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Big is beastly, especially if we’re talking big banks like Barclays

August 28, 2012

Which brands make us most angry? Yes, you guessed correctly. The big ones that rip us off, starve us of mortgage funds, pilfer our savings and behave with amoral disregard for everyone’s interest but their own. Anything, in short, that ends with the word “Bank”.

But come, let’s be a bit more specific. How about some brand differentiation – which is the worst, and which the runner-up? Well, coming in at number 2 – just behind the winning “All banks” category – is Barclays. And next, in 7th position, is Royal Bank of Scotland.

I know all of this thanks to some research, just out, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by creative agency Johnny Fearless (of which more below).

Why don’t Lloyds, Santander and HSBC make it into the top 10? Surely not on account of the odour of sanctity. We can only speculate, but could it be that Barclays and RBS have the two biggest Swinging Dicks attached to their brand heritage, namely Bob Diamond and Fred the Shred? I doubt that most people know who Antonio Horta-Osario is, and would struggle to recall his name in sufficient detail if they did. Which is probably just as well for Horta-Osario and Lloyds Bank.

More interesting, if perplexing in some ways, is the identity of the other 7 members of this exclusive Top 10 club. Tenth equal with Coca-Cola is Nestlé – still regarded as a corporate pariah on account of its anti-social baby-milk marketing practices in developing countries. I’m sure that doesn’t depress sales of Kit-Kats and Yorkie bars one bit, though.

And what’s Coke doing in there? Sorry boys and girls, for all your tender investment in clean athleticism, those grubby practices in Third World countries have not gone unnoticed.

Next up, “All utilities companies” at number 8, on account of their high prices and perceived profiteering. But two deserving special mentions here are British Gas – with its conspicuously bad customer service; and BT – with its ineffectual overseas call centres.

Virgin Media is in there at number 8 as well, although I have yet to discover whether this is because we’re all being beastly to Beardie or on account of some graver underlying cause – such as woefully inadequate service.

That leaves us with McDonald’s at number 4 – poor quality food and an inappropriate Olympics sponsorship, apparently.

…And, weighing in at number 3, the nation’s unfavourite retailer – Tesco. Memo to Tesco CEO Phil Clarke: it’s because you’re too big for your boots, despoil our high streets and blackmail your suppliers. No other retailer can do this so successfully, it seems.

  1. Which companies or brands make you feel angry? 
  2. What is it they do to make you feel angry?
Rank Company or brand
1 All banks’, ‘Banks’
2 Barclays
3 Tesco
4 McDonald’s
5 BT
6 British Gas
7 Royal Bank of Scotland’, ‘RBS’
8= Virgin Media
8= Utilities’, ‘Energy companies’
10= Nestlé
10= Coca-Cola

The research was commissioned by Johnny Fearless and carried out by YouGov. Total sample size was 2077 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between August 3-6th 2012. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Johnny Fearless is a Soho start-up agency founded by Paul Domenet and Neil Hughston, whose stock in trade is creating “social crackle” around brand messages. Or so it says in their publicity blurb.

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Deloitte research gives ITV more impact

August 24, 2010

ITV and commercial television cheerleader Tess Alps (of Thinkbox) will have been heartened by an indisputably solid piece of YouGov research  – not their own, as it happens – which bolsters the traditional 30-second ad spot and trashes the pretensions of its so-called digital nemesis.

Tess Alps: Manna from heaven

The results, distilled from 4,199 respondents on behalf of Deloitte as a preamble to this week’s Edinburgh TV Festival, could not be more on message if Thinkbox had designed them. TV advertising appealed most to 18- to 34-year-olds and least among over-55s. What’s more, nearly 90% of the 18- to 24-year old cohort was prepared to admit that advertising had some kind of impact upon them.

Best of all, for the TV lobby at least, more than half the respondents said television was more memorable than any other kind of advertising medium, compared with 10% who opted for newspapers as their favourite medium and – here’s the corker – 2% for online video ads, and 1% for online banner ads, and ads on iPhones and iPads.

If I were Guy Phillipson or one of his eager team of analysts at the Internet Advertising Bureau, I’d be demanding a recount. I’d point out that there are going to be a lot fewer 18- to 34-year-olds about in the years to come; and a lot more over-55s (who do use the internet, and hold an increasing part of the nation’s disposable wealth). I’d also ask how TV impacts measure up in terms of actual viewing (as opposed to distracted multi-tasking).

Still, there’s no denying that television – according to a significant majority of the population – remains by a long chalk the best brand-building medium.


Nadhim Zahawi – from pollster to politician

February 23, 2010

So, market research guru extraordinaire Nadhim Zahawi has finally made it into the political big time with the promise of a safe Conservative seat at Stratford-on-Avon.

About the only thing Zahawi has in common with the stereotype of his profession are his signature specs. Actually, even those are a slightly misleading cue. For a start, their style, far from being document-grubbing dull, often tends to mimick the flamboyant wraparound frames found in our more fashionable ski-resorts. And more importantly, they give the wrong impression about the kind of person Zahawi is. The very last thing you could accuse him of being, in his life or career, is short-sighted.

He’s a vision rather than a detail man; entrepreneurial rather than strictly methodical. The fact that he arrived in market research at all seems to have been an accident. A keen amateur showjumper in his youth who went all the way to Hickstead, Zahawi seemed cut out for a career in politics after graduating from London University. The early excursion into marketing was just a ramp to get Zahawi – in an echo of John Major – into local politics as a prelude to the ‘real’ thing. Disappointment followed, with his rejection at Erith in the general election of 1997 (or, as the eternally upbeat Zahawi put it, “I forced the Liberals into third place.”) Then came political disaster: he volunteered to be Jeffrey Archer’s campaign manager in the 1999 Mayoral election. Fun it may have been, but Archer was already tarnished goods and shortly to do time for perjury and obstructing the course of justice.

Anyone else might have slunk off into the wilderness to lick his wounds. Not Zahawi. No, here in the jaws of disaster was opportunity staring him in the face. Mix a passionate interest in politics and marketing savvy together, and what do you get? A polling organisation. A third vital ingredient, Stephan Shakespeare – his key collaborator in the Archer campaign – was what turned that combination into a winning number. Shakespeare was the bit of serendipity that Zahawi needed. He was – and is – the ultimately complementary business partner: measured and thoughtful where Zahawi is flamboyant and enthusiastic; cerebral where Zahawi is dynamic. YouGov was born in 2000.

YouGov’s subsequent success is often attributed to a series of stunningly accurate poll predictions – starting with the 2001 general election result. But it’s a bit deeper than that. Polling is the cream on the cake of market research. It can make you famous (if you get it right) but rarely brings in the money. YouGov’s true significance is that it was the first market research operation to fully grasp the implications of the internet and export them globally. It started in the right place – Britain is seen as a centre of methodological excellence – and at the right time. No need for the expensive bureaucracy, the delayed feedback panels and telephone teams that encumbered traditional market research brands. This was a new, legacy-free, overhead-light, lightning-swift, margin-rich operation that soon captivated the City and was catapulted onto the  world stage.

Once again, Zahawi’s excellent sense of timing has come to the fore in guiding him to a safe Conservative seat in the coming election. The rest of the market research world is catching up with the YouGov business model. Time to move on, perhaps. Commercial life, even life as exciting as the YouGov adventure, has been no more than an entertaining and temporary diversion from his destiny. Or so it seems.


Marketing Week relaunches Agency Reputation Survey

June 30, 2009

Marketing Week is relaunching its popular Agency Reputation Survey. Only this time, the survey will form the foundation stone of something much more ambitious.

The research, conducted among top clients by YouGov, will help to build up a comprehensive and thorough record of marketers’ attitudes towards agencies and advertising trends. We aim to add a lot of new qualitative material to the usual league tables.

It’s a subject, for better or worse, about which I know quite a lot – as I set up the first survey in 1989. There were plenty of league tables around then, many of them avidly followed. The problem was, they didn’t tell you enough. Agencies routinely exaggerated their self-complete billings figures by as much as they thought they could get away with. (The outdoor market must be much bigger than we supposed, we used to say). Nielsen figures, on the other hand were only a ratecard snapshot. Financial reporting was another route, but companies didn’t file their figures at Companies House regularly enough to make meaningful comparisons. Besides, the coming of the network groups meant that the performance of individual agencies was progressively consolidated into that of a few mammoth holding companies. That left reputation –  dissected over a wider variety of criteria such as creative excellence, planning, account handling, value for money and so forth, which could then be weighted and aggregated into a single super league. Agencies might not like the results very much, but it was what clients really thought – and that’s all that matters really.

Over the years, as I am acutely aware, the agency business has changed beyond recognition, with the splitting out of media buying/planning and the upsurge of digital. It is no longer possible, or probably desirable, to produce one mega ‘full-service’ league table. The new research will take account of that, by confining the survey, or rather surveys and updatable commentary, to more discrete areas – starting with creative agencies.

The top-line findings will be revealed in the autumn, although those involved in the survey will be offered a sneak preview prior to publication. The email inviting you to participate should be in your inbox this Thursday, so please look out for it.

The project is being led by my colleague, Sonoo Singh.


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