Media: Strategy Analysis - Making Black n' Red the City's choice

Brand: Black n' Red
Client: Jane Rowe, marketing director
Brief: Increase sales of Black n' Red notebooks
Target audience: Office workers/influencers, stationery purchasers and
trade resellers
Budget: £100,000

Media: Media Planning Group
PR: icasPR
Creative: MPG, KB49
Web design: JDA
Product placement: New Media Group


The stationery range Black n' Red launched in 1964. Its strong, visual identity meant it looked good on chief executives' desks and in the offices of people who pride themselves on appearance.

The brand was performing well, but the client had a number of challenges to overcome. Black n' Red was recognised for its iconic look, but most office stationery purchasers could not name the brand - a critical factor in building sales.

Research showed that the target could describe the black book with the red spine, but there was a disconnect when remembering the brand name. Media Planning Group needed to increase the awareness of the brand to increase direct requests for Black n' Red throughout the supply chain.

MPG heard an anecdote that at a large City bank, only employees who had passed their financial exams were allowed a Black n' Red notebook from the stationery cupboard. This was backed up by research and MPG felt there was a real opportunity for Black n' Red to become the City's brand of choice. This also allowed the agency to focus its relatively small consumer advertising spend to give impact and results.


MPG developed a collaborative approach to selecting media partners for the end-user campaign and worked to span as many of the target groups as possible with each media owner; from City office professionals to office purchasers, who were often PAs.

- Press: The Times was selected as the print and events partner as it had an existing strength in PA recruitment via its Creme supplement offering top jobs and editorial in the PA sector.

MPG capitalised on Black n' Red's existing strong visual heritage and planned a month's campaign in the business section of The Times and Creme.

Using small space sizes developed specifically for the exact placement positions in The Times, MPG believed it reached 30 per cent of City office workers in 15 different editions.

City AM was the final end-user print partner owing to the strength of its distribution around the City of London. MPG continued its small space size print campaign.

- PR: Black n' Red took a stand at the Creme event at Olympia and also developed a sponsorship of the envelopes and e-mails delivering tickets to the attendees, with a reach of more than 26,000 PAs.

- Digital: The Telegraph online was selected as the main digital partner, owing to its strength at reaching City office workers. Its Alex cartoon was also used with Black n' Red sponsoring "Alex on the Go", the Telegraph's straight-to-WAP service for the cartoon, that includes in-paper credits and promotions, online banners and buttons and the WAP service itself.

Black n' Red is also sponsoring the downloadable "Alex" character from the cartoon on computer desktops. The character informs users of news by using a Black n' Red notebook.

MPG also placed online banners and buttons with The Times' and Guardian Unlimited websites. It used the Guardian Unlimited's new IP targeting initiative, which delivers banners to financial businesses located in the City of London.

In addition, the agency developed a PA-specific online competition and campaign, alongside wholesale trade print and online activity.

- Product placement: This proved to be a highly successful element of the campaign, with Black n' Red notebooks chosen for the candidates to use on The Apprentice. The product also appeared on Coronation Street.


Sales of Black n' Red are up 21 per cent year on year and more than 2,000 names and addresses of those attending the Creme conference were collected.

THE VERDICT - Jon Gittings strategic planning director, Manning Gottlieb OMD

Apparently, you can tell a lot about a man by looking at his shoes. While hopefully not in the same price bracket, I think you can probably tell quite a lot about someone by looking at their notebook. Certainly, notebook envy is rife in our offices and I'd hate to think what would happen to Moleskine's revenues if it fell out of favour with advertising's planning teams. But it still has some distance to go to get Black n' Red's share and status.

Much about this strategy is very simple and smartly executed. Small budgets have a habit of doing this. "Black n' Red means business" is a great space from which to launch any number of ideas. Alex opening his notebook to read the desktop emerging news is a stroke of brilliance. Alex is an institution and by far the most engaging thing in the City, and that includes all those stiffs intent on wiping out my pension. It's a shame the idea wasn't extended offline. The Times and Creme seem appropriate, if obvious, as does The Guardian IP targeting. The product placement in The Apprentice is a superb idea although, as one of the few not obsessed by it, I don't know how prominent that placement was. Unfortunately, there is a however.

The way the strategy reads, it comes across as "any number of ideas".

Yes, it's linked by a common thread, but there's no sense of foundation or glue that binds. Alongside this there are three areas I would challenge specifically.

Why 30 per cent at 15 OTS? Is this the glue? Was this the most that could be extracted from the budget or was it a target? I'm pretty sure it was the former but I would have liked to see justification for the latter.

The second challenge is City AM. Cheap, yes. Essential City reading for stationery influencers or purchasers? No. The final question has to be over Corrie. Unless the script has taken some wild detours since I last watched, it doesn't exactly "mean business", even if it is beloved of PAs. Sorry, I don't buy that one, although I am curious as to how it came about.

I would challenge the research aspect too, but with a £100,000 budget it would be far too mean-spirited. Some good ideas that took a small budget a long way and contributed to impressive results.

SCORE: 3 out of 5.


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