The Roots of marketing

Apparently the judge in Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce case thinks “Marketing involves persuading people to purchase particular products my accentuating the quality and utility of the products or services concerned.

My word. If there was ever a sentence that proves the law’s an ass, this was it.

The argument’s about who cooked up the sauce first. This judge is shocked, shocked that the sauce is not, in fact, an old family recipe developed over decades by Grandma Root from Jamaica.

Wow, what a sweetly innocent view; I’m not surprised Britain’s legal system so often seems divorced from anything I might call “justice”. I’m happy for Judge Pelling though: what a pleasantly rose-tinted life he must lead.

For Judge Pelling, even a simple supermarket visit is an affirmation of the goodness of Man. Selecting a box of “barn eggs”, he thinks fondly about the happy chickens inhabiting the bucolic meadow on the box.  Picking up some fish fingers for his grandchildren, he gives silent thanks to the kindly sea captain and the crew of underage sailors who caught them, tossing their nets over the side of a three-masted schooner. On family holidays, he has a choice of cookies, but always goes for “America’s Favourite”, because it must be true, right?

As for the case itself, nobody can prove one way or the other who cooked up the first batch or wrote down the recipe. But that’s missing the point: a recipe for sauce, written down on a sheet of paper, isn’t a business asset. There are thousands of jerk sauces cooked up every week in London kitchens alone, and you know what…

… they’re all good. I’ve never met a jerk sauce I didn’t like. And most of the middle-class white people who buy Roots’ wares couldn’t tell the difference between any of them. They’re not buying a tasty sauce for tonight’s chicken; they’re buying the story of a characterful black guy who once strummed a guitar on a TV show.

(Remember, “Dragon’s Den” has nothing to do with business, any more than Fox has anything to do with the news. It’s entertainment, plain and simple.)

Business is about stories. When people buy into the story, they buy the products. So marketing, for the vast majority of products, is about telling those stories. Whether the marketing is successful or not depends on how effectively you can lay a story down in the minds of your target audience. Consumers are smart and savvy, and they pick the stories they want to believe in.

Oh, how I wish there were more people like Judge Pelling. If all consumers were like him, we marketers would rule the world.

When does a good concept make a bad ad?

One of these ads is good. The other one is bad. Why?

Pope and ImamThe concept is classic Benetton: shocking and iconic. This time it’s about clashing cultures. The first execution – the Pope kissing a Muslim cleric – is shocking in the right way, because it’s got a message: two religions not noted for their, er, *tolerance of alternative lifestyles* coming together in a liplock.

Fair enough. Even if you recognise the individuals, this isn’t an ad about two men; it’s about two belief systems coming together, and that’s a reasonable subject for an ad campaign.

(Actually, since both believe in supernatural beings it’s really only one belief system, but we’ll let that pass.)

The second ad, however – featuring Hu Jintao and Barack Obama – isn’t a good ad. Because this time, the execution isn’t about a clash of cultures, however different China and the US may be. It’s now just an ad about two straight men having a gay kiss, no more shocking than party lesbians in the West End on a Saturday night. (Well, OK, just a bit more shocking.)

And the message is lost, overshadowed by the actors.

Just goes to show: a campaign concept can so easily be obscured if you don’t get the execution exactly right.

In a display of the same intolerance both religions display towards gay men in real life, the Pope/Imam execution’s apparently been withdrawn after complaints.  (Benetton won’t mind; nothing builds a brand like having your ad campaign in the headlines.) While the politicians can continue slurping away, although I’m surprised Chavez the Chavster hasn’t said anything yet…