Opinion: On the Campaign Couch ... with JB

Q: Ryanair has made a successful business out of stripping down the basic cost of air travel to lesser airports and charging extra for anything their ingenuity can conjure up - even pay-per-pee is in prospect. But is it still correct to call them a 'customer-focused' company?

A: The thing about being a customer-focused company is that, to be successful, you don't have to focus on absolutely everyone. You just have to focus on enough customers to keep your business afloat; or, in the case of Ryanair, aloft.

You may have forgotten that a great many people adore recessions. These are people who keep their loose change in leather purses. They've lived miserably through the long boom years, wincing at every extravagance and finding it more and more difficult to justify their instinctive stinginess. And then, at last, along comes a recession - and stinginess becomes legitimate again; admirable, even.

Ryanair appeals very strongly, in good times and bad, for richer or poorer, to those who derive a fierce, positive pleasure from not spending. What others may see as pampering, they will see as repulsive. Offer them a free British Airways Club Class ticket - with its choice of fine wines, linen napkins, wash bag and flatbed seat - and they'll reel back appalled. Don't you remember them telling you, often at extreme length, how they can now get from Tulse Hill to Perpignan for half the price of a coach ticket to Birmingham?

For loveable people like these, Ryanair's policy of extreme miserliness is what we in the trade call an added value. BA has its linen napkins; Ryanair makes you pay to pee. For BA people, the napkin is what makes them feel good: they contrive to mention it to others. For Ryanair people, the threat of having to pay to pee is what makes them feel even better. Soon Penny will be telling you that Malcolm has trained himself to go from Tulse Hill to Perpignan without spending a penny. (This was originally Malcolm's joke. Like all Malcolm's jokes, it's self-congratulatory.)

Ryanair understands Malcolm perfectly.

Q: There seems to be a trend to shorten people's names as in J-Lo and SuBo and I wondered if anyone has referred to you as JerBu. If they did, would you be flattered or offended?

A: It's always flattering to be referred to. In this case, however, I wouldn't know I had been.

Q: You mentioned the withdrawal of 'New Coke' and reinstatement of Coke 'original', despite the enormous amounts of taste test research conducted beforehand. There's also the Coke v Pepsi blind taste test which suggests a preference for the latter, yet the former remains brand leader in many markets. I've heard an explanation for this, which is that the research methodology used is at fault - respondents are given sips of the drinks in test, as opposed to a whole bottle or can. And some recipes perform better in small doses while others win when consumed as normal - vitally important given the volume of these drinks consumed daily by heavy users. Is this true, or just another urban marketing myth?

A: You don't need to look for any rational, functional explanation. It has long been established that brand feeling affects brand taste.

Years ago, when retailers' products first began to threaten the dominance of manufacturers' brands (own-label products were always called products because no manufacturer wanted to admit that retailers were brands, too), the most useful research was blind versus named taste research.

A great many discriminating consumers would be invited to try two bowls of cornflakes. Let us call them Bowl A and Bowl B. To avoid first-taste effect, half the sample would try Bowl A first and half the sample Bowl B first. They were then asked to declare which of the two tasted the better. Typically, the results would show a 54/46 preference for Bowl B.

A matched sample would then be invited to try two bowls of precisely the same cornflakes, but in this case they would be clearly marked Kellogg's Cornflakes and Sainsbury's Cornflakes. The same meticulous procedure would be followed. And typically, the results would show a 61/39 preference for what had once been Bowl B but was now revealed to have been Kellogg's. The knowledge that these cornflakes had been made by Kellogg's made them taste better.

That's why Malcolm (see above) always serves his Algerian red from St. Emilion bottles. His guests are invariably appreciative and Malcolm is invariably smug.

- "Ask Jeremy", a collection of Jeremy Bullmore's Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10. Telephone (020) 8267 4683.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

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