Keeping Up With The Jones
Countdown Supermarket has recently launched a new ‘soap opera’ style marketing campaign. ‘Meet the Colemans’ introduces the potential customer to the fictional Coleman family, who are designed to represent the typical Kiwi family. The campaign gives the family a back-story, and a developing storyline. We are encouraged to see to see ourselves in the Colemans. Their concerns are our concerns. The intention of such a campaigns is that over time, the customer will relate to mum ‘Nikki’ or dad ‘Rob’, and ideally come to trust ‘their’ recommendations on products and specials, as we would trust a personal recommendation of a friend.
This is not a new idea for an advertising campaign, and may well be a highly effective one. There is one particularly campaign poster though which irks me no end: it is a picture of mother Nikki pouring home brand flour into a flour tin with the caption ‘They’ll never know.’ Who’ll never know? And know what? That your flour comes in packets? That it doesn’t magically appear in the stylised retro flour tin? The answers are of course obvious. ‘They’ is those mythical Jones that poor Nikki is clearly concerned with impressing. The poster here is sneakily winking at every household buyer who is worried that they may be somehow judged by friends or family for buying the homebrand products rather than the more expensive brands. It’s simple psychology, which plays on a buyer’s concerns in a comforting and collegial way. We’re in this together. I know your secrets, but I won’t tell.
Ads like the flour poster tap into a concern which we all have witinin us: what will others think of me. As much as the message of ‘be yourself’ is pushed to children, peer and social pressure continues into adulthood. The only difference is that as adults we become more skill at explaining away our peer-driven purchases and concerns. You bought that new album on itunes because you genuinely liked the music, right? Not because everyone else is raving about the band and you don’t want to be left out of the next discussion? Products like ipods or iphones may not be the most technologically sophisticated mp3 player or smart phone on the market, and they are not the most cost-effective option, but they have a social cachet. We buy theses ‘in’ items because we want to be seen with them, and we want others to see in us the qualities which these products are associated with.
What’s more, we all have individual sensitivities; particular topics on which we care disproportionally about what others think of us. I heard the story once of a woman who would never be seen in public carrying a plastic bag, or rubbish bag. She had once been homeless, and felt that if she was seen now carrying a rubbish bag, people may assume that she was once again a homeless person. We all have our own ‘rubbish bag’ triggers. Perhaps there is an army of people out there who have had particularly scarring incidents in which they have been ridiculed for their choice of flour brand, because otherwise the choice of product for the flour poster seems misplaced. Flour. Really? Flour seems something which is almost devoid of any social economic or class associations. Buying flour means you know how to bake, or make sauces which don’t come straight out of a packet. These days, people be so impressed that you even buy flour to care about the brand.
A better choice of poster for the ‘Meet the Colemans’ campaign would have been to have a triumphant Nikki proudly holding up a home-made cake, with a sack of flour placed in the foreground, and some suitably supportive caption like ‘It was touch and go there for a while, but Joshy’s first birthday cake was home-made.’ But then what do I know. The poster clearly isn’t aimed at me, because it neither taps into my general desire to fit in and keep up appearances with my peers, nor does reach out to my personal ‘rubbish bag’ sensitivities. What would the Jones say.