OPINION: Mills on ... Woolworths

Hello, it's me, back again. Apologies to those readers who haven't missed me at all, but with the transfer out of Matthew Cowen I am, as Gary wrote and Robbie sang, back for good. Mr Cowen meanwhile has taken the contract publisher's shilling at Chime (what timing!) where he will be applying his finely honed critical and analytical skills to extolling the virtues of the Kwik-Save own-label range of family value chicken nuggets or whatever. Obviously the strain of writing this column and the consequent reader abuse took its toll on his health.

First up is the new Bates campaign for Woolies - you know, the one Paul Kaye berates himself as a cunt for appearing in. Well, oooh er, isn't he a bold fellow?

Still, in the Cowenite spirit of being fair and reasonable etc, let's be clear: Kaye's use of the word "cunt is an accurate description of himself and his behaviour, although not in the way he intended it. I have a simple view of these things: if you take the money - and believe me, he's taken a lot - then you should shut up. However, if you then call yourself a cunt for doing it in a vain attempt to regain your credibility because you've got a new show starting on BBC2 and you need to make yourself sound a bit edgy, then you are indeed a cunt. So here's another "c word to describe Kaye: cretin.

Not that I feel too sorry for Woolies, whose ability to incur self-inflicted wounds has done much to bring it to its present tatty state. As for the ads, they feature our soi-disant cunt as a bumbling but nevertheless lovable dad called Dave, who likes to use Woolies for all his shopping. In various quick-fire executions, Dave sings the praises of Woolies' special offers on school uniforms and stationery with the intention, I presume, of working his way through the entire range of stock lines.

Retailer advertising is always difficult because it has to balance the long-term aim of building or sustaining a brand against the short-term need to drive sales. It's hard to do both at the same time.

Woolies exemplifies this dichotomy: on the one hand, with the high-street shopping environment going through a period of rapid change, it has to define what it stands for, a task whose importance should not be underplayed.

On the other, as City doubts harden about the Woolies offering and the retail climate softens, it needs to shift product and fast. This, you might say, is a matter of balancing the important against the urgent.

You don't have to be a genius therefore to see Dave has been created to achieve this double effect of building the brand and driving the sales.

His character is supposed to embody the Woolies values - nice, approachable, slightly old-fashioned - while the things he buys stress the range and the offers.

Which is fine, but does Woolies really want to be nice, approachable and slightly old-fashioned? These hardly seem to be the brand values worth hanging a whole campaign on.

As for the visible branding, it's limited to the big red "W you can see in the picture - which seems rather feeble really. Feeble is one word to describe this effect. Bland is another. I suspect that's inevitable with a client as confused about itself as Woolies. Which makes you wonder why Kaye got so agitated. Are people really going to notice him making a twat of himself?

In reality, however, criticism or praise of the ads is almost beside the point. It's impossible to separate them from the febrile state Woolies is in, so the most appropriate thing to say about them is that they're probably what Woolies deserves.

Dead cert for a Pencil? You're kidding, right?
File under ... C for contemptible.
What would the chairman's wife say? Don't tell me he's doing your
Christmas campaign too.

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