OPINION: MILLS ON MARKETING

It is one of the oldest tricks in the advertising book to use everyday items as a benchmark for the price of your own product - ie something you think is expensive is only the cost of three boxes of Smarties.

It is one of the oldest tricks in the advertising book to use

everyday items as a benchmark for the price of your own product - ie

something you think is expensive is only the cost of three boxes of

Smarties.



A couple of years ago, when BT wanted consumers to reappraise the cost

of phone calls, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO ran a series of posters

comparing the price of five minutes chat to the price of carrots and a

half pint of beer. Striking ads, they spoke the language of the man in

the street.



Now the Prudential is using the same technique to sell pensions. ’A

couple of pints a night? Is that too much to pay for a comfortable

pension?’ a poster asks. The same strategy and, coincidentally I’m sure,

the same agency - not that the man in the street cares about either.



What he might care about, however, is the premise implicit in the ad

that this isn’t a lot of money. A moment’s thought - and several

colleagues here had done the same calculation - reveals that two pints a

night at pounds 2 a pint (more if you drink lager in London) costs

pounds 28 a week or pounds 112 a month. Their reaction, like mine, was:

’At that price, no thanks.’



Marketing pensions is the brief from hell. You can’t scare people by

showing impoverished pensioners. So most pension sellers accentuate the

positive. In the early 90s, Legal & General showed people’s joy at the

receipt of unexpectedly large pension cheques, and last year the Pru

showed people using their pensions to fulfil their dreams. But the fact

that this has now been abandoned suggests it wasn’t effective

either.



The Pru has clearly concluded that price is the major obstacle to buying

a pension, coupled with inertia. Judging by my own experience, I’d say

it was right. But either it doesn’t know what a pint costs or it doesn’t

think pounds 28 a week is a lot of money. Whatever, it has lost that

vital point of contact with the man in the street. Which leaves me with

one last thought: if women increasingly make or influence household

decisions on pensions, why is this ad aimed at men?



Recently, a publisher sought to defend a libel case by claiming his

paper’s circulation was so small the libel was of no consequence.



Last week, wearing his hat as president of ISBA, Simon Bullimore of Mars

mounted a defence of advertising against the creeping onset of

regulation dressed up as Euro consumerism.



In many respects, it was an exemplary argument - except for one thing.

Quoting an Exeter Univer-sity study of child-ren and advertising which

showed that only 2 per cent of the responses named branded products,

Bullimore concluded that advertising had little influence on

children.



This is a parallel with the publisher’s libel defence. Defending

advertising by claiming it makes little difference is an invitation to

legislators to close it down.



Better surely for the industry to demonstrate the benefits of

advertising to society as a whole: choice, information, funding the

media and, above all, economic prosperity through competitive advantage.



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