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£100m for that?! Downton/Asda; and so long, Arnie

02 Sep 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
£100m for that?! Downton/Asda; and so long, Arnie

The Government's underwhelming Brexit campaign raises a few interesting points for the ad industry to consider, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: Asda's bizarre Downton Abbey themed ad, and saying goodbye to PPI.

So…this is what a downpayment on £100m buys you — a few posters inviting us to ‘Get ready for Brexit’.

Obviously not. There’s a lot more to come from the Government’s Brexit campaign, launched today by Michael ‘we don’t need experts’ Gove. Perhaps he took his own advice and got his kids to design them.

In terms of its scope and intensity — clearly the campaign is designed to reach everyone with high frequency in the next 60 days — I can’t think of any recent parallels.

If we want one, we probably have to go back 80 years almost exactly to World War II, when the public was blitzed by ads for everything from food and farming to clothes rationing, air-raid safety and handing over iron railings to make Spitfires and armaments.

You can see a selection here curated by the Imperial War Museum. Put aside the nostalgia value, and they are powerful pieces of work. They certainly created a visual iconography that stands the test of time.

One main difference, however, was that (aside from a few pacificists) the war effort was supported by the entire population. Here, they have to reach out across a divided population, some of whom will see them as propaganda, some as nationalistic jingoism, and some as doing what they say on the tin — i.e. preparatory. Depending on their Brexit stance, they will ignore the message or pay attention.

I doubt too that, even in 2030, anyone will remember them or look back on them with any fondness.

A second difference is in the complexity of the task or tasks. What does getting ready for Brexit actually involve? Most people have no idea, businesses and citizens alike. The broad aim has to be reassurance in order to reduce any possible panic, and then a multitude of micro tasks depending on the specific target markets: farmers, pharmacists, travel companies, logistics operators, retailers, travellers and so on.

We shall see as the campaign evolves.

Meanwhile, there are two points for the ad industry to consider.

The first, narrow, is the effect of splurging £100m (if the Government is to be believed) in 60 days on the rest of the ad industry. Nice for media owners, potentially a pain for everyone else if they are squeezed out, or prices are squeezed up, in the media of their choice.

The second, broader, is what constitutes success? It’s hard to see how you can measure that. Cynically, I don’t believe anyone in the government gives a monkey’s. The point, for many in Westminster, is to be seen to do something. The effect is secondary. And they’ll be long gone by the time anyone asks the difficult questions about this campaign.

Me, I hope that the National Audit Office whose job is to scrutinise pubic spending for efficiency and effectiveness (just like the IPA awards!) gets its teeth into this campaign once it has run its course.


The logic (or not) of Asda and Downton Abbey

Legions of Downton Abbey fans will be eagerly anticipating the release next week of the film of the same name.

So too will the marketing team at Asda, which has decided to tie its fortunes to the tale of the poshos and the proles with a themed ad. This, apparently, will show how it provides great food at great prices.

Hmm, just like every other supermarket really. I burst out laughing when I read this.

Bizarre, or what? I’ve always regarded Downton as a comedy dressed up as a drama — those strangulated accents, the ridiculous plot lines — but this I feel takes the comedic effect of Downton to a new level.

The ad, according to Marketing Week, will feature head cook Mrs Patmore preparing for a visit from the Royal family. But thanks to Asda, it won’t blow the budget.

I can’t help thinking that it would be more fun if Mrs Patmore was forced to find her ingredients in the context of a no-deal Brexit.

Never mind my Downton prejudice, does it make sense?

From a distance, no. There’s an initial dissonance to it as if, say, John Lewis sponsored Love Island or Dacia sponsored Made in Chelsea. If the audience laughs at the sheer ridiculousness of the tie-up, the effect is lost.

Closer up though, you can understand the thinking. Downton is a mass-market property, just as Asda is a mass-market retailer. I expect the Downton audience indexes high to Asda shoppers.

And one trend, created (or exploited, depending on your point of view by Aldi and Lidl) is that posh people like a bargain. Moreover, squeezed by the German twins — and flying solo now its merger with Sainsbury’s is off — Asda probably needs to adjust its positioning upwards.

Mind you, there is one group that won’t find it funny. That is the Asda workers currently protesting about a new contract due to be imposed upon them that they say will cut their pay and benefits. Those with a historical frame of reference will see an echo of Downton — the aristocrats upstairs pushing around the second-class kitchen and household staff downstairs. The irony…

And I can’t help feeling they’d have been better off sponsoring Bake Off.


Hasta la Vista, PPI

So long, Arnie. Your job is done.

Unlike the banks, who will be mighty relieved to see him go, I’ll miss PPI Arnie. He was an inspired choice by M&C Saatchi, and if there is any justice in the world, I’d like to see Arnie win an IPA Effectiveness prize.

Albeit pushing at an open door, he’s performed: a 420% increase in visits to the FCA website between June, when the latest campaign started, and mid-August; a 290% increase in calls; and, according to Lloyds group, the big daddy of PPI mis-selling, an increase in weekly queries from 70,000 to 190,000.

But now, looking at the bigger picture, it gets interesting, if not messy. To date, PPI pay-outs have totalled around £36bn, much of which has gone into consumer spending — cars, holidays, home improvements and so on. This may even have painted a false picture of advertising effectiveness, given that advertisers have been tapping into easy consumer money and a propensity to spend.

Although there is still a few billion to go — perhaps as much as £5bn — economists suggest the end of PPI could take as much as 0.3% off the economy. In aggregate that doesn’t sound like a lot, but many individual businesses, especially retailers, are bound to see a difference.

That in turn will squeeze the ad industry. Advertisers already want more for less, but now they’ll want even more for even less.

That’s the law of unintended consequences for you.

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