Thursday 25 January 2024

Status Quid


If any British retailer represents the Status Quo, it’s Marks & Spencer. That’s why I was a little taken aback, then rather tickled, to see this TikTok ad which seems to have upset the Status Quo of the advertising world.

The origins of the film are interesting. Campaign rather sniffily just refers to it being “in-house”. But what actually happened is that M&S have been giving their store managers autonomy to do their own thing on social media for a while now. One young store manager - the chap who appears at the beginning of this video, who’d been doing his own TikToks for a while - put up his idea via the digital equivalent of the old-fashioned staff suggestions box.

Advertising types in trendy parts of London, predictably, find the result quite ghastly. And yes, it is cheesier than the counters of all the M&S Food stores put together, but that is its charm. Why is Barbie acceptable cheesiness, while this is not? 

But even worse than the creative types tearing out their rainbow hair are the pompous planners on their high horses about branding. I am at a loss to understand how this little film - it’s hardly a multi-million image campaign - can be detrimental to the brand.

The message is highly relevant to our current “counting the pennies” situation. It shows that the brand knows exactly where people are.

The jollity and exuberance of band, staff, influencers and customers will surely attract a few more people in-store rather than ordering online.

Francis Rossi and his band are just as much a national treasure as Twiggy, Dawn French or any of the many M&S spokespeople - best of British and unafraid to take the p*ss out of themselves.

And the beauty of it is - as with top-notch humour - it unites people across generations. Rather like this rather more spectacular ad from Australia:

If Francis Rossi rakes in enough money to get a new guitar, I won’t begrudge him that.

Monday 15 January 2024

Old, new, borrowed and blue - or purple


One of my favourite German ads from last year was this 1980s extravaganza from Perwoll. And little did I know it last March, but this heralded a rather nifty “practice what you preach” trend in the ad world. Ad recycling. 

Mars went all-out for it with their Healthy Planet Productions Campaign , where well-loved ads for M&Ms, Twix and Bounty have been repurposed to draw attention to the carbon impact of advertising and get some new messages across about climate change. All while saving on production costs to client coffers and planet. 

The other bit of good news about this is that System1, suppported by Mark Ritson, have long been casting doubt on the marketer’s bugbear of “wearout". If an ad is any good, it might still do your brand good 19 years later, rather like one of the Princess Royal’s outfits, which never seem to wear out.

Recycled and repurposed items made it onto the Christmas wish list for many responsible citizens. And responsibly-minded clients got recycled ads. If not the specific execution, then at least the idea - such as Cadbury’s extending their previous year’s campaign into OOH media.

And then there was the heartwarming recycling of the Shake ’n’ Vac song, or Double Diamond works wonders and other jingles from the past as reminiscence therapy for dementia patients via Heart radio and The Wayback Project. 

And the trend shows no sign of abating. This rather wonderful film from Cadbury’s (again) is not really a direct recycle, more a mix of old, new, borrowed and blue. Or is that purple?

What’s clever here is that it not only reinterprets the original Cadbury’s Mum’s Birthday ad ... but it also borrows from a rich school of “heritage” ads - something that the Brits do particularly well:

Some may bemoan the lack of creativity and originality here, but I beg to disagree. Choosing exactly the right combination of familiar and surprising elements for these films is an art.

Could 2024 be the year of the Circular Adconomy?

Tuesday 2 January 2024

RETROWURST: Drogerie Wars January 2006


I’ve just done my first shopping trip of the year in dm - I couldn’t quite face all the eager beavers buying groceries just yet. Maybe - as I wrote in this piece 18 years ago - there is indeed something calming about the dm shopping experience that’s just right to get you back into the swing of things.


To start off the New Year, my first Extrawurst for 2006 will take the theme of “drugstore wars”. Before we get into the armies involved, I probably need to just say a little bit about German drugstores themselves. First of all Drogerie or “drugstore” is a bit of a misnomer. A Drogerie is really not the place to go looking for a quick way to deal with that New Year Schnapps-induced hangover as the strongest drugs one is likely to find in these places are herbal teas. Drogeries do not sell anything classed as a medicine, although they do sell a very wide range of herbal remedies and teas.


The main product categories on sale in a Drogerie in addition to the herbal remedies are beauty products of all sorts, household goods, paper goods, baby foods and pet foods. In addition, you may also find baby and children’s clothing, seasonal knick-knacks and decorations, toys and some food and beverages. There may well be shop-in-shop stands, such as Tchibo or services for films and mobile phones.


Now, you may well be thinking “Aha! Boots!” but somehow the Drogerie has much less of a feeling of competence and trust than Boots and more a feeling of a sort of health-and-beauty bazaar. Even Superdrug has a more serious feel to it than these German Drogeries as they at least have some element of pharmaceutical competence. Because anything to do with medicines comes under the very serious business of the Apotheke, the German drugstores have an image more akin to their supermarket cousins.


Of course, most large supermarkets have a section where one can buy all the products one would normally find in a Drogerie but many people prefer to do a separate shop at the drugstore as a greater range is offered and, quite often, lower prices. Drogeries can be found in both high street/shopping centre and out-of-town locations.


So, onto the combatants in the drugstore war. First we have the Drugstore King- Schlecker. Schlecker celebrated 30 years of business in 2005 and is among Germany’s Top 25 family-owned businesses. The billionaire owner, Herr Anton Schlecker is up there in the ranks with Germany’s other kings of discount- Theo and Karl Albrecht (Aldi) and Dieter Schwarz (Lidl). Herr Schlecker, who collects exclusive sports cars in his spare time, started his business 30 years ago in Baden Württemburg, South Germany, on very clear low cost principles to which he has remained true to this day. The business has grown to a €6.55 bn turnover concern employing 50,300 people. Schlecker have been awarded a Superbrand 2005 award from N-TV and Handelsblatt, presumably based on their uncompromising “no-frills” approach.


Schlecker’s principles all relate to a philosophy of “low cost at (almost) any cost”. Schlecker rent out the cheapest of locations for their stores, often snapping up unattractive locations that other retailers have turned their noses up at. The stores carry a range of only 4,000 articles and constantly kick out lines that don’t sell. Walking into a Schlecker store, you will probably be reminded of the Eastern bloc in the bad old days: everything is basic, from the stark blue/white logo to the chilly warehouse “atmosphere”. Schlecker are frequently pulled up on accusations of not treating employees particularly well and not making much effort towards a pleasant working environment but Herr Schlecker’s retort is usually that he is continually providing 1000s of new jobs in Germany and other parts of Europe while others are laying staff off.


Although Schlecker pioneered and developed its Home Shopping service ahead of many other retailers, the website remains a horror for the eyes. You can marvel at this for yourself on and see that that lack of aesthetic sensitivity in the stores is translated into the website. However, for the loyal customers, low prices are worth the somewhat unpalatable “shopping experience” and Schlecker is estimated to hold 41% of the Drogerie market in Germany.


Times have begun to change, however, and Herr Schlecker found, some 18 months ago that his low-cost business model was not always so resistant to swings of consumer fortune. For the first time ever, last year, Schlecker began to make some compromises in the face of increasing competition, particularly in the high street/shopping centre from competitors with higher margins and a more pleasant shopping experience. Among the strategic changes that were made, smaller stores under 200 m² were closed, the food ranges were phased-out (“Lidl do that better”- Anton Schlecker) and payment with plastic (EC or direct debit card) was introduced. Meanwhile, Schlecker continues its rapid expansion outside Germany, primarily to Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.


Whether these changes will be successful is yet to be seen but maybe we should take a look now at the main pretender to the throne who is giving Herr Schlecker these headaches.


“dm” is another drogerie chain that has been going for slightly longer than Schlecker and is about half Schlecker’s size in terms of turnover, outlets and employees. The first dm store opened in Karlsruhe in 1973 and the chain is currently in a phase of rapid expansion, both within Germany (where it took over REWE’s “Idea” drugstore chain in April last year) and throughout Italy, Austria and several Central/eastern European countries including Czech republic, Slovak republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia.


A more different retail concept to Schlecker would be hard to imagine. dm’s slogan “Hier bin ich Mensch. Hier kauf ich ein:” (I am human here. I do my shopping here.) is the key to dm’s approach. Walking into one of dm’s stores is a very different experience to walking into Schlecker. You may not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is, but the dm stores are intricately designed to make people feel well and even inspired, at all times of year. Careful attention is given to lighting, colours, the width of aisles and the heights of displays to make everything feel “just right”. It is not too far to say your soul may even feel uplifted, too.


For dm have some pretty lofty philosophy on their side. Rather than the “low cost at (almost) any cost” philosophy of Schlecker, the founders and board of dm are followers of Anthroposophy. Now, I have no intention of giving a huge discourse on Anthroposophy here – suffice to say that Anthroposophy is a philosophy that has had an effect on many areas of life in Germany over the last ninety years or so including architecture and education. If you are really interested, you can do a search on Rudolf Steiner, who was the founder of the whole thing (and I would be interested if anyone could send me a potted idiot’s guide to what it’s all about, because I can’t fathom it out!). The Anthroposophy movement does seem to have its critics - although not a religion, or a science, but rather a “spiritual science”- it does seem to have a sort of Kabbalah or Scientology feel to it!


Getting back to the more mundane subject of drugstores, you can see where the ideas of “levels of perception” or “asking questions” or even “artistic expression of perceptions” come into dm’s presentation. The store design is very well thought-out and a lot of thought is put into the design of dm’s products. The website is a contrast to that of Schlecker, with information about the company’s numerous CSR activities and working environment well upfront as well as useful advice of the sort “where do dark rings under the eyes come from?” or “why does the skin get wrinkled after a bath?”.


So, the philosopher is challenging the discounter. We don’t know as yet which way the drugstore war will end up but it will certainly be interesting to see ultimately whether German priorities are on price or shopping experience for this retail category as this may have implications for other high street-and out-of-town-retail names.


Who came up smelling of roses? No contest - it was the philosopher beating the discounter into bankrupcy in 2012. Schlecker is no more on the German retail landscape.

Although dm does have to keep on its perfectly manicured toes. Rossmann is pretty well neck-and-neck when it comes to the 2023 drugstore crown.