It’s All Advertising

Lord Northcliffe, the UK newspaper tycoon who owned ‘The Daily Mail’ famously said: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” An unknown consumer said: “It’s all advertising, isn’t it?”

One of my favourite quotes comes (of course) from Jeremy Bullmore: “People build brands the way birds build nests. Through the straw and scraps they chance upon.” Note, it is people who build brands.

The other week I was robbed. This has led me to spending more time than I would like with banks, phone companies and insurers. One has been outstanding, two truly dreadful.

The dreadful ones have failed to communicate internally, leading me to having to explain what happened over and over. They have also failed to answer mails, have cut me off when on the phone, and have sent me contradictory letters from unidentified ‘team members’ with no means to respond to them.

None of this is unusual, I hear the same thing over and over. Unresponsive, uncaring, ill-informed responses to life’s little crises.

And yet the same organisations spend millions advertising their friendly teams, their willingness to help.

And then they go and outsource their customer-facing roles either to a chatbot that struggles to answer the inanest query, or to a bored individual who could not care less as to your plight and whose sole objective is to pass you along to someone else.

Even less understandable, hugely expensive brand campaigns do not seem to exist outside their designed-for channel. Are company owned websites consistent with the brand’s advertised persona? Do retail outlets mirror the same organisation’s video commercials? Do the trucks moving product around the country speak to the same brand values as the advertising?

Yes of course some do, but most, by far do not.

It is worth calling these things out. For decades I have been a loyal BMW customer. Last year I decided to look further afield. I read reviews, answered ads, responded to websites, and visited car showrooms. Most of these last were unremittingly awful. Yes, they were bright, full of shiny cars and some even had comfortable chairs, but none had anything to do with the expensive ad campaigns favoured by the sector.

BMW themselves were not expecting me at the dealership (the same one I have bought from in the past). The salesman couldn’t have been more bored; wasn’t well informed as to his products; and didn’t follow-up.

I bought a different marque, selling them my BMW in part-exchange.

6 months later BMW asked if I would consider selling them my second hand car.

3 months after that the BMW finance team approached me offering a new finance package.

3 months after that and I am still receiving mails asking me to bring the car in for a service.

I know perfectly well that there are manufacturers and there are dealers. But to the consumer they are one and the same, joined at the hip. Good work by one is easily undone by shoddy work by the other.

I realise that concepts like lifetime value have their critics, but regardless I like to think I was a valuable customer to BMW – one that their incompetent and fragmented communications strategy has played its part in losing.

Who will take internal responsibility for losing me? Will anyone even know? The marketing team will say they drove me to the dealership, so they did their job. The dealer will say the product range did not meet my needs. So not their problem. The used-sales, finance and service people will say, ‘who are you and how can I help.’

We have to do better. Online campaigns are not just performance marketing, they are advertising. Point-of-sale is not just retail, it is advertising. In store display is not just merchandising, it is advertising. Emails are not just direct communication, they are advertising. Chat bots are not just algorithms, they are advertising. Call centre staff are not just frontline representatives, they are advertising.

Everything that communicates with the consumer or prospect is advertising.

My Crater Lake colleagues at MESH Experience, almost alone amongst research agencies tracks exposure against all touchpoints thus providing the evidence to those smart enough to know it’s important to quantify these things. They’ve also authored an excellent IPA initiative designed to highlight the role and value of owned media.

Our Crater Lake colleagues at Navigation have developed ways of isolating the effect of all channels. It is all advertising, so best to quantify how it all works.

Next time you feel moved to complain about a company’s treatment of you find out the name of the CMO and copy him or her in. They should be pleased to hear from real people.

Obviously there will be mistakes, people have bad days, messages go astray but surely, we should aim high. And we should praise those who get it right.

And so, for my part, well played More Than Insurance. And boo to NatWest and Vodafone.

  1. Hear hear!…only two weeks ago my Eurostar (returning from the ASI event) was cancelled due to UK rail strike. The marketing dept. continued to offer me opportunities of (paid) upgrades. As for calling the service centre for my refund…they shut the lines as they were getting unprecedented call volumes!…ooh I feel better for sharing that!

  2. We were on the same train! Or rather we weren’t!
    So I share your pain!

  3. Really resonated with me. Spent much of the past fortnight trying to resolve a long-term connectivity problem with my Sky TV. I use Virgin for my broadband on which the newer Sky products rely (the Sky offering where I live is inferior). So I am stuck in a demarcation dispute with two companies who are utterly determined not to engage with me as a customer.

  4. you are so right, Brian Jacobs, it is all ‘advertising’ because they are all visible to the consumer and, guess what, the consumer doesn’t care what it is called, they just add up (‘the straws and scraps’). Sadly though, even the CMO isn’t always interested when you do get in touch even though, to quote the one from Sykes Cottages who did at least have the courtesy to email me back and say, they ‘are always interested in customer feedback’ – as he passed me over to someone else to deal with.

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