, then magazine media has a strong card to play.

Up to a point, all media channels have contextual power (even if advertisers don’t always use them) but magazine media more than most. That’s because it plays to particular and highly personal passions, hobbies and interests (think baking, crafting, personal health and fitness during the pandemic) and therefore brings context to the table.

Put the right context and commercial message together, and media choice isn’t that complicated.

These, to be clear, are my thoughts. But join us at 12pm on the 29th to see where we end up.

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05 Aug 2020 

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