OPINION: MILLS ON ... MARKETERS ALIENATING CUSTOMERS

Earlier this year I read an interview with an executive from Coca-Cola in which he talked quite seriously about his company’s mission to ’increase its share of throat’. It’s a deplorable turn of phrase which sounds like an out-take from the film Deep Throat but, nevertheless, if you work in advertising or marketing, it is a shorthand that is easily understood.

Earlier this year I read an interview with an executive from

Coca-Cola in which he talked quite seriously about his company’s mission

to ’increase its share of throat’. It’s a deplorable turn of phrase

which sounds like an out-take from the film Deep Throat but,

nevertheless, if you work in advertising or marketing, it is a shorthand

that is easily understood.



But what would a Coke drinker make of such language? I’m not suggesting

they’re so naive they don’t realise Coke’s after their money but to hear

themselves talked of this way would alienate them. The crudity of the

language revealed what Coke really thinks of them.



What this highlights is a basic paradox about marketing: for all the

talk about one-to-one marketing, understanding consumers and getting to

know them, many marketers are inept when it comes to matching action and

words.



Take Jigsaw, the Unilever/Cadbury/Kimberly-Clark consortium where three

non-competing companies have got together to build and share more and

better information about their consumers.



The basic building block of Jigsaw is a massive consumer survey - the

kind that gives you a nosebleed and makes filling out a tax form look a

doddle.



I use the word ’massive’ with feeling. The survey contains 176 questions

in tiny print over five sides of A4 paper. Actually, that’s being kind

to Jigsaw: one question offers a choice of up to 55 boxes to tick. There

are 24 questions alone on chocolate. How many bars/bags of children’s

chocolate do I/my partner/my children buy each week? I haven’t the

foggiest. Am I going to ask my partner?



They must be joking.



Still, if you think that’s bad, try the Kimberly-Clark section. Let’s

start with toilet tissue, as they call it. I am invited to agree,

neither agree/disagree or disagree with 11 statements along the lines of

’I would try a new toilet tissue if it was better at cleaning/leaves you

clean’. I shall leave you to figure out the tone of the questions about

panty-liners and so on.



So what then do we, the consumer, get in return for all the time and

effort involved in answering these ridiculously detailed and personal

questions which Jigsaw artfully bills as ’helping us to help you’

(yuk).



Well, there’s a customer magazine called Voila, which is a sort of

low-rent Bella, offers and coupons and - wait for it - the chance to win

one of 20 mobile phones in a prize draw. Not a fair exchange, I think,

considering the immense value of the information to the Jigsaw

members.



By any standards this is a bold and innovative marketing project, a

fascinating attempt by three companies to adapt to a new era. But can

Jigsaw really expect people to respond and, if they do reply, are they

the right people?



If people knew exactly what the information was going to be used for,

would they be so happy to take part? Maybe. But push consumers too far

and they’ll turn on you. My guess is Jigsaw is pushing at the limits.



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