Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Where the Apprentices went wrong when creating, branding and launching their own pet food range...

Many find themselves sharing their Wednesday evening with Lord Sugar and tune into BBC One to receive the latest dose of the Apprentice. The contestants of the show compete in a variety of diverse commercial challenges in an attempt to dodge those dreaded words “your fired” and ultimately win the prize of going into business with Alan himself.
I would like to cast your memory back to the 1st June (episode 5), where the eager hopefuls are assigned the task to Create, Brand and Launch a Pet food.  Proving that not everyone is cut out for the communications industry, I would like highlight where I believe the Apprentices went wrong.
Although Adverts can be Entertaining, they are not designed to Entertain. A flawed strategy from the start…
From the initial construction of the brand in the board room it seems as though there is a focus on the content of the advertising material, with the teams talking about how the name will fit into advertising ultimately produced. Ideas were thrown around about calling the dog food ‘Pals’ or ‘Fur Play’ and featuring dogs united over play for one team while the other discussed calling the cat food ‘Purrari’ and have a cat driving round in a Ferrari.
This time should have instead been spent focusing on the product and the market into which it was going to be released. What are the needs of the consumer? How can these needs be best fulfilled? Are the any niches in the market that could be exploited? What service would our product provide? What’s our brand promise? And how are we going to communicate that promise effectively? Following the philosophy of (unarguably successful and reputable Adman) Ogilvy, good advertising is advertising that doesn’t draw attention to advertising.

Research, Research, Research…
Ok, so one needs to appreciate that 3 days of intensive work has been shuttled down into an hours of TV viewing and thus a lot of editing has occurred. However, it seems to me that while both teams talked about which breed of animal their product was being aimed at, they failed to acknowledge the type of owner they were targeting. It is after all the owner who is going to buy the product and so it should be the owner with whom the piece of communication is trying to engage. Do people from different socioeconomic back grounds interact with their pets differently? Do we want to target young couples with a dog? A large family? Or elderly people who receive companion from their pets?
Both teams did partake in qualitative research, however a baffling and fatal error was made on behalf of both teams when they FAILED TO TAKE ACCOUNT OF THE INSIGHTS THEY’D DISCOVERED!!
Ignoring research can only have devastating consequences; you are not telling the consumer what they want to hear making all communication void.
This was most clearly demonstrated within the ‘dog food’ team, who chose to ignore personal and professional opinion in pursuit of creating a brand that was targeted at ‘Every Dog’. A mistake that was obvious to everyone, expect the team leader, as this ignores the long established unique and special bound between pet and owner. If the brand had instead chosen to focus on a narrow area of the dog population a solid basis would’ve been established for relationship marketing; The brand, trusted due to its specialism, would’ve been able to provide informative updates on products/events /accessories specifically designed for that species of dog. Being as people invest in their pet and see them as an additional family member, it is likely the consumer would engage with these relevant and educational  resources and the chances are they would commit to this brand, an expert in its field.

How was it the Apprentices managed to ignore a process that’s so fundamental to this industry?
I think the answer lies within the behaviour of the ‘cat’ team. Although there was a well-argued strategy and clear message behind the end ‘cat size’ product, the brand received poor feedback. It is painfully apparent when watching the episode that the idea for which the brand is centred was luckily, yet accidentally, fallen upon as an afterthought of the ‘creative’ input. In a recent application I made I was asked which came first idea or strategy? I argued that it was both; sometimes great ideas have to be bent to fit strategy, sometime great ideas are born from strategic foundations. This episode of the apprentice however, has led me to question this theory. I now believe that the best ideas are produced from strategy and this is the only direction in which the process should flow.  
This teams’ brand had so much potential, but the rigid and uncompromising nature of the project manager meant that that potential wasn’t reached – he wanted to keep the name ‘cats size’ (‘ingeniously’ derived from ‘cats eyes’), instead of opting for a name that would reinforce the brands promise in a consistent and clear way.  The decision makers in both teams displayed this inflexibility in opening up their ideas for adaptation. In the communications industry it’s important to grant your ideas freedom so they can evolve and or be neglected with the development seen across the campaign.
Finally, drawing on my original point, when executing the ‘cats size’ advert, the superficial content of the product was emphasised; the cat was given a personality and the cat was pleased to have lost some weight. Weight loss does not have the same social impact in the cat community as it does the human community, and while pet obesity is a relevant sociocultural issue, it will never be something for which pets take responsibility or for which neighbourhood net curtain gossip will start. I believe that the ad would have been far more effective if approached from an educational angle; the consumer could’ve been made aware of the health implications for the overweight cat and given some national statics of how many overweight cats there are out there. The brand would then communicate the benefits of their product highlighting all the health impacts of it. Coinciding with the adverts, the brand could have worked with vets to establish a health programme that allows consumer to access free advice and check-up care. This not only strongly reinforces the brand values; it goes a long way in establishing it as a reputable brand.    

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