Topshop Fail

One of the learnings in our recent Evolution of the Consumer research project, has been the increasing level of justification consumers seem to need these days, to loosen their purse strings.  Rationalising our spending isn’t a new phenomenon. But whereas in the Celtic Tiger years, the fact that it was a Wednesday was reason enough to treat ourselves, now we require something more substantial to alleviate shopping guilt.

So it’s understandable that retailers are trying to devise clever ways to get us spending. I was on the receiving end of a couple of these techniques during the week, one success, one failure. Marks & Spencers have got a range of lunch products for Christmas, in support of Focus Ireland. A percentage of all profits made on these sandwiches goes directly to the charity. There was no price premium for me and I got a lovely feel good factor in buying my lunch that day. I’ll be going back soon.

In contrast, I also received a 20% off viral coupon from Topshop. These viral coupons have been really popular over the last couple of years and they whiz around amongst girls – I sent this one on to all my friends. I love Topshop, 20% is a generous discount and it was all the justification I needed to visit. I made a special effort to print out the coupon and go in, as it was for a limited time period. Instore however, I saw that the 20% discount was plastered all over the shop and was available to everyone. You didn’t need the coupon at all. In fact I didn’t actually have a coupon, I just had a printed out advertisement for a Topshop sale.

I couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated.

Receiving and passing on an exclusive voucher that’s of benefit to all my friends, that’s motivating. Acting as a free advertising medium to publicise a Topshop sale – what’s in it for me? Next time I get a Topshop viral, I won’t be pressing forward.


It’s not a Medium, it’s a World

OMD have just finished putting together a piece of consumer insight called “Evolution of the Consumer” (see plug below*). One of the most interesting findings, was the accelerating influence of the internet, which inadvertantly seeped through into almost every single macro-trend we looked at.

In exploring how Irish people’s lives and lifestyles have evolved over the last 12 months, we found that the numbers who are shopping and swapping, researching and reviewing, watching and downloading, communicating and networking – using the internet – are all on the up. When we asked our participants where they go for information, across a range wide of  purchase categories, the internet came out on top for Food & Nutrition, Mobiles & Electronics, Motors, Entertainment Content and came out as the second most important source for Household products, Groceries, Healthcare, Cosmetics and Fashion.

The internet is still an unknown quantity for many Irish marketers. With so many people now “online”, we know our brands should be there, but we’re not sure how to get there and we’re not sure if we really belong there.  I think that part of the problem is our paradigm.

We are thinking of “the internet” as a medium, in the same way we think about other media channels TV, Radio, Cinema, Print, Outdoor. Whereas in fact, it’s probably much more accurate to think of “the internet” as a parallel virtual world. This parallel world has all the same things as the real world. It has TV – short form clips, long form episodes and films, user generated content. It has Radio – podcasts, audioclips, live music streaming. It has Outdoor – skyscapers, islands and banners. It has Newspapers – editorial content, forums and blogs. It has Word of Mouth which races across neighbourhood fences. It has shops where you can buy things. There are social places to meet up with friends, communication devices to keep in touch with family and pickup bars to find love.

Using internet as a conduit to your customers isn’t just about advertising or sponsorship, the most prevalent models in other media. Online is about search, content, conversations, response, reputation, editorial – and about a million different things which I don’t know yet and haven’t been developed yet. We need to shift the paradigm through which we see, and talk about, online. The internet is not a new medium, it’s a new world.


*Evolution of the Consumer is an Omnicom Media Group consumer insight project which explores what Irish people are currently thinking and doing, and the implications this has for our clients’ brands for 2009/2010. We worked with leading consumer trend forecaster William Higham, to define the key consumer trends going into 2010, based on behaviours which are globally prevalent.  He defined 8 key macro-trends, which we surveyed locally using Snapshots, our online research tool: Cautious Spending, Bye Bye Bling, Smart Shoppers, Temporary Ownership, Cult of Home, Free, Selfish Green, Trust & Transparency.

Don’t Say Crowdsourcing to Jimmy Wales

I was lucky enough to go see Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, speak last week in Trinity College, hosted by The Phil. Jimmy was a fascinating speaker and I’ve no doubt I’ll get a number of blog posts out of the themes he touched on – from digital natives, drawing on his own young daughter who was sitting in the audience busily updating her blog as he presented, to the future of the social web, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivations of his contributors, and the ethics of setting up in censored countries.

One particularly interesting exchange happened after the main talk, when Jimmy took a Q&A. Mark Little, who is himself pursuing a digital project this year, was facilitating. Mark started out by saying that in the spirit of meeting the Wikipedia founder, he had crowdsourced his questions on Twitter that day. I thought this was a great idea.

However, the word “crowdsourcing” seemed to strike a nerve with Jimmy. He immediately took issue with the term which he said stemmed from the word “outsourcing”, whereby companies send out their grind work to cheap labour in developing countries. He seemed sensitive about the term as applied to his initiatives, no doubt because of questions which often arise about whether Wikipedia contributors should be paid.

This isn’t as heated a point for Wikipedia, seen as it’s a non-profit organisation providing an invaluable resource for everyone. Wikia however, is Jimmy Wales’ new venture, and is a “for profit” company. Wikia is essentially collection of individual wikis on different subjects, all hosted on the same website. They are almost like magazine sites, on any topic which generates conversation or has an active community, ranging from TV to Sports to Food – to any number of niche or cult topics. The biggest hitters unsurprisingly are the wikias for Star Trek, Battlestar Galatica and Star Wars.

There’s already banner advertising on these pages and they offer an intriguing and hyper-targeted route to specific audiences. Jimmy showed us a graph tracking it’s progress and although traffic is still relatively low, it is following the same growth rate path as Wikipedia in it’s early days. Wikia is based around tapping into one of the most powerful dynamics of the internet – “Communities”, something we’ve been talking about a lot in OMD this year. More on this to come…

That’s So True

I love all the recent Boots Ads. They’re strongly driven by consumer insight, in a way that also manages to be highly product focused. The type of insights that Boots tap into, mainly highlighting obvious gender differences in common rituals, I think illustrates something really important about what an “insight” actually is.

Some people can get very hung up on the idea that insights have to be “new” to be a real insight. Often that means we as agency strategists, end up struggling to come up with “undiscovered” information on a brand, category or consumer base, when the reality is that our clients are already very aware of the finer dynamics of their business.

Alternatively, we do sometimes uncover morsels of information which are genuinely “new”, but these tend to be learnings which are weak drivers of human behaviour like “your customer’s favourite colour is teal”.

I’ve always found the most powerful insights into human motivation are rarely new – just newly exposed, interpreted or narrated. In the same way writers might argue that there are really only 7 types of storylines, perhaps there is a similarly finite number of truly influential insights. So in thinking about insight, maybe we should be focusing less on “I never knew that” and more on “that’s so true”.

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