Thursday, July 23, 2009

Knife Crime - a Cutting-Edge Solution

The core demand of any advertising campaign is its inherent need to connect with its target audience – everything else (innovation, creativity) follows this central requirement. Occasionally an advert comes along that not only connects with its audience perfectly, but is also so innovative, creative and unique, it really is too good to ignore.

Those of you au fait with current events will no doubt be aware of the growing knife crime epidemic amongst the UK’s urban teen population. In an attempt to tackle this pressing issue, the Metropolitan Police Force has turned to UK ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO; a move that’s been rewarded with a stunning interactive campaign.

Starting with a short YouTube video, the viewer sees through the eyes of a teenager and is presented with a choice at the end of the clip; this decision then leads the viewer to the next video clip, with subsequent decisions to choose. Eventually you’ll arrive at a foregone conclusion based upon your actions, which should be pretty obvious from the off, given your altruistic or sadistic tendencies…

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has clearly targeted its desired audience through one of the most popular channels amongst this digitally-savvy segment – this alone should be commended. However, their engaging use of digital interaction, along with the casting of authentic kids rather than patronising actors, lends real credibility to the impact this campaign has already had.

Reaching your demographic has always been key. Impressive creative ideas and innovative use of technology is marketing gold. Combining all of these elements is undoubtedly the holy grail of advertising – something that Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO has clearly done with this cutting-edge campaign.

Start your decisions here:

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Social Media = Financial Return - or does it?

‘Earn money from your Twitter followers’. Whilst this statement reads like yet another piece of rogue marketing spam, cynics that suggest there is no money to be made from Twitter (a doctrine media mogul Murdoch himself subscribes to) may now be in for a surprise.

A study released this week by enterprise wiki provider Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group shows that brands most engaged with social media are experiencing higher financial success rates than less digitally-savvy peers.

The study focused on 100 top global brands and the social media platforms on which they engage their consumers. Unsurprisingly, no surprises are thrown up in the top ten, with Starbucks, Dell, eBay, Google and Microsoft all flying, predictably, high.

But what does this study actually tell us? The brands listed above are hardly likely to be troubled by cuts to marketing budgets (especially those under the employ of Bill Gates). These corporate marketing departments are also likely to employ dedicated teams of social media specialists, pretty much guaranteeing that their strategy pays off.

As well as all this, these corporate behemoths are hardly likely to suffer financially in a recession. They are all established international brands that turn over millions in global profits every single year; so can any of this actually be attributed to social media usage? After all, the study itself admits that it's “difficult to prove for certain that … involvement in social media has led to … increased revenue…”

In the case of computer giant Dell, this is one example where this claim is justified; the company stating that it has generated over $3 million in revenue from exclusive offers and publicity on its Twitter platform, @DellOutlet – financial success indeed.

This however, is an example of social media engagement that’s been marketed purely as a sales tool. Although this clearly serves its purpose, for many companies, social media engagement is a branding exercise, which by its inherent nature, cannot be linked directly to financial success.

Sure, companies that brand themselves effectively and reach consumers through a variety of different channels will inevitably achieve success. This financial success however is part of an infinitely wider marketing strategy – social media alone is not enough to generate revenue for your business.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

This isn’t just any u-turn – this is a Marks and Spencer u-turn…

The ongoing Marks and Spencer ‘bra debate’ of recent weeks has ensured that the marketing and PR teams behind ‘Britain’s most trusted retailer’ have certainly had their hands full. The protests have come in all shapes and sizes (well, above DD) from outraged female consumers, forcing an extremely public u-turn. However, this isn’t always a PR nightmare if handled as well as M&S have…

If you’re not currently au fait with events in the world of women’s brassiere retailing, this should fill you in… Marks and Spencer recently announced it they would be raising the cost of its larger bras (defined in this instance as DD or above) by £2 to accommodate the increased amount of materials used in the production process – logical, surely? Nope.

Marks and Spencer were immediately harangued by well-endowed women claiming that this amounted to discrimination – the more radical contingent even went so far as to form a group entitled ‘Busts 4 Justice’ – original. M&S clearly had a PR disaster on its hands, and in a time when the retail sector is fighting for every penny, negative press is to be avoided just as much as a quick sojourn to a Mexican pig farm.

However, the response devised by the company’s top brass (should that be top bras?) and marketing wizards needs to be commended, as near disaster has been cleverly averted. Whilst the directors have waived this £2 surcharge to appease the busty brand bashers, the marketing bods have delivered a piece of marketing gold that could well have saved the company’s egg-covered face.

The ATL campaign that has been implemented in the press, on outdoor billboards and online shows a close-up of a lady’s bra-clad chest with the simple caption ‘We Boobed’. There’s no doubt that this advert will be responsible for a few car accidents where it appears on motorway billboards, but its impact extends further than affecting frustrated male drivers. By admitting its mistake and being honest with its customers, Marks and Spencer has shown that its marketing strategy is one of the bust…

This isn’t just any u-turn – this is a Marks and Spencer u-turn.

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News in Brief with the Gapster Chief

A sideways glance at the latest shenanigans of the marketing world…

Pity poor old Proctor and Gamble this week, hit with a £100m tax bill after losing their claim that their Pringles brand ‘isn’t a crisp’. Isn’t a crisp? For goodness sake, if you’re going to try and fiddle finances, at least consult an expert – British MPs have a number of cracking tips…

Pot Noodle is investing heavily in its new Doner Kebab flavour. Fantastic TV ads (even if they do completely plagiarise ‘Flight of the Conchords), but combining two of the most famously un-nutritional things to eat? How can this possibly be a viable commercial strategy? Oh of course, the student market!

M&S has been voted the UK’s most trusted retailer according to a recent YouGov poll. Hard to see how trust is gained when advertising ties and cufflinks for 1p and then leaving thousands of gullible shoppers left with a can of pop and a few sweets, but hey.

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word”, sang Elton John, although he obviously didn’t consider marketing strategists when penning this famous line. First the Evening Standard runs its ‘Sorry’ campaign, now Sunny D is apologising for its previous use of artificial flavours – what next? McDonalds to apologise for making kids fat?

Stagecoach and the Government are teaming up to target customers with advice on relationships and sex in a campaign entitled ‘R U Thinking’. Nice use of ‘txt spk’ there and of course what better place to target randy teenagers than the back of a bus?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Putting Lipstick on a Pig...

You have to feel sorry for anyone working in Government PR or communications at the moment. To quote the most successful African-American President of all time, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig…”

Whilst the pig in question currently comes in swine-flu flavour (don’t share that lipstick ladies), PR professionals are also trying to limit the damage caused by the greedy pigs in Parliament. A shocking month of revelations has shown that near enough an entire cabinet of British MPs have had their manicured trotters swilling around in the public’s financial trough for quite some time.

Sure, the entire nation has just cause to feel cheated and dis’grunt’led, but perhaps those in the marketing, PR and communications industry have even more reason to. Not only do they envy the fact that most claims on MPs’ ‘second homes’ (wink, wink) dwarf their marketing budgets for the next 10 years, but they’re also the ones that have to dig the Government out of this bloody mess.

Sure, Government PR, comms and marketing pros are used to producing more spin than a cricket test match, but the public outrage at ‘expense-gate’ is fast becoming more talked-about than Susan Boyle – topical indeed. Have Government PR whips really reached a point where they’d welcome back Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and the less contentious issue of WMDs?

Facetiousness aside, Gordon Brown may not have to succumb to a snap election just yet, as once again, the PR industry is here to save the day! Apparently, the Government is drafting in a specialist communications team that specialises in dodgy old men famed for screwing people left, right and centre. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the marketing boys from Amsterdam’s Red Light District…

(The Gapster received no payment from the Government for writing this article)

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

News in Brief with the Gapster Chief

A sideways glance at the latest shenanigans of the marketing world…

The M&S bra debate rumbles on, as the retailer issues an apology for overcharging on its DD cup bras. I guess they really have had a large handful of complaints…

Coors Brewers is trialling Carling-branded mobile communications to tempt customers into pubs. What with swine flu, a battered economy and rising unemployment, I’d imagine that the majority of customers don’t actually need encouragement to drown their sorrows…

Eat Natural is apparently launching a bar that tastes like a Bakewell Tart. Because obviously, nothing tastes as ‘natural’ as a calorific, sugar-rich baked cake.

The National Trust has launched a campaign entitled ‘Food Glorious Food’, which encourages the children of Britain to grow and eat their food. Initial enthusiasm will doubtless be dampened when the ‘yoofs’ realise that chicken nuggets and Big Macs don’t actually grow on trees.

The powers in charge of England’s 2018 World Cup bid want to launch an emotive video highlighting England’s rich football heritage. Expect topless, lager-swilling, tattooed louts flinging plastic garden chairs at each other, artistically accompanied by ‘Ness’un Dorma’ then.

The Intercontinental Hotel Groups is launching an experiential campaign encouraging thousands of people to jump up and down on its beds simultaneously. I guess jumping into bed with thousands of people really does progress your position in the market.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

News in Brief with the Gapster Chief

A sideways glance at the latest shenanigans of the marketing world…

Aviva stakeholders are criticising the brand’s £80m celebrity ad campaign featuring Bruce Willis. Apparently, employing over-paid, middle-aged men does not guarantee an ROI for the business, but enough about the board, Bruce Willis rules!

Innocent has announced that it won’t be running its quintessentially English summer fete this year. Rumours that it’ll be running a Coke sponsored ‘chop down a rainforest tree’ day are unconfirmed at the current time…

Marks and Spencer are performing a spectacular u-turn and charging £2 less for their bigger size bras. A brave commercial decision if they don’t go bust as a result…

WKD is planning to launch into the cider market with its ‘Core’ brand. Why not just give up the Alco-pop aegis altogether and re-brand as the mouthwash it is?

NCP is pumping the smell of fresh linen into its stairwells in an attempt to mask less desirable odours. Surely providing toilet facilities would be a more effective solution to car parkers relieving themselves in stairwells…

Starbucks is offering a new loyalty card (with plenty of ‘perks’) to tempt coffee drinkers back into its stores. Call me cynical, but offering customers change from a fiver would surely be a better incentive…

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Viral Virals & Swine Flu Marketing...

The recent hype surrounding the outbreak of swine flu highlights two very different forms of marketing. On the one hand, consumers are being bombarded with topical adverts as brands jump on the bubonic bacon bandwagon, whilst office in-boxes around the world are now contagious with spoof swine flu emails – the viral goes viral…

So which of these is actually more effective as a form of mass communication? It’s no secret that the key to successful marketing lies in being both topical and relevant. Kleenex are currently advertising their ‘anti-viral’ tissues (a product that’s not to be sneezed at), whilst Dettol’s website lists disinfecting surfaces as a ‘golden hygiene rule’ in the fight against swine flu – juxtaposed against some beautiful pictures of its product range…

Compassionate or commercial (who am I to question the integrity of a corporation’s altruistic intentions), one thing remains clear – some brands have sensibly jumped on the bandwagon, just as they did when Obama came to power or when the ‘credit crunch’ kicked in etc. Standard ATL advertising thrives on its relevance, but is it actually viral marketing that is more infectious these days?

Within a few days of swine flu fever hitting the media, the Stig’s inbox has been hit by a deluge of emails containing amended Piglet cartoons, Photoshopped images of Lemsip and Porky the Pig and countless other emails that I’d rather not disclose in public (the boss reads this blog after all). I shall, of course, be forwarding these emails to friends and colleagues, which begs the question - is viral marketing now a much more effective method to reach mass audiences?

As fleeting as they are, virals are actively interacted with. You only have to look at recent cultish phenomenons such as ‘Thumbman’ and Compare the Market’s Alexandr the meerkat (who has more Twitter followers than Boris Johnson and Hillary Clinton) to see that consumers are becoming more and more online savvy – handy, considering everyone’s marketing budgets can no longer afford print.

Whilst we hope that the viral swine flue epidemic is eradicated quickly, perhaps the marketing community should choose this moment to usher in a new era of virals in its place. For marketing messages that permeate mass audiences and encourage widespread engagement, surely viral communications are now the method that will bring home the bacon when it comes to brand awareness.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Every Little Helps - Especially Consumer Understanding

As millions of Britons congregate in the nation’s pubs this weekend, there’s no doubt that they’ll be talking about this week’s controversial budget as they quietly sup a beverage that cost 5p less just 7 days earlier. Whatever your political allegiance, it’s fairly obvious that no-one will be raising a glass to Alistair ‘don’t call me’ Darling – unless you’re a member of the marketing community that is.

You see, it’s been a refreshing week for many in the profession, for the simple fact that Labour’s latest financial fiasco allows marketers to focus on a budget that’s tighter than their own. This ‘enjoyable diversion’ is shortlived however, as it dawns that target audiences and consumers now have even less (a hard feat, admittedly) to spend.

One group of marketers that don’t have this budget-inflicted headache however, is the Marketing Team clocking in each day at Tesco HQ. On the same week that the Government announced a predicted 3.5% shrinkage in the economy, more tax hikes and unprecedented borrowing that won’t balance until 10 years have passed, Tesco published record profits – yet again.

So just how have the grocery giants managed this remarkable feat when all around them is falling away – or is that the precise reason for their latest set of figures? There’s clearly less competition than there was a year ago, and previously loyal consumers are now adding cheap CDs, mobile phones and insurance to a shopping basket containing a pint of milk and the daily paper.

But despite this astute expansion of lines, Tesco has got the fundamental basics of marketing in a recession right – quite simply, it understands its consumers. Over the past 6 months, Tesco shoppers have seen a range of discount brands hit the shelves, offers on staples and initiatives such as the ‘fruit and veg pledge’.

Unlike many of us, Tesco may not have to worry about their marketing budget, but money aside, it’s this intrinsic understanding of customers that drives them from one success to the next. Perhaps it’s time we started focusing on consumers once again, safe in the knowledge that someone out there has a worse budget than the marketing community…

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Brand Ethics or Bottom-Line?

During these ‘tough economic times’ (surely the marketing community can think of a better moniker for ‘recession’ than this), one of the truly remarkable things is the miraculous recovery of the environment.

The hole in the ozone layer has grown back, endangered species are now thriving in their natural habitats and all produce sold in the UK is organic, natural and locally sourced. Or at least the absence of these once unavoidable corporate agendas would seemingly now imply…

Those of us who move in marketing circles will no doubt be fully aware that sustainability and green agendas have been noticeably swept under the carpet, no matter how discreet the corporate broom being used.

It seems that the days of lavishing big budgets on corporate social responsibility or building an ethical brand are long gone – or at least on hold until Brown and Obama smooth out this royal financial pickle we’re in.

Whilst this is an understandable reaction to constricting budgets, the abandonment of ethical agendas leaves the more loyal consumer wondering just how dedicated their favourite brands were to these itineraries in the first place – a dangerous game to be playing when every consumer coin is worth its weight in gold.

Many independent businesses have invested heavily to associate themselves with the ideals, values and ethics they hold in common with their target consumer groups, regardless of whether these beliefs are genuinely held or commercially motivated. This is all well and good when companies can afford to market lifestyle and image as opposed to product, but as marketing budgets shrink and brand ethics dissolve, so too does their perceived integrity.

This has already proved disastrous for many brands, as more and more companies are beginning to find out. Whilst no one would doubt the need to focus on the bottom-line during this recession, certain ‘ethical’ businesses may well end up seeing a plummet in brand advocates, as well as in profits.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Too Innocent For Their Own Good?

“We know that some people will always disagree and we respect that, but we know this […] is a great opportunity for Innocent.”

No, the aforementioned quote from Innocent’s Head of Creative, Dan Germain, doesn’t refer to a ludicrous new smoothie flavour (banana and beef anyone?), but the rather more contentious issue of the company’s recent and extremely ill-perceived activity on the stock market.

For those of you who have been avoiding the Financial Times in the wake of this economical apocalypse, allow the Gapster bring you up to speed. Innocent, peddler of expensive organic and natural smoothies, thickies and ‘veg pots’ (who cares if you’re paying £3 for a few bits of floppy broccoli if it’s got oh such pretty packaging) has sold a £30m stake in its ‘family’ business to Coca Cola - a company whose fame isn’t exactly built on an agenda of sustainability, fair-trade and green principles.

You can’t really blame the number-crunchers at Innocent for succumbing to the lure of the pound sign, especially in a recession. (The Gapster presumes any green principles not eradicated by the new shareholders will be choked by the exhaust from board members’ new Ferraris.) What Innocent failed to perceive however, was the intensity of the (albeit expected) backlash – cue an angry pitchfork-wielding mob wreaking PR havoc on the company website:

“You can't be innocent when you take dirty Coke money and have one of their execs on your board” rants Steve. “You have killed your brand forever” claims a disgruntled Ronan. “Would you take money from […] Robert Mugabe?” rants ‘Conor’ – wow! Even Andy claims: “I’ll finish the carton in the fridge, but from this point on, Innocent is just another name on the list of products not to buy as part of the killer Coke boycott.” (Glad you’re going to finish that smoothie before employing the principles you’re preaching there sonny…)

You see, what Innocent fails to realise is that when you build an ‘ethical brand’ with a unique selling point, your entire success is based upon these fundamental principles. Rome wasn’t actually built in a day and neither are brands – Innocent was started way back in 1998. However, a day is all it takes to damage a brand irreparably and this startled smoothie company currently has a lot of egg on its corporate face. (Potential new smoothie flavour anyone?)

The Gapster has no doubt whatsoever that the Innocent brand will live on – the financial clout offered by Coca Cola will undoubtedly enable the brand to expand (successfully) into new markets. What angry consumers are bemoaning however, is the fact that it won’t be the Innocent they’ve come to know and love. No amount of PR gloss will be able to cover up the fact that ‘righteous’ Innocent consumers have become victim to yet another example of spineless sell-outs and boardroom politics.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Marketers celebrate Metro’s 10th birthday

For the past decade, it’s been making the daily commute bearable for millions of ‘urbanites’ up and down the country, and is now enjoying a landmark birthday. Last week, the Metro turned ten years old, celebrating with a showcase of iconic front covers and a glowing recommendation from none other than Gordon Brown, an increasingly prevalent advocate of Britain’s most successful free newspaper.

In light of the paper’s large readership, the PM has recently ordered that Whitehall is constantly stocked with copies of the Metro, recognising it as a key channel through which to connect and communicate with the voting public. Whilst Associated Newspapers have more than enough reason to celebrate such a glowing stamp of approval, it’s another industry that perhaps has reason to cheer the loudest.

The marketing and advertising industry has always enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with newspapers, and this relationship is especially close when the publication in question is devoid of a cover price. But the Metro offers marketers something truly priceless – a captive British audience that would otherwise go ‘untapped’.

An estimated 3.3 million people spend an average of 27 minutes each morning perusing the Metro’s many pages ( Research shows that a large proportion of these readers would not have bought a newspaper for their journey into work, meaning that marketers are literally able to reach millions of people with their ads, campaigns and communications.

So, happy birthday Metro – whilst the past ten years are currently the toast of Number Ten, it is in fact the marketing industry that is raising a glass to the prospect of another ten years…

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cadbury’s Eyebrow Raising Eyebrow Raiser

Two children. Freestyle’s 1997 electro track ‘Don’t Stop the Rock’. A balloon. Three simple ingredients that combine to serve up one of the most talked about adverts of the year that has already resulted in cult classic status. Simple advertising with spectacular effect – Cadbury has done another ‘gorilla’.

There are many techniques available to today’s television advertisers. Whether associating brands and products with unattainable lifestyles, preying on inferiorities or insisting you need a particular product to ‘keep up with the Joneses, the psychology of marketing seems to grow ever more complex by the day. Or does it?

Fallon (, the creative agency behind Cadbury’s eyebrow-raising eyebrow raiser, have stuck marketing gold yet again with a creative masterpiece that has absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. By creating a shared cultural reference that the entire world and his dog are talking about, Fallon have cleverly ensured that the topic of conversation in every pub, office and school refers to a successful purple chocolate brand.

Just as a drumming gorilla captured the nation’s imagination back in August 2007, Cadbury and Fallon have succeeded yet again in using leftfield advertising to create a buzz and get people talking – arguably the most effective advertising of all.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks...

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? If the ‘old dog’ in question is Nipper, age-old emblem of iconic music retailer HMV, then we’re about to be proved wrong in spectacular fashion.

HMV recently announced its expansion into the live music market – an industry that’s worth a reported £1bn. The retailer’s 50% share in 11 Mama-owned music venues will result in famous live venues such as the Hammersmith Apollo renamed with the company’s letters prefixed in blazingly branded HMV pink.

Chief Executive Simon Fox has stated that the physical music market is changing (no prizes for stating the bleeding obvious) and that by purchasing a piece of the live music market, HMV will be able to attract a younger demographic and build relationships with artists and fans. Under the surface however, this move is much more than an extended brand-building exercise. (

The retail industry is experiencing unprecedented challenges and HMV’s move to secure alternative revenue streams must surely be recognised for the astute piece of commercial thinking that it is.

Earning money from live gigs and events is an extremely shrewd move and could ultimately see HMV come out of this recession even stronger than when it went in. Whilst revenue from live events and CD sales should combine nicely to ensure HMV’s economic security during these challenging economic conditions, the long-term branding benefits could prove very interesting indeed.

So can you teach an old dog new tricks? To quote another well-known phrase, ‘fortune favours the brave’ and HMV have clearly made a bold move launching into the live music environment. Bob Dylan sings that ‘The times they are a changing’ and in order to survive in today’s uncertain market, companies are going to have to change with it – well done HMV.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Racist Royals? Bigoted Brands?

So once again, a Royal is up on the front pages of daily rags nationwide for making a seemingly inappropriate remark to a chum of ethnic origin. No, for once it’s not Prince Philip, but his third-in-line-to-the-throne grandson, King of the lads’ mags and loveable rapscallion, Prince Harry.

Whilst I don’t wish to plough precious time and energy into discussing whether the alleged ‘term of affection’ is appropriate or not (although this all smacks of ‘breeze in a thimble’ as opposed to storm in a teacup), bigger issues are once again brought firmly into the centre of public debate, including those in the recruitment sector.

A recent undercover investigation carried out by BBC One’s ‘Inside Out West’ programme discovered that out of 30 recruitment agencies contacted, 25 readily agreed to only send white applicants along for a fictional job as a receptionist. (

This is quite frankly, a startling revelation and a wake-up call to all those in the recruitment industry. How far is the average recruiter prepared to go to fill a brief? Does the buck stop with the bigoted brands issuing these sorts of requests, or are recruiters continuing this prejudiced chain when complying to these sorts of unethical (not to mention illegal) requests?

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brands vs Products

As the recession swallows up more and more of our High Street’s iconic retailers, marketers across the land must be wondering what will be left to market if the credit crunch continues its greedy gorge on the UK’s various retailers.

With a worrying casualty list that now includes such famous names as Woolworths, Zavvi, Wedgwood and Adams, competition on the British retail scene is looking increasingly dilapidated and frightfully, bleaker than the British rail network – ouch. As more and more iconic brand names fall victim to the effects of the Credit Crunch (an overused phrase that’s a much more worthy candidate for redundancy than so many of Britain’s unfortunate workers) what will marketers end up actually marketing?

The past fifty years has seen the marketing industry increasingly advertising brands as ‘lifestyle choices’ and ‘consumer identities’, reflecting a real shift from the old days of actually advertising a product – I know, what a strange concept! Brand exercises such as sponsorship, product placement, endorsement and branded events all focused on the brand ‘as brand’ as opposed to a vehicle for selling products belonging to that brand – just look back to the nineties’ marketing strategies of behemoth global corporations such as Nike and Hilfiger.

So what does 2009 have in store for brand marketing? As more brand names sink reluctantly into dreaded administration, market diversity is decreasing and the Tesco’s of this world must be rubbing their hands in glee as they pocket a few more monopoly cards.

OK, so maybe the situation isn’t quite as dire as I’m making out, however it really is food for thought – will we see a return to marketers marketing products once again? Will companies utilise marketing resource to put money in their pockets, rather than associate themselves with a particular lifestyle choice? What do you think?

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