Monday, December 22, 2008

Who needs marketing in a recession? All of us, actually.

There’s no hiding from the fact that the marketing industry, like the majority of sectors, faces tough times ahead as it heads into 2009’s inevitably stormy waters. The downturn in demand for non-essential goods and subsequent abandonment of lavish consumer spending has led many to question marketing’s fundamental purpose and role in society. Do we really need to be bombarded with marketing messages for non-essential goods when the majority of us are now struggling with increased fuel and heating costs, high food prices and spiralling interest rates?

Despite the predictions of the anti-marketing brigade and claims that we no longer need to be told to buy items we can easily live without, the answer to this question is unequivocally ‘yes’. The money that UK consumers are spending takes on a significantly increased value as customers become more and more discerning. The old days of ‘buy now, pay later’ spending on the latest gadgets, clothes, CDs and games consoles has been replaced by careful and considered deliberation, meaning that the role of marketing becomes more important than ever – in a diluted market, marketers need to make sure that their messages are more concentrated than ever before.

The choice and ready availability of consumer goods hasn’t suddenly seen a sudden dramatic decline – rather, the wallets that have previously been so eager to open and snap these goods up has become more and more difficult for retailers to open. With huge choice still available to consumers, marketers need to make sure that every product, brand and service they represent is targeted to stand out and make consumers take notice. Consumers are proving harder to convince, meaning that the marketers of 2009 will need to work twice as hard to persuade consumers to part with their ready cash.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pasta la vista Pizza Hut

Shakespeare famously wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and ‘Pasta Hut’ must have hoped that their re-brand would bring them the sweet smell of success, although quite frankly, the new name caused quite a stink in the marketing world.

Pizza Hut recently became the latest in a line of notable food brands taking proactive steps to shift consumer perceptions of their brand. Keen to stress the increased variety in their menu and healthier eating options, ‘Pizza Hut’ announced it was dispensing with the ‘Pizza’ and began a re-brand process which apparently included a complete refurb of their UK stores over the next few years.

Pizza was to remain on the menu, amongst a myriad of healthier pasta options. But how would consumers digest this shift in Pizza Hut’s offerings, as well as the much maligned name change?

McDonald’s bowed to increasing public pressure a few years ago and introduced a range of salads, fruit and fresh juices to its menu. To the more cynical amongst us, this move represented a carefully planned response to negative press as opposed to any genuinely concerted effort to improve the eating habits of their loyal (if large) clientele. A tad harsh I hear you cry? Perhaps not, considering it was uncovered that a McDonald’s Caesar salad contained more fat than a hamburger.

Several years on and McDonald’s remains a haven for those seeking burgers, fries and reprocessed chicken. Whilst salads remain on the menu to satisfy government lobbyists and health activists, the millions of consumers streaming through the drive thru continue to vote with their stomachs, unanimously choosing meat as opposed to leaves.

So what of the ‘Pasta Hut’? Well, several weeks into what was a significant campaign including a run of slightly over the top and gushing TV ads it seems there has been a change of heart! Or has there??! Initial reports were that the loyal ‘Deep Pan’ brigade were incensed with the thought of being caught up in more spaghetti and revolted, causing an embarrassing about-face for the company and the Marketing department.

However, rumour has it that the whole exercise was, in itself, just a marketing ploy to raise the brand profile and that there was never any intention to change the name! What say you folks?? Was this a clever marketing execution? Or was it a case of backtracking faster than a pizza delivery boy in the 29th minute??

Did they really believe that a concerted effort to offer healthier options would make a genuine difference to their loyal customers? Were we really going to go out and eat at a fast food chain for an all you can eat gnocchi buffet? Were the late night city dwellers going to go and grab a nice bowl of linguini after a night of alcoholic indulgence?

I don’t think so and whatever the story behind it, in my opinion the proverbial leopard can’t change its spots and unfortunately for ‘Pasta Hut’, those spots are small and pepperoni-shaped. The pizza is there to stay, and the name should be too.

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