Changing with the tide

As social trends change, so do people’s tastes. When this happens, companies must address their customers’ needs and adapt if they are to survive. Flexibility and reinvention of a brand are essential as the British consumer becomes increasingl

The constant wave of new social trends is a factor that all brands have to face and deal with at some point. Like King Canute, they are not able to stop the tide of change.

The carpet industry is the latest sector to be battered and bruised by social changes as the recent craze for house makeovers and a fashion trend towards alternative floor coverings, such as laminate and tiles, have taken hold. However, the Carpet Foundation, which represents manufacturers and independent retailers, has decided to fight back by launching a £1m print and television campaign to persuade consumers to “Come back to carpet” (MW last week).

But the carpet industry is not the only sector that is having to face changing consumer and social trends. In June, the British Potato Council launched the “Fab not Fad” campaign to raise awareness of the health value of potatoes to win back consumers lost to the low carbohydrate Atkins Diet. Unilever has also claimed that the same food fad has affected sales of its Slimfast brand.

Milk and tea have also moved to promote their health benefits as demand for the products have wavered, while the meat industry has had to overcome low consumer confidence stemming from the BSE crisis. Outside of the food industry, package holiday operators have been forced to rethink their products and alter their marketing strategies to try to fight the rise in independent travel.

Be a flexible friend

Marketers are finding it is increasingly important not only to keep an eye on moving social trends, but also to ensure that their brands and businesses are flexible enough to react quickly to change. Tamar Kasriel, associate director and head of knowledge venturing at strategic marketing consultancy the Henley Centre, says that the best way to prepare for changing trends is simply to be ready to act.

She says: “All categories and brands have to know what they are and ensure that they are serving consumer needs while searching for new ones to tap into. This means looking both long term and short term. There are the big drivers of change, such as politics and economics, but that won’t tell you what is going to happen. It is necessary to put these changes in the context of people’s lives and how they look at them.”

Peter Shaw, director at branding consultancy Corporate Edge, agrees that when fighting against the changing tide of consumer taste, the key is to find a new interpretation of the product or market. “You have to look through the eyes of the consumer at what they would want to keep, lose or add,” he says. “It is about finding the right positioning and shining the light on those things.”

Milking positive publicity

This is what the Carpet Foundation’s ad aims to do for the industry. The Dairy Council has also sought to do much the same for the milk industry with its £9m White Stuff campaign, created by BMP DDB and launched in 2000, by focusing on the health benefits of milk and educating consumers about its fat content. The council claims that because of the generic campaign, each UK household bought on average an extra six pints during the 18 months that it ran. It also claims that consumers had higher awareness of the true fat content of milk as a result of it.

The Meat & Livestock Commission, faced with a growing negativity about meat even before the BSE crisis, has also found generic marketing campaigns have worked well. As well as focusing on the rational benefits of eating meat, it also tried to create an emotional connection through its “Recipe for Love” campaign, created by BMP DDB.

Meet and greet the public

Chris Lamb, the Meat & Livestock Commission consumer marketing manager, says the most important thing the commission did was to talk to the public. He says: “We had to focus completely on the consumer as the media was full of the issue and the debates surrounding it. We talked to them about how they felt about eating meat and what their concerns were. That’s how we found our opening and developed our plan.”

Consumers were happy to be convinced and sales of beef, which dipped to 553,100 tonnes in 1996 from 728,500 the year before, returned to pre-crisis sales levels by 1999.

While a generic campaign may be the correct strategy for an entire market to take, a more tactical approach is called for when the battle is being played out on a smaller scale, such as between categories or brands.

The now-defunct Butter Council and its then agency Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper took a more combative approach when a campaign to help butter win back ground from m

argarine was launched in 1995. The print campaign, developed on a limited budget, included a range of hard-hitting executions, including one showing the chemical process by which margarine is made juxtaposed against the strapline “Yum Yum”.

Buttering up the opposition

Nigel Rose, art director at Euro RSCG, worked on the campaign and says there were growing doubts about the benefits of margarine at the time the campaign was created, so it was designed to look like a series of government directives.

The idea was to move away from the traditional images used in butter advertising, such as countryside and cows, and concentrate on the fact that butter is natural while margarine is manufactured. He says: “Margarine had always traded on its health benefits, but when you learn how it is made it is quite worrying.” It is claimed that as a result of the campaign, butter sales went up by seven per cent.

Corporate Edge’s Shaw believes that these tactics are vital to changing consumers’ minds. He says: “Tactics can be used to flag up the truths of your product. They can also be a rapid solution that can be used while a longer-term strategy is being developed.”

In the alcohol sector, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has battled since 1971 to stop real ale being swamped by a tidal wave of lager and it has taken steps to improve real ale’s image by moving it away from being seen as a drink for men in flat caps.

End of the package holiday romance?

The holiday industry is also faced with a fragmenting market, but operators are not resting on their laurels. The package holiday has developed a negative reputation in recent years, with many consumers believing it means no more than staying in a high rise hotel on the Costa del Sol and spending every day on the beach. This, coupled with the growth of no-frills airlines and the rise in popularity of booking holidays on the internet, has led to many consumers choosing to go independent.

According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), package holidays account for more than half of all holidays taken in the UK, although their share has declined since 1988, when it was 88 per cent. Last year, consumers bought 21 million package holidays, a rise of three per cent on 2001, but the number for 2001 was down four per cent on the previous year. In 2002, operator Thomson, owned by TUI UK, announced it was scrapping extras such as in-flight meals, and introducing a new costing structure in a bid to de-package the package holiday.

However, rival operator First Choice is moving in the opposite direction with its decision to focus on travel security in its summer 2004 brochures. For the first time, it will have the ABTA and the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (ATOL) logos on the front cover to support its fully protected holidays. It is the operator’s bid to offer something different, not just different to its rivals, but also to the independent sector.

Communication isn’t the only answer

Rob Rees, an interim marketing director at Orange, says that these tactics can work, but that a market or product will need to use the full range of consumer touch points and not just rely on communications. He also believes that it is harder to legitimately “connect” to generic consumer insights or to stretch a brand if a company only has one brand in its portfolio. He says: “If you only have one product then it is a lot more intense as the product is more exposed, and the risks of getting it wrong are greater.”

Tetley Tea Group found that out last year when it launched its “Go on, live a lot” campaign, which was focused on the health benefits of tea. It signed an on-pack deal with the British Heart Foundation to support the campaign. However, the campaign, which was created by D’Arcy, was ditched after the Advertising Standards Authority and the Independent Television Commission received complaints resulting in the latter ruling against the claim: “Tetley Tea is rich in antioxidants that can help keep your heart healthy.”

Tetley was forced to abandon the generic strategy in favour of a brand-led campaign focusing on how a cup of Tetley can set you up for anything, using the strapline “Ready Tetley Go”.

Corporate Edge’s Shaw warns that brands must be aware that consumers face increased time pressures, want improved quality and desire more experiences.

Hitting the target

Rees says that to fight against changing social trends it is necessary to go back to basics and make sure you understand the essence of your product or brand, then see if it can be stretched to encompass new trends or, conversely, if it should be compressed and focused against a tighter target market.

Ultimately, he says, it is the big companies and the flexible niche operators that survive. If a product or brand is unable to move with the times it will not survive the unstoppable tide of change.

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