(Picture courtesy of my phone and a very old carrot from the back of the fridge)

Let’s have a rest today from pandemic related buying failures, (potential) frauds and so on, and look at something more heart-warming.

Advertising is a fascinating field when it comes to bad – or good – buying. That’s because of the multiplier effect. It is one of those spend categories where the impact of the spend can be out of all proportion to the amount of money actually paid out. That can be either a positive or negative impact, it is important to say.

So if I am buying cleaning services, or packaging, or raw materials, then as long as there isn’t a major fraud (contaminated material, perhaps) probably the worst that can happen is we “lose” the value of the expenditure.  The packaging doesn’t work on our production line, or the cleaning service is hopeless. Even then, I may well be able to recover something from the supplier. But if I spend a million on a brilliant advertising campaign, that spend could generate tens or even hundreds of millions of “brand value” in terms of future sales and profit. And if I make a lousy buying decision, we might lose similarly large amounts of value.  

There’s a great seasonal example right now with supermarket group Aldi and their “Kevin the Carrot” campaign, which first was aired in 2016, five Christmases ago.  I don’t know how much Aldi paid for the creative genius behind Kevin, but it was money very well spent. Aldi now receive millions of pounds worth of free advertising as the media highlights the adventures of Kevin without the firm paying a penny for much of the coverage.

There is even a range of Kevin-related soft toys, and demand is so great that “to help reduce crowds in the current climate, this year Aldi has introduced a digital queuing software that’s also used by music festival Glastonbury”, according to Wales Online’s coverage of Kevin!

But we might imagine the first meeting when the agency pitched this to the Aldi marketeers… “ a talking carrot? Are you sure? I mean, carrots aren’t even very Christmassy really”? 

“Yeah, but a cute talking turkey might not work…”

Anyway, marketing and advertising can go the other way too. Remember the backlash in 2017 when the Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner seemed to suggest that public demonstrations would all turn into happy, cheerful love-ins if Kendall just shared some Pepsi around the police and the protesters? That was withdrawn and although Pepsi got free publicity too, just like Aldi, it wasn’t quite as positive.

There’s an older example in my Bad Buying book, with the case of Schlitz Beer. It’s a multi-part story really, because the firm’s problems started with a sequence of recipe changes to the beer, which didn’t go well in terms of customer reaction. With sales falling rapidly, a new advertising campaign was the answer.

Unfortunately, the creative contribution was the opposite of the inspired talking carrot, as Schlitz used a boxer who got upset when someone offered him a beer that wasn’t Schlitz. His anger at this proposal was not very appealing however, and it went down in history as the “drink Schlitz or I’ll kill you” campaign!  The firm was eventually bought at a knock-down price by a competitor, as sales continued to slide.

That was an example of advertising spend having that negative multiplier I described earlier and I’m sure we can all think of ads that made us feel less rather than more inclined to buy a product. But in the meantime, enjoy Kevin, and I’ll see you in the queue for the Giant Kevin the Carrot Plush Toy! (too late, sold out already…)

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