Amy Silverston reports on some of what she has been paid to discover
When all three children were in school or nursery, I observed others’ means for not making money -crystal jangling and the like –then looked at my old job as new business manager for an advertising agency to see which bitI could offer to ad agencies as a freelance serviceworking part-time.
I have spent five years readingaround to get a picture of the world of different companies, largely in the British Library’s business reading room and online. Much of what there iscan be classified as, ‘all very well, but so what?’I look for the nuggets that will steer promotional strategy.I also unearth the oddly fascinating.
The Wellcome Trust’s numerous web sites, YouTube channels, and museum of medical themed ancient and modern artefacts baffled and overwhelmed their promotional agency, but Henry Wellcometheir founder is the unifying theme.
An American from the western frontier, Wellcome instinctively knew the power of advertising over substance. At 16 he marketed an invisible ink (lemon juice) he called Ku Klux. After working as sales rep for a drugs company he came to the UK and got hugely rich by acquiring the patent for pencils – invented by an artist who, fed up with gritty drawing leads, ground up graphite and pressed the powder in a mould. Wellcome combined that with someone else’s method formeasuring exact doses of powdered medicine and called the result a ‘tabloid’.
A devout Christian with buttoned-up persona, he married Siri, a much younger socialite (Dr Barnado’s daughter). She got fed up with him bursting into her room, stark naked but for a raincoat which he would throw off before leaping onto her bed. She wasn’t keen on the cattle whip either. She left him, first for Gerald Selfridge (a socialite needs her dresses), then Somerset Maugham – a gay man in need of a woman for respectability. Sex outside marriage and homosexuality were beyond the pale for Wellcome and his public standing never recovered. Decades later Wellcome plc made a fortune from AZT, used primarily by gay men with AIDs.
Wellcome devoted a lifetime to globe-trotting archaeological vandalism. Rare objects in vast quantity were thrown, unlabelled and unrecorded into boxes, shipped back and plonked in the basement of the Wellcome building on the Euston Road. No-one knew what things were when the crates were opened, scores of years later. When he died, rich, famous but friendless, employees returning from the crematorium put the box containing his ashes in the basement where someone came across it40 years later.
His will, which still governs how the company is run, stipulated Wellcomeplc could never reduce the proportion of its income spent on marketing its products and promoting its work, which is why they are such huge spenders.
I lookedat 146 airline web sites for Expedia to see if/when/how they offer hotels to people booking plane tickets, and whether they provide destination info to encourage travel to where they fly. (Best for making places sound worth visiting was Qantas – see travelinsider.qantas.com.au)
Light relief – for anyone not flying with them – came from Aeropostal, the Venezuelan airline. Travellers’ blog sites warned of brazen theft by employees – wrap a suitcase in plastic to deter tampering and they slice through it; the entire company was described as ‘airborne delinquents’.
Aeropostal’s customer service included reducing the fleet of 22 planes to three overnight, blaming currency controls for preventing them from maintaining the fleet or making a profit, leaving thousands stranded in the peak holiday season. The following year owners and employees of the airline were arrested on Interpol drug trafficking warrants. So they had been making a profit…
I also spent a week looking into consumer habits and attitudes towards toilet rolls, kitchen paper, nappies, wipes and incontinence pads.
Tissue manufacturers churn out endless peach colour loo rolls, never losing the audacity to label them ‘new’. However, in Portugal and Spain you can buy toilet paper in real colours – bright orange, lime green, fuchsia – and black (see shop.renovaonlibne.net). Apparently Simon Cowell has the black ones in his bathroom (Harrods sell them).
To support the Spanish team’s participation in the football World Cup, Renova produced a pack in the colours of the Spanish flag. In other countries the patriotic thing might be to wipe one’s bottom on the colours of the opposing team’s flag.
The Germans freely admit that disposable nappies are a landfill problem, but only buy ultra-thin Pampers, made for the German market because they will not accept babies in nappies that are bulky or feel damp. They will not buy recycled toilet paper because they don’t like the feel of it. They demand novel, technically advanced products and without this you can sod the eco arguments. Vorsprung durch Technik indeed.
With populations ageing, sales of incontinence pads are shooting up, partly compensating for the sales of nappies declining with birth rates. However, their marketing lags behind, with consumers desperate for better product information and guidance as well as for the loo.
Meanwhile, the British are abandoning kitchen paper in favour of disposable wipes, which the French think are an eco-sin.
Not that market research reports ever make sweeping generalisations…