Posts By: lydia kohl

Don’t blame the tobacco brands, blame the parents.

The recent Sun story about a
2 year old, Ardi Rizal from an Indonisia fishing village, smoking 40 a day
no doubt fuelled anti smoking groups and attacks on cigarette brands. But this
is not a case where you can blame the brands or us, the advertising industry,
as is so often the case. There is no subversive advertising to babies going on,
not even in the wildest imagination of an extreme anti smoker.

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Metro’s 10 years is a testament to business acumen

Congratulations must go to Associated’s Metro, which celebrates 10 years in circulation today.

The free city-based spoiler to Sweden’s Metro International has defied the critics, and the odds, and managed to carve out a niche for a daily title that encapsulates news-lite, as seen on TV and global wires the night before.

When first launched in London on 16 March 1999, Metro had a print circulation of 85,000, distributed through some 70 underground stations in the heart of the capital.

Ten years on, and the now all too familiar blue masthead boasts a circulation of 1.3 million and more than3.3 million readers.

It is distributed in every major UK city, including London, Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow and Cardiff.

In today’s celebratory issue, the paper proudly lists the stories it has carried over the years under the banner ‘You read it here’ (no sign of the word ‘first’). Included in its array of achievements is last month’s revelation “Feb 2 – Snow covers much of Britain”.

But while its content, buoyed by page 3 staples about giant toads, homes built for smurfs, killer crayfish and things to do with old copies of Metro, may not be award-winning stuff, the deals that have helped propel the titlehave been impressive.

Realising its potential if it moves beyond the capital, Associated embarked on an ambitious expansion strategy. But when faced with the realisation that most pockets of the UK are sown up by strong regional newspaper operations, the group managed to broker a series of innovative partnerships.

It is something Metro International has been trying, and failing, to do in Germany for more than a decade.

Today, the free paper is in bed with Trinity Mirror, Northcliffe Media, Johnson Press and the Guardian Media Group. It also publishes in Dublin through a joint venture with Irish Times and is part of a European sell through a deal with Metro International.

With its network of eyeballs in place, Metro was able to double its ad rates by the middle of the decade,claimingunprecedented access to the elusive, young professionals.

Its commercial drive has also resulted in some genuine market-leading solutions, including Metro’s ‘Brand to Hand’ sampling business (Yorkie, 2002); the Metro Rough Guide partnership (Post Office, 2004); wraps on high grade glossy paper (BA, 2005); and even wraps incorporating lenticular holographic images (Sony Ericsson, 2008).

Managing director Steve Auckland rightly acknowledges that Metro has become an “invaluable part of the journey for commuters in the UK”, and is now the fourth largest national newspaper in the country, “with over 3.3m readers daily”.

But to survive the next 10, the papercan’t affordfor its achievements to end there. The well publicised profitability it reached in 2003, is now under serious threat following double-digit declines in advertising, while a revitalised Evening Standard, under new Russian rule, will also be hoping to make a sizeable dent in its London operations. The next round begins with a public fight to retain its TfL contract.

Happy Birthday Metro, here’s to those teenage years.

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BP teaches us a lesson in humility

Whether you’re a Prime Minister who’s led a country into an illegal, ill-conceived war, or a multi-million pound footballer caught with your pants down while your pregnant wife’s out shopping, for many ‘sorry’ really is the hardest word; so credit where it’s due to that modern day pariah, BP.

Speaking at the International Advertising Association lunch this month, Luc Bardin, BP’s group sales and marketing chief, made a surprisingly candid and personal speech.

Addressing more than 200 international media and advertising executives, the Frenchman set the tone early with a disclaimer: “I’m not going to have a response as a marketer. I’m going to have a response as a person.”

He went on to talk for more than half an hour about his own “very physical and emotional time” working alongside some 60,000 BP employees in the Gulf of Mexico, “sleeves rolled up, feet on the ground and working in the trenches”.

Bardin referred to the spill as “a tragic accident” but wanted to stress how BP “has taken responsibility”.

Among the more surprising revelations during the crisis was that the usually very serious business of BP’s brand management was among the first things to slip from the radar. I guess when people have died, wildlife has suffered and coastlines have been decimated, as Bardin himself admitted, “it hardly matters, it hardly matters”.

Except of course, now the oil’s finally stopped and recriminations become more rationalised, it actually starts to become more of an issue.

Why wasn’t CEO Tony Hayward more media savvy? Why did the long-defunct ‘British Petroleum’ branding creep back into the lexicon? Why were there so many mixed messages in the early days? And, just as importantly, what is the plan going forward?

Bardin didn’t profess to having all the answers. He conceded “all components of the brand” were now being considered, but refused to commit to any ‘back to business’ marketing drive in the US or anywhere else.

“Actions are going to be much stronger than words,” he said, adding that “BP is a wonderful brand that will prove itself over time.”

But ‘time’ may be among the many things the fourth largest multi-national company in the world has lost along the way.

What has been even more disturbing than the raging, vitriolic media coverage and obligatory “I Hate Tony Hayward” Facebook page, has been the speed with which fellow marketers and commentators have written off the 100 year old brand.

Nowhere has this rapid descent been symbolised more clearly than in Interbrand’s annual league table, where BP tumbled more than 17 places to sit outside the global Top 100 for the first time since its inception.

The profound plummet in brand value has been tracked across the board, with consultancy Brand Finance calculating BP haemorrhaged an eye-watering $72m (£45m) worth of brand value every day between May and July after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

BP also officially revealed the biggest-ever quarterly loss by any British company of £11 billion.

It’s dangerous ground when your market value is considered to be substantially less than the sum of your parts. The vultures have already begun to circle in the anticipation of a fire-sale of BP’s oil wells, offices and equipment. Whisper it, but it really could be an effective way to end the pain.

Bardin will be more aware of such a potential quick-fix remedy than most, but his passion and focus remains.

“The brand belongs to the people, and a brand like BP belongs to all those who are associated with it in anyway,” he said.
He added: “I think this organisation is distinctive in the way that people live what they are. The incident is absolutely shocking. It has been a blow to many people, including me.”

“We are going to continue to try and get it right. Stay true to what the brand is and who you are.”

He was only speaking at the event at all because he’d committed to attend before the Maconda disaster on 20 April. The fact that, many crazy months later, the father of four had honoured his commitment to the west London gig was to his credit.

But the marketer who, in addition to his sales and marketing remit is also responsible for BP’s colossal strategic partnerships like the Olympics, was under no illusions about the “massive task” ahead.

He was right to ask us “Did [the tragedy] mean that our brand and what it represents was bad? Does it mean that what many people in this world respected and valued was bad?”

Graham Hales, chief executive of Interbrand, believes BP’s future must now involve setting “realistic expectations” and ensuring it can live up to and deliver against them.

For his part, Bardin concluded with nothing short of an emotional plea: “I came here to share a passion for this brand. Help it please, it needs your belief.”

BP’s former chief Hayward was right about one thing: life really isn’t fair, and we all run the risk of stepping off the pavement one day and being hit by a bus. But let’s not forget that if you survive, how you bounce back will always be the clincher to the story.

On 17 September 2010, BP’s Luc Bardin didn’t make a bad start.

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