A view from Richard Alford, managing director, M&C Saatchi

Going cold turkey on 'in your face' sale ads is the only way to avoid brand harm

Marketing's unique weekly analysis of ad recall in association with TNS.

Heroin. An insidious substance that gives users a sense of euphoria and wellbeing, while slowly killing them. Its addictive qualities are well known, and terrifying. It is, quite rightly, illegal, with harsh penalties for both peddling it and using it.

Hardcore sale ads, featuring slashed prices and interest-free credit give certain brands a similar short-term high. We're all familiar with the grim seasonal parade of sofas and dining sets, with graphics showing reduced prices. There are several examples in this week's top 20, including DFS (of course), ScS and Furniture Village.

All have produced roughly the same ads, with almost identical offers. So, what is the long-term impact of this approach to the brands' health?

First, there is the danger of dependency on these tactics. A feeling that one simply can't change because consumers have come to expect 50%, 70%, 80% off. However, the harsh answer is the same as it is for curing all dangerous addictions: a painful and debilitating period of cold turkey, followed by a reboot of goals and strategies, and then a fresh start.

Another problem is the obvious effect such violent discounting has on the credibility of the entire sale genre (not to mention engendering deep scepticism over the original prices). People stop believing you. It all gets categorised as 'sale bullshit', and therefore deeper discounting is required to 'cut through'. It is a sad and pathetic spiral of decline.

The final problem is a brand one - you stop looking to the future, and measure yourself solely on short-term sales, no matter what margin was achieved. The idea that the brand can have a rich and rewarding life becomes obscured by the pursuit of share. The brand's health starts to fail, and recovery becomes ever harder to achieve.

How do these addictions start? A tough upbringing? Bad parents? Well, of course, marketers are under huge pressure to show a straight line between marketing spend and sales, but it seems some are just no longer willing to explain to their deeply sceptical management why a brand is important, what its relation to the bottom line is, and why it requires investment as well as exploitation.

So, is there anything we can do to break this awful cycle of addiction and decline? One answer is not to experiment with such toxic material in the first place; just say no. The next step is to do away with high/low pricing and pursue a strategy of transparent and fair pricing. The final part of the solution - and the most important - is to see the brand as a weapon for driving active choice and genuine differentiation, but also one that requires investment and creative brilliance. DFS is starting down this road, and ought to be applauded.

There is another explanation for this strange group behaviour, which must be acknowledged: it works. It shifts boxes. It sells stuff, which it does. The unanswered question remains, at what long-term cost to the health of the brand and business?

Brand strategy verdict

Not a lot of brand strategy on view, sadly. DFS doing best, the others shuffling off looking to score their next fix.

4 out of 10

Which of the following TV commercials do you remember seeing recentlY?
Latest rank Feb-07 Brand Agency/TV buyer Recall
1 - Gocompare.com  Dare/Carat 58
2= - Coca-Cola  Animal Logic/Vizeum 53
2= - Asda  Saatchi & Saatchi/Carat 53
4 - Confused.com 

Wordley Production +

Hornet Inc/PHD

5 - BT  AMV BBDO/Maxus 45
6 5 DFS  Krow/Mediacom 44
7 - Netflix  AV Squad/MEC 39
8= - Prostate Cancer UK 

Holmes Hobbs Marcantonio/

Manning Gottlieb OMD

8= - EDF Energy  AMV BBDO/Havas Media 38
10 - Halifax  Adam & Eve DDB/MEC 37
11 - ScS Furniture 

Martin Tait Redheads/

Martin Tait Redheads

12 - Furniture Village 

Wordley Production,


13= - The Sun  Grey London/M-Six 33
13= - Direct Line  M&C Saatchi/Mediacom 33
15 - Quorn 

Big Communications/


16 - Niquitin  TBWA/Mediacom 29
17= - Take a Break  Kindred Agency/MEC 28
17= 14= Walt Disney World Resorts  BETC Paris/Carat 28
17= 8= Harveys  HMDG/Walker Media 28
20 - Jackpotjoy.com  Isobel/Maxus 26

Adwatch research was conducted from 24-28 January 2013 by TNS as part of its twice-weekly OnLineBus omnibus among 1000 adults aged 16-64. For details of the survey, contact Bob.Salmons@tnsglobal.com (020 7160 5550). Ads were compiled by Ebiquity (020 7650 9700) and Mediaedge:cia UK (020 7803 2000).