They say that corporate advertising is a lot like peeing down your
trouser leg: it gives you a nice warm feeling but nobody else knows your
doing it. This, no doubt, is one of the questions Shell is debating.
But what about Cam-elot? In the past, it has reacted to criticism by
taking out double-page spreads in opinion-forming titles such as the FT
and the Spectator - whose readers probably don’t play the lottery. The
question is whether it needs to do something broader to address
potential concerns among its target market.
The initial view, to judge by latest ticket sales, is that the public
aren’t that bothered. As long as the lottery continues to run smoothly
and the money flows in and out as before, what do they care about a
silly spat between two millionaires? That is the pragmatic view.
The other is that, even though they may continue to play, the public’s
confidence in the probity and integrity of Camelot has been severely
damaged, as perhaps has that of its employees and suppliers. It
therefore has to advertise to restore its reputation.
But if it does do the latter, what should it say? It can either say ’we
knew nothing’ or ’we’re incredibly efficient and give millions to good
causes’. Either claim would suggest an underlying cynicism. The least
cynical route may be to keep its head down and say nothing.
Reasons to be cheerful: car sales surge 12 per cent in December; high
street sales back on track; house prices hit their highest levels since
the late 80s. Yippee! The good times are back. If all this sounds
familiar, cast your minds back to 1988-89, the so-called Lawson boom.
Then, as now, it seemed like the miracle of rising consumption could go
on forever, fuelled by financial deregulation, mortgage mania and oodles
of cheap credit. And then, of course, the party was over.
Which brings us to the parallels with now. One measure, albeit highly
personal, is the amount of easy money sloshing around the system looking
for a home - specifically mine. Since Christmas, I have been bombarded
with direct mail offers of credit from Barclays, Lombard Tricity Finance
(who they?), MBNA, Visa - you name it. At the last count the total on
offer to Mills Inc. was pounds 18,000. I’d like to think this was
because I’m a wonderful credit risk - but it isn’t.
On one level, the marketing techniques are crude and insulting, using as
they do a patently insincere personal approach. The wording is also
remarkably similar (perhaps they’ve all been reading Drayton Bird’s
’We have a guaranteed pounds 2,500 loan reserved exclusively for
you ...’, says one. ’We have set aside pounds 7,000 for your immediate
access without an application or any questions whatsoever ...’, goes
Moreover, does the easy availability of all this money - and its
targeting at consumers - suggest we are at or near the top of the boom
and about to plunge into recession? Last time, marketing departments
were caught short and didn’t adjust their habits until it was too late.
This time, if it happens, they need to have a strategy in place.