Dodgy food, 14 year olds and myopic marketing. A failure to engage on what really matters,

A week on and Justin King’s assertion that this is not “the tip of the iceberg” looks a tiny bit premature.

1/3 of fish in the US fails the Ronseal test. Birds Eye have found some rogue meat in its ready meals (but not to worry – only in Belgium…) and now testing is going to be extended to all sorts of other things. We’re going to find a whole lot more about what is in that pack of frozen lasagne and a whole lot more about how it got to your plate.

Not a horse
Not a horse

Making sure the supply chain has integrity and traceability is absolutely right and proper – and well done Tesco for taking a lead on it – but I don’t think I am being churlish when I say “weren’t you already doing that?”

And the numbers bother me.

We’re “making a significant investment for Tesco, borne by Tesco” in DNA testing, says Tim Smith. What does significant mean nowadays?

£1m on DNA testing vs ca £140m on advertising vs £1bn on stores, experience and price promotion. All for a brand making £2.8bn in profit on £65.5bn turnover.

The numbers really bother me.

Corporate history is littered with businesses that lost touch with what they’re all about – most recently HMV. In the 1920’s GM did fantastically well by offering an alternative to Henry Ford’s “so long as it’s black” option free offer. By making cars in different shapes, sizes and yes colours GM strove to make “a car for every purse and purpose”

In those days marketing exerted a real and positivce influence over the business, seeking out what consumers aspired to and driving product innovation to meet those aspirations. Marketing was useful.

Over time GM got very adept at production, so good at it that it became obsessive about it. And eventually and inevitably turned in on itself. It stopped caring about what consumers aspired to and instead focused relentlessy on churning out more and more with ever more efficiency and ever lower costs. The challenger turned into a machine.

And we all know what happened next.

Tesco and the supemarkets have done a brilliant job at making everyday food affordable. No doubt they have made a significant contribution to the health and well being of the nation.

But they’ve got so good at it they’ve turned it into an obsession – a kind of everyday low pricing arms race that has no conclusion other than the one now being played out. And far from engaging with consumers on what they want, how they want to live, marketiing has become myopically focused on price and “this week you saved 6p”. Marketing is useless.

Which is a shame and a huge failure. Because right now we need the marketers to be re-engaging and reasserting themselves. To be charting the new frontiers of how these brands should be engaging with us.

And those new frontiers are not about supply – sure that’s important but it ain’t nearly as important as the demand side. Turns out that the next generation, the 14 year olds, care a whole lot more about how we are going to feed ourselves, how we’re going to have enough energy, how we’re going to deal with climate change than the people pumping out the tsunami of BOGOFs.

They know they are going to have to deal with it – and dealing with it means changing behaviour on the demand side. It means learning how to do more with less. Not just with food, but with all the “commodities” that make up the stuff of life – healthcare, energy, finance.

This is the rubicon the marketers haven’t crossed. To engage consumers properly in how we live, in how we consume.

And it explains why we care so little about our banks, our utility suppliers, our supermarkets – yet care so much about what they do. The banks, the utilities, the supermarkets – in focusing relentlessly on price and deals – continue to fail in engaging us in what we really care about.

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