Brand frivolity

Now I spent 20 years as a marketeer in the telecoms industry heading up numerous activities in sponsorship, PR, dealer and channel management, promotions, literature and PoS, digital activity, website development, corporate hospitality, events and exhibitions, and, not least, advertising. I say not least because advertising usually attracted the largest share of a company’s marketing budget and yet it happened to be the least likeable element of the marketing mix for me. Probably because my personal control was somewhat subjugated by the influence of the expensive advertising agency we usually employed. And they worked hard to keep the whole subject of advertising a dark art only capable of being understood by their extensive team of creatives, media planners, media buyers, client liaison people (bag men and mostly sassy women), talent negotiators, and senior exec’s who only surfaced when it was contract renewal time or when you were being critical of the agency’s work. And then they had a secret hotline to your MD.

Call me cynical eh. Anyway advertising. What’s it for? Because our company, the fledging O2 organisation (known as Cellnet in the early days), was so young you could say it was about creating awareness and brand building. In a highly competitive environment some would say it was also about creating network preference. Especially when cellphone buyers tended to walk into a phone shop and ask about mobile phone choices first. But ultimately what we wanted, of course, was for people to choose ie subscribe to our network over Vodafone and, later, other networks.

At the end of the day it’s about who has the best sales/numbers of customers. You advertise to present the compelling selling points – why your product is better then the competition. Some times it can be with hard facts like price and technical advantages; other times with a softer appeal such as aspirational value. Think about how Apple brands itself versus its competitors.

So I’ve been intrigued to study the latest adverts from a brand established more than a 100 years ago. With over 14m member customers, it is the market leader in the UK field and it has built its base on values such as courtesy, care, expertise and experience. Ask people to describe them in 3 words and you’ll almost certainly get responses like trustworthy, reliable and authoritative. You might also get a few words, especially from younger respondents, like traditional and slightly dull, though for many people these can be positive attributes of course. If you asked people to present some images that reflect the organisation I bet you’d get loads like this…

Yes it’s the AA, the UK’s leading roadside assistance organisation though of course they offer all sorts of extra services like insurance these days. Now most advertising for breakdown/recovery services tends to feature harder selling points like special offers to join, range of services, shortest waiting times, and the like. But the AA, possibly the most traditional of the breakdown assistance services, has brought in a new range of ads based solely on emotion; the wind-in-the-hair feeling you get when you are driving. It’s based on a shaggy-haired puppet dog, presumably feeling hot, sitting in front of a cooling fan, and there’s a quite groovy, catchy music track playing in the background. It has absolutely nothing to do with roadside assistance, other than it features the company’s yellow branding strongly.

It’s quite a departure for a rather staid old brand. Getting a little bit funkAAy eh. I have to admit I quite like the ad – it’s fun and frivolous and nicely produced but the AA? Is it a believable brand association? I wonder what their traditional member candidates think? I suspect this ad is aimed not at them but at those younger people who are reluctant to become members because the AA looks fuddy-duddy and irrelevant to them. I’ve seen quite a few review comments abut how cute the dog is (mostly from women) but I’ll be interested to learn how the sales go as that’s the only real measure of its success.

I also sense that the ad’s a little bit generic – you could use the same concept of ‘what a great feeling’ to promote a long-awaited visit to the hairdressers or some new shoes, an overdue summer holiday, a fantastic take-away or dinner at le Manoir the night it re-opens, or a new car! In fact any number of things. I also feel that whilst you might be happy to see the AA recovery service turn up when you break down, warm and fuzzy isn’t the only thing I’d be feeling; I’d also be worrying mightily about what had caused the breakdown and how much it might cost to repair it. That would be my primary concern which is why I’m not totally convinced the what-a-feeling concept is exactly right for the AA. Whilst I can imagine lots of people (including all the advertising agency people) saying it makes the AA seem a lot cooler and not so serious, can anyone honestly tell me that watching this ad has made them say, you know what I’m so impressed with that shaggy dog I’m going to  sign up for some breakdown cover with the AA from just £6 per month and get some peace of mind and a wind-in-the-hair buzz?  Who knows eh?  The proof of the puppet-dog will be in the meeting…of the new customer sales targets. Let’s see.

Meantime have a look at the ad and enjoy/tell me what you think…



4 thoughts on “Brand frivolity

    • Cheers Simon. I remember you sent me a copy of the David Abbott pitch to BT for the It’s Good to Talk campaign featuring Bob Hoskins.They needed a call stim campaign to offset the loss of customers to new competitors. While the pitch was brilliant and the campaign was memorable, had legs and largely worked for a time, it ultimately failed because rival providers could say BT is right; it is good to talk more on your homephone but with us it’s 20% cheaper. In other words it was too generic like this new AA ad I feel. Men’s shampoo eh. I can’t remember what that felt like, ha! Thanks for checking by mate.

  1. Bang on there Paul. Completely in sync. Hell, with a lot of these ads the music is more memorable than the message. I too had this thing about agencies coming to pitch. Used to tell them only send the person I’ll be dealing with on a day-to-day basis. And if that is the junior account handler, fine, so be it.

    • Cheers Al. I think we all suffered in BT with management issues with certain external agencies. Arghh. Happily those issues are well behind us mate. Stay well


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