Blockbuster, British Airways, Vevo: 5 things that mattered this week and why

The marketing news that matters this week includes reflections from the former CMO of Blockbuster, Pizza Express moving its restaurants into stand-up comedy and Vevo moving away from its YouTube association.


Pizza Express tries to shake off ‘boring’ image with standup comedy nights

Pizza Express was once one of the darlings of the high street restaurant chain world but suggestions to eat there now are likely to elicit groans and accusations that you aren’t very adventurous. And it is facing renewed competition from some of the newer pizza chains on the high street.

Pizza Express is well aware it is falling out of favour amid the rise of ‘hipster’ pizza chains such as Franco Manca. Losses at the company reached £17m in 2016 while like-for-like sales fell by 0.9%.

Subsequently, the brand is looking to give people a reason to visit beyond food, hence the new ‘Pizza Express Live’ initiative. It includes comedy nights and talks with celebrities such as Michael Palin, as well as an extension to its jazz nights to include funk and salsa.

“We’re appealing to younger and more diverse audiences, and it’s really helping people expect something different from Pizza Express. It’s a real point of difference, we’re the only brand in the casual dining market that offers this [live experience],” Amanda Royston, head of marketing at Pizza Express, tells Marketing Week.

“It’s a real point of difference, we’re the only brand in the casual dining market that offers this [live experience].”

READ MORE: Pizza Express restaurants to host standup comedy in bid to arrest sales decline

Blockbuster’s former CMO admits it underestimated the rise of streaming

Okay, so there’s an element of no shit, Sherlock to our headline. However, Blockbuster’s former CMO Bryn Owen’s admission of how much the now extinct film rentals chain underestimated the rise of digital offers marketers some real lessons.

In a far-reaching interview, Owen admitted to Marketing Week: “We had an online division, but it was completely separate from the retail side of the business. It was almost treated as something inferior.

“The board, which were heavily retail-focused, saw embracing online as a threat to Blockbuster’s future as they thought it would cannibalise the high street sales. We had 600 retail sites to save so streaming just wasn’t a priority.”

This admission is important because it hints at a wider business problem where brands prioritise the failing core instead of innovating and attempting something new.

Blockbuster was “shocked” rather than “complacent”, according to Owen, who also hinted that the brand could one day be revived.

READ MORE: From iconic to punchline: Blockbuster’s CMO reflects on how things imploded

Rushing into AI could be a mistake, warns IBM and Nectar

This week marked our first ever Supercharged event and a unifying theme was that brands shouldn’t rush into creating AI chat bots.

Jeremy Waite, an evangelist at IBM, claimed 70% of branded chat bots on Facebook Messenger had failed over the last six months. And he questioned: “It’s clear a lot of brands still don’t understand how to use this technology correctly.

“If 88% of enterprise firms still don’t share their own customer data internally among their teams, then why do they think they’re so ready for AI?”

And Nectar’s marketing services director Paul Lenaghan, said the loyalty card giant still wasn’t in a position where it was ready to hand over its customer service to machines. “Without any human interaction, AI still feels like a potential PR disaster is just around the corner,” he added.

They both could have a point, with Walkers a good recent example of a PR disaster created through an automated social media campaign.

However, not every Supercharged speaker was as dismissive of AI and chat bots. First Utility talked up the impact on their business, while takeaway firm Just Eat’s marketing director Ben Carter said that since launching its own Facebook chat bot in September (which was created by firm Byte London) 17,000 people have used it to make food orders, with 13.5% becoming repeat users.

READ MORE: Nectar and IBM on why brands shouldn’t rush into launching AI chat bots

British Airways flies in a new customer experience boss

British Airways has taken what would appear to be a safer option for its new director of brand and customer experience. It has flown in Carolina Martinoli, who was chief customer officer at its sister airline Iberia, as it looks to strengthen the brand and its relationship with customers.

Martinoli, who has considerable airline experience, is a more obvious choice than her predecessor Troy Warfield, who raised eyebrows when he joined from Avis and left after just 18 months in the role. While at Iberia, she was responsible for redesigning the airline’s customer experience, which led to a 27 percentage point rise in customer satisfaction scores and saw the airline upgraded to four stars (out of five) in the industry’s Skytrax survey.

BA could do with her repeating those improvements. Relations with customers are strained following an IT meltdown earlier this year that left thousands of customers stranded. And they could take a further hit as a two-week strike is ongoing. Getting better at communicating with passengers should be first on the list of jobs.

READ MORE: British Airways confirms new director of customer experience

Vevo wants to move away from ‘being a watermark’

What would Vevo be without YouTube? The video brand is primarily known for distributing its content through the video platform. But now it wants to change that perception.

It has spent the past two years “overhauling its technology stack”, according to CEO Erik Huggers. And now it wants to establish itself as “more than just the watermark you see on YouTube playlists” by becoming a youth brand in its own right.

“I have high hopes and expectations that we’ll start to create a bit more [of an understanding] among people that YouTube and Vevo are two different things,” he says. “Our house inventory is at such mind-blowing global scale that we think it will have real cut-through and be an opportunity to establish ourselves as a youth culture brand.”

It might seem like yet another attempt by yet another brand to go after young people. But for Vevo there is an opportunity in separating itself a bit from YouTube and creating a brand in its own right. One of the biggest is data. Huggers admits Vevo “hasn’t the foggiest” who its 1.3 billion subscribers are. It is no surprise it wants to change that.

READ MORE: Vevo takes swipe at YouTube as it pushes brand safety message