True brand building is needed to win a price war

“I’ve searched all the parks in all cities and found no statues of committees” said Gilbert K. Chesterton. In this quote I am reminded of the advertising campaigns that we developed for a particular government agency that had a tremendously large marketing and communications department. Perhaps it was in an effort to provide high rates of employment that the politicians had promised before they were elected into office, or maybe it was because they felt the need to communicate everything about the organization in mind numbing detail.

The advertising status meetings were always set one hour before the morning tea break. The tea ceremony occurred after sixty minutes of skirting around more topics that could fit in the time available, managing the egos of touchy committee members, and bringing in more seats to accommodate all the marketing staff that wanted to attend the meeting.

We would be forewarned about the refreshment break as the clutter of tea cups and Thermos flasks on plastic trays could be heard coming from the direction of the kitchen situated down the narrow hallway. Soon after, we would be interrupted as a contingent of tea ladies and the aroma of freshly fried mandazis occupied the room and at that point you could tell the you’d lost the attention of your hosts and the meeting was practically over.

Chesterton’s quote above comes into focus because the oversized marketing committee would overthink every campaign message and reduce great creative concepts into the safest and most boring pieces of communication that could ever be broadcast. After sanitizing the ad campaigns so that every committee member acknowledged that their feelings had been addressed we served them to target audiences who yawned through the 30 second commercials. The geniuses in our media department would ensure that the campaigns reached the right people in the required quantities and then provide a report to show that we had met our exposure targets.

What about engagement you might ask. Well, the budgets for conducting post campaign research were often cut at the last minute but as long as the committee knew that their customers were seeing ads that they had all approved, then that should’ve been good enough.

This phenomenon is not only experienced in the public sector as I have seen it time and again in the private sector. In an effort to create ‘ownership’ of the message the advertising campaign is presented to a cross section of the workforce for their approval, and after beating it to death the outcome is a germ free, sterile ad that no one can criticize and that no one can enjoy.

So when the troops from China and the Far East march into our market with cheap products and services and launch aggressive price wars, we are caught flat footed. All those flat campaigns that we’ve run do little for brand building and customers resort to the wisdom that if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck — why buy a more expensive product when you can save a few shillings for the same thing.

An energy company we produced advertising for took a different approach. They’d involve everyone in an extensive and tiresome communication planning process with the focus of getting all relevant departments to voice their needs from a strategic point of view. Once the relevant market dynamics were validated by research they then shut the door and remained with the ad agency and together we developed key messages and produced campaigns that were relevant to the needs. A small team of people with the right qualifications approved the ads.

The approved ads would then by launched internally at a grand event and the message to the team was that ‘we listened to you, worked hard and created this great campaign, and we hope you like it; positive comments are welcomed with open arms and negative comments, if any, can be reserved for the rest room’. On a more serious note, the comments would be recorded and fed into the next round of campaign planning because once approved, the ads would not be changed.

The result was bold advertising that had high recall and that built a strong brand. When the price wars began, they were able to hold on to their customers who knew exactly why the brand was superior to the cheaper products, and they were happy to pay more for that value.

A growing economy and an upsurge in consumerism leads to a highly competitive environment and it is the brands that are single minded and focused that come out on top and have the name of their leader emblazoned in history, if not embodied in a statue in a park somewhere for their courage and determination to walk the road less travelled.


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