No sooner has the GoCompare opera singer been silenced than we have the TopCashback man, dressed in the world’s weirdest outfit – neon colours and those awful nappy trousers that sometimes look cool on young women but never, never on overweight men. He prances about to a jingle that lodges as firmly in your ear as any earworm, and an annoying voice that makes me nostalgic for the “We buy any car” voiceover. Is this “good” advertising? Begrudgingly I have to say yes. It doesn’t make me like the brand, or inspire me to tell my friends, but this is a relatively unknown business that needs to get to first base: being known. Of course it’s great to be liked, talked about, passed around virally (every marketer’s fantasy, which happens only rarely and usually for the wrong reasons). For a new business, though, it is more important to be noticed, and for people to know what you offer them. TopCashback’s proposition is crystal clear: he sings it, so now I can too: “Money back when you shop online”.  Having read that, you’ll be doing it too. I’m sorry.

A couple of years ago I was incensed when Compare the Market narrowly won a vote among Marketing Society members to be brand of the year, beating Waitrose by one vote. Why my outrage? Because the much-loved (back then) Meerkats campaign was a witty, memorable trick that covered the total absence of a differentiated proposition. Full marks to the advertising agency, but surely no more than a C for the marketing director. This may be harsh as I have not seen hard data on its business performance, but I’m told that the Meerkats campaign has helped shift Compare the Market from a little-known minor player in its sector to a well-known minor player in its sector.  This may still change, because, luckily for them, in the scrum of comparison websites, all shrieking to be heard, their competitors mostly have nothing much to say either, other than their names. That’s not great marketing, even if it is good clear communication. So I am reluctantly grateful that TopCashback not only tells you what they do and how it benefits you, the customer, but even covers the main differentiating points as well (no fees etc.) – all in a traditional thirty second TV ad. Full marks.

Meanwhile Nikon is airing a couple of lovely feel-good ads full of wonderful memorable moments, with something for everyone, and a great soundtrack.  I wonder why.  From a viewer’s point of view, it’s a much nicer experience than any I’ve mentioned so far, and no doubt they scored well in consumer research.  Advertising research models, like Brainjuicer’s, increasingly correlate positive emotional responses with advertising effectiveness. This is a sound approach in many big categories like fmcg and retail, where brand communication is judged by its ability to drive consumer preference for one brand over another, the assumption being that people are in the category, and the challenge is to be the chosen brand. This campaign may well create a warm glow around Nikon, and may even make it people’s preferred camera brand (or, one we can name, at least). But from a business point of view, what can it do for them? It doesn’t say much about Nikon. Although it does subtly show different models through different executions, you have to be really interested to spot that. The ads are constructed around different moments worth capturing, not different features of the cameras. To the averagely attentive viewer, it feels like a generic ad for photography, providing a basic reminder that cameras exist. Yes that may be necessary – who remembers to bring a camera nowadays when your phone does the job? – but will reminding us really improve their fortunes?

Of course I know Christmas is a critical time for them, and they must seize the gifting moment while it’s here. It’s also possible that they’ve negotiated retailer promotions on the back of their TV campaign, or even that TV advertising was a requirement to gain shelf space in the major outlets at Christmas.  They may feel they have no option but to advertise, just to stay on the shelves. No doubt about it, being the marketing director of a camera company right now is not for the faint hearted. Along with alarm clocks, fax machines and camera film, there’s a market for them but their best days are behind them. Sadly, lovely advertising can’t save them if the product is obsolete, or if they don’t give us good reasons to choose it.

So what’s next for our neon-clad dancing friend from TopCashback? Well, there’s lots of evidence that consistency helps a brand to be recalled, which helps generate business. Oh dear. If TopCashback keep up the good work, we’ll all be singing that wretched jingle for a long time.

Comment | November 2012