Posts by Abu Mallick - London

U.K. telecom helps customers manage spending

In this recession, a wide range of brands are finding ways to help their customers better manage their spending. In the U.K., the telecom O2 has come up with O2 Money: “O2 is all about finding the best ways of connecting you to your world,” reads promotional copy. “And we know that you’d appreciate an easy way to stay on top of your cash using your mobile.” (More picture-19evidence—if any were needed in a post-iPhone-apps world—that the mobile phone is not just a phone anymore but a life-management device.)

The O2 Cash Manager and the O2 Load & Go cards are no more than pre-paid cash cards—but with the advantage of receiving real-time text alerts every time you use the card, updating you on how much you’ve spent and how much remains. For people who find it difficult staying within a budget, this could be a useful card to add to the dozen or more already in the wallet. The flipside, of course, is that every time you take the card out, you tell the world, or at least the checkout assistant, that you are indeed one of those pathetic characters whose spending is out of control.

Cadbury: Staying focused on the bigger picture

dairy-milkCadbury made an interesting announcement last month: It’s planning to get Fairtrade certification for its No. 1 chocolate brand, Dairy Milk, by the end of summer. Dairy Milk, which sells 300 million bars a year in the U.K. and Ireland, will be the first mass-market chocolate bar to go Fairtrade. This will almost certainly add a fair bit of cost to the brand, and it would have been understandable if Cadbury had postponed this move until the markets return to growth mode. But whether creating cultural currency with bold advertising or doing its bit for the cocoa farmers of Ghana, this is a company that realizes that the brand of the future will be a finely tuned mix of the functional, the ethical and the pop-cultural.

The strategy builds toward the future while giving consumers another reason to choose the brand today as they think more carefully about where to spend their money.

Cooking away the blues

Just when we thought home kitchens were becoming purely ornamental—their functionality overwhelmed by the steady movement toward ready meals, takeaway food and eating out—it seems cooking is enjoying a renaissance of sorts, fueled in part by the economic downturn.

Cooking isn’t merely a cheaper way to eat, however—there’s something deeper and more profound at play here. Cooking demands complete engagement, encourages creativity and ensures a degree of control. Cooking is leisure, meditation and reward all rolled into one. So it’s no surprise that many stressed-out folks are wrapping themselves in this cocoon as an antidote to the turbulent environment outside.

In the U.K., a Young’s Fish TV spot that demonstrates how to cook a frozen salmon filet might have given more consideration to the prevailing mood. Young’s misses the mark tonally with its hard sell for the brand, the protagonist speaking directly to the camera. By pulling the camera back for a more relaxed mood and focusing on the pleasure of cooking, the brand would likely have sold itself.

If bad times equal good times, what happens when the good times return?

fastfoodsmilingWith the credit crisis having a “profound effect” on household spending in the U.K., according to the Telegraph, it seems fast food brands are having the time of their lives. There has been a veritable procession of good results from the likes of Domino’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Subway and Gregg’s. All plan to open many more stores while creating thousands of jobs.

Is it possible, however, that in their hurry to leverage their recent success, these brands are setting themselves up for a hard landing when recovery kicks in? The current economic crisis may change mind-sets for the long term—causing a deep re-evaluation of spending and lifestyle habits—thus fostering a permanent love for affordable brands among mainstream consumers. But it’s also possible that this shift is nothing more than a short-term coping strategy. Given that aspirations are more likely to be bottled temporarily than shelved permanently, it may be a good idea for brands to closely follow consumer psyche and behavior down and up the economy curve as they plan ahead—especially if “cheaper” is their only calling card.

Real estate: Out-of-the-hole thinking in London

real-estate_abu-mallickjEven with interest rates at a historic low, the global housing market remains in freefall, forcing property marketers to dream up ever more innovative methods of getting customers to look their way. In the U.K., marketers have tried all the usual tactics, from price cuts to part-buy-part-rent and shared-ownership schemes. One promoter, MIA Developments Ltd., is working a particularly interesting angle: giving away a property worth £8.25 million in prime Central London … for £50. You read that right. The news may be all gloomy in the world property market, but one lucky winner out of the anticipated 200,000 entries will be smiling in a week’s time. To enter, participants must buy a £50 ticket or either of two MP3 players from CyCoTechUSA, priced at around £100.

As if being a property millionaire isn’t enough motivation, participants are also contributing to a good cause—£3 from every entry is to be donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. MIA Developments seem to have all the flanks well covered. And a quick calculation will tell you that it also stands to make a tidy profit on this one.

NatWest: Do consumers want a financial coach?

That a recession benefits change agents is an accepted hypothesis. An economic trough makes even the most intrepid of individuals and organizations rethink the way they operate, especially when it comes to their finances. So it’s no surprise to see NatWest, one of the big four of retail banking in the U.K., donning the change agent mantle under the “Helpful Banking” umbrella, touting the “MoneySense” advisers working in a thousand bank branches.

Judging from their latest TV spot, these advisers—outfitted in drab navy blazers—are “not there to sell but to give you free, impartial financial guidance.” Indeed, anxious people seek guidance (a voice of wisdom to steer them straight), but whether consumers see these folks as friendly allies or preachy busybodies remains to be seen.