Monthly Archives: October 2014

Nostalgic Christmas ads might be a thing of the past

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Another year brings another fanfare as mid-Autumn ads from the big brands are rolled out to entice consumers to spend big both in-store and online this Christmas.

Last year we had Debenhams highlighting its elegant clothing, M&S taking us down the rabbit hole, and of course – who can forget – John Lewis’ Bear and the Hare. Christmas ads inevitably form part of the national psyche in the run-up to the festive period, so it’s crucial that brands get it right. It’s a huge opportunity to connect with and reach consumers at a time when their attention turns to budgeting for Christmas.

The best Christmas ads can warm consumers to a brand by harnessing the emotional attachment many people have with the period. However, get it wrong and you risk being remembered for all the wrong reasons long after the decorations have come down. So what do I think we can expect this year?

Whilst it’s difficult to predict with certainty how brands will approach their ads each Christmas, it’s been noticeable that in the last couple of years there’s been brands that have played safe and brands that have pushed the boat out and taken risks.

In 2012, the likes of Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco played it safe with product-focused ads. By contrast, Morrisons and Asda ran extraordinarily similar ads which critics felt reinforced gender stereotypes about Mums doing all the work at Christmas. Asda’s alone prompted 620 complaints to the ASA.

Perhaps owing to this backlash, both Morrisons and Asda ran pared down ads in 2013, and it was Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s turn to run similarly themed campaigns. Both focused on family at Christmas time, and both were decidedly saccharine.

However in 2014, we’re facing a significantly more challenged retail market than even a year ago, and brands have to reflect this in their advertising campaigns.

According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), sales were down 0.8% in September 2014 compared with 2013 on a total basis. The BRC also recently announced that September showed an annual drop of 0.2% on the amount people spent on food.

Consumer confidence is high – Barclaycard said total spending on UK debit/credit cards rose 4.8% in September – it’s just that consumers will no longer tolerate feeling ripped off. They want the best deals and though a glitzy ad might entertain, it won’t necessarily be enough to get people in-store if the value or shopping experience isn’t worthwhile.

I therefore expect to see a little less glamour, perhaps fewer celebrities and a little more humility. John Lewis has already set this scene by apologising for the hype surrounding last year’s advert.

If the ads match the current retail climate, this could be the year for managing or resetting consumer expectations. With Tesco in freefall, grocery in general fighting a case for value against the disruptors of Aldi and Lidl, and more shoppers comparing prices online whilst in-store, it’s likely many Christmas ads will target cost-conscious shoppers.

It’s a tricky one for grocers like Sainsbury’s and Tesco to negotiate, as by continuing to slash prices to compete with the budget supermarkets, to many it may seem like they’ve knowingly overcharged for years. Something which is in direct contrast to John Lewis’ “Never knowingly undersold” tagline.

It seems likely that many brands will put the sentimental and nostalgic journeys they’ve taken us on over the past couple of Christmases to one side. Instead there will be a renewed focus placed on showing consumers they really do understand their needs when negotiating Christmas on a budget and have real value to offer all this festive period.

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How to design and conduct an effective assessment day

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Assessment centres allow you to interview several candidates in one day and see considerably more behaviours and characteristics than you would in conducting a one hour interview.

The assessment centre process must be a positive experience for the candidates involved as they will be assessing you as a company too.

First impressions count on both sides, therefore lack of planning and organisation from your end will be clearly visible if the assessment day is not a sleek and smooth running process.

To be successful an assessment day must be an interactive, positive and fun process for all involved.  It is crucial to follow these key steps both in advance of the day and at the event itself to ensure an effective assessment day;

  • Prepare  candidates – It is up to the attending candidates to demonstrate their abilities to you at the assessment day. However, it is your responsibility to ensure they are as fully prepared as possible.  Candidates should be fully briefed in advance of attending and be issued with a full information pack detailing not only the basics (location/dress code etc.), but also outlining the full format of the day so they know what to expect.  If your candidates are prepared for the day they are more likely to focus on their performance and demonstrate their skills rather than be anxious about what may come next.
  • Select and prepare assessors – When inviting assessors select those you believe will add value to the day.  It is imperative that each assessor is fully briefed and understands the extent of their involvement.  There should be sufficient assessors for the group size; an individual will also be required to administer the day, and another to run the assessment day. The style in which the assessor delivers the day will create the atmosphere – formal or informal, relaxed or intense, their behaviours will be reflected on the candidate. All assessors have the responsibility for ensuring candidates are comfortable so make sure the chosen individuals are welcoming and approachable.
  • Identify desired traits – Before selecting the exercises for your assessment day you need to have a full understanding of what traits your team of assessors want to see candidates demonstrate and those which will be important in selecting the most suitable candidates for the role. Without sight of these your chosen exercises may not deliver the desired results.
  • Variety of exercises – Once you have identified the traits you are looking for in your new recruit you are now able to design or select relevant exercises to enable individuals to demonstrate these.  Exercises should involve a selection of individual, paired, group activities and case studies or presentations if relevant. Think about the atmosphere you want to create at your assessment day and ensure the exercises reflect this. The likelihood is that most of your exercises enable candidates to think on their feet, however including an activity that involves preparation in advance of the day such as a presentation will allow you to see what they can do with more time to prepare.
  • Break time – It is crucial to ensure time is set for frequent breaks. For both candidates and assessors, assessment days can often be long and intense days, therefore sufficient breaks for stretching legs, plenty of water, healthy snacks and fresh air will allow the brain to work more effectively.  Breaks are an ideal opportunity to see candidates in a more natural setting, allowing time for the group to build relationships and enable assessors to spend time with candidates in a non-professional setting. Make the most of spending this time with your group; observing behaviours at these points during the day are as equally important as assessing formal exercises and performance.
  • Wrap up and review – Allow some allocated time at the end of the day to review and gather feedback from all of the assessors whilst it is fresh in their minds.  Chances are they will have seen lots of candidates and reviewed many exercises and presentations that it will be difficult to remember exact thoughts and feedback after a night’s sleep.  Share feedback between all assessors on the day and collectively come to a decision to identify a suitable candidate.

Remember as with one to one interviews an assessment centre is still a two way process, the success of an assessment day lies with not just the candidates but the organisers and assessors. It’s not all in the planning but the execution too.


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Why the so-called ‘death of the high street’ is a huge opportunity

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It seems a common occurrence that a large retailer goes into administration, leaving yet more ‘To Let’ signs. Town centres saw 406 net shop closures compared to 209 in the same period last year. It’s a gloomy statistic and paints a troubling picture for UK retailers.

It’s matched by worrying signs in the supermarket sector: last month showed the slowest sales growth in 10 years, Tesco is mothballing superstores, while Sainsbury’s is subletting by converting parts of their stores into Jessops shops.

Yet there’s no reason for grocery retailers to panic – quite the opposite. While growth is down to 0.3 per cent, the sector is still growing.

Overall, consumer appetite is on a roll, with the retail sector in general showing 17 months of consecutive growth. What we’re witnessing is a shift in how consumers are buying their goods. Much is made of consumers moving online, but as ONS reminds us, 9 out of 10 retail purchases are still made in-store. Consumers are simply becoming savvier about where to find the best deals or the highest quality products. This is a huge opportunity for those grocers who respond shrewdly to the new market conditions.

Consumer loyalty to one supermarket has been overthrown by the disruptive influence of budget supermarket chains like Aldi and Lidl. The loyal Tesco shopper of a decade ago is now popping into Tesco for their main shop, but then heading to a Lidl or an Aldi to pick up some extras at a lower price.

They might even head to Waitrose or M&S later in the week to pick up a couple of premium items for the weekend. The ‘one stop shop’ of old has been replaced by the new consumer shopping trend of top-up shopping, explaining why Tesco is mothballing Extra stores.

There is now a backlash as consumers no longer find this approach to shopping a good experience or one of value; and increasingly are seeking out specialist retailers for not only the increased choice on offer but also better prices.

More importantly, consumers are also now expecting expert advice when buying non-food products in particular. Perhaps a strategy online retailers such as Amazon will need to start incorporating.

It’s a fragmented consumer journey, but it also provides grocery retailers with the chance to win the loyalty of these new shoppers entering their stores.

First and foremost, building this loyalty has to start on the shop floor. Supermarkets which can’t compete on price need to create appealing and engaging environments while offering their customers the level of care and quality they expect.

Yet research we conducted at Gekko, shows during the last couple of years of expansion – the big grocers haven’t been investing in the areas they should have been. Instead, consumers have been met with decreasing numbers of staff in-store, leaving their experience and relationship with the store to be undervalued as a consequence.

Before its accountancy mishap, new Tesco CEO Dave Lewis recognised the need to shift the focus away from cost-saving towards offering a better service, by increasing the number of staff on the shop floor.

Interestingly, Waitrose, with a proven track record of excellent customer service, is the only non-budget supermarket brand to have increased its market share last month. Clearly investing in the in-store environment is long overdue for some of the big supermarket chains.

Those who ensure that consumers who enter their stores are met with an all-round shopping experience can start to rebuild bridges with consumers. When literally ‘every little helps’ it’s time to stop paying lip service to customer’s journey in-store and put shoppers first.


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Labour and the Tories must make a case for business, and soon

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So conference season has been and gone and what have we learnt? Given that we’re mere months away from an election, it’s been a pretty unremarkable few weeks. The Conservatives lead Labour by just one point according to the latest opinion polls, attributed to Cameron promising tax cuts to 30 million people. Yet have the two party leaders done enough to make the nation feel like there’s a clear vote winner come 2015? Hardly.

First we had Ed Miliband with the forgotten speech, where perhaps owing to the difficulties of committing an hour long speech to memory, he missed a section which discussed the deficit. Unfortunately some undecided voters might find it difficult to trust a man who puts style over substance when he’s trying to persuade us he can run the country. Labour’s big problem going into this election is the two Eds. If they can put forward a cogent case for how business would flourish under a Labour government, they might win over some of the doubters. There’s still plenty of time until the election, but they really need to make their case. And fast.

Then came Cameron at the Conservative conference with his Richard Curtis inspired speech, almost drowning in a sea of Union Jacks rousing up the party faithful. From a marketing perspective it was impressive stuff, he seemed almost Presidential, as if this was a US primary and not just a conference in Birmingham.

We’ve seen proposals to raise tax thresholds for the bottom and the top earners and mansion taxes that are realistically never going to happen in the next parliament even if the bill gets through, given the bureaucracy involved.

From a business perspective, to those helping prop up the economy and drive the UK’s standing in the world as a centre of commerce and innovation, both speeches failed to completely reassure. Miliband was slammed by some business leaders for barely touching on business issues, while attacking energy companies, banks, tobacco companies and the wealthy.

For Cameron’s part, the promise of implementing the lowest rate of corporation tax of any major economy is a welcome move, but many are left wondering – what’s the catch?  There’s a feeling that both could have done more to appease more of the concerns of businesses in the UK. Let’s not forget that we have a growing deficit, interest rates are likely to rise, an NHS on its knees and another possible £25bn in cuts. We’re not out of the woods yet.

Of course, away from the two main parties, Nigel and Nick wait in the wings taking pot shots at both leaders. It’s their right to, as minority parties that will never win a majority in Parliament or be responsible for seriously radical bills. Yet neither of them have added much to a serious discussion on future business policy. That said, the Lib Dems have achieved something like 75% of their manifesto pledges, which isn’t bad going.

As someone who runs my own business, it’s a little unnerving that the two Ns hold the balance of power in the event of a lack of majority at the next election. Whilst it can potentially be in the best interests of the population and business in general to have a minority party moderating the policy implementation of a Conservative or Labour government, it’s hardly the pinnacle of democracy.

Whatever happens in the build-up to the election, there is still plenty to play for. None of the major parties have set down a clear roadmap for a post-election business landscape with them in charge. The messages from political parties to individuals remain on the weak side. That will no doubt change as the election draws nearer, but there’s still a vacuum of information for how I – as a law-abiding, tax-compliant UK employer – should determine which party is going to be good for me and my business.


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Rebuilding that Emotional Connection with Your Consumers

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With declining food sales mirroring the retailer’s fashion decline, it has appeared that Marks and Spencer, under the reign of Marc Bolland, has been spinning into terminal decline. But hang on. Our much loved M&S where, with little exception, we have either worn or eaten their wares over the decades, has suddenly bounced back with a vengeance. The launch of a new food campaign set to an instrumental version of the Clean Bandit track Rather Be has succeeded where recent fashion ads have failed – driving an emotional connection with those consumers who have fallen out of love with its style, format and quality. Capitalising on food’s current status of being on trend, the retailer has returned to a less cheesy format than recent advertising using a “go on, try me” kind of approach has done in the past. In my opinion, this will go some way in helping to rebuild the emotional connection with disaffected M&S shoppers, tempting them to return in-store and try a treat or two again.

Its fashion ATL has also wisely taken a change in tact, ditching the leading ladies in favour of a simpler execution with the Ed Sheeran track Sing, designed to strike a chord with everyday customers, who aren’t impressed or swayed by celebrity endorsement. The clothes or food might not be to everyone’s taste or appeal to a specific age group, but this ATL campaign brings back the emotion this much loved UK brand badly needs to reconnect with their customers and compete with the other household brands. I am impressed and genuinely like this approach. This may just work and evolve into a spectacular Christmas ATL campaign re-establishing the M&S brand.

Another long standing representative on the British high street, McDonald’s, seems to be succeeding in re-marketing themselves to a wider, more health conscious audience. Considered by many the antipathy of healthy eating, even perhaps the pariah of fast food only one step up from the generic chicken shop, McDonald’s sat closely with its counterparts Burger King and KFC, with very little to distinguish them apart – until now. Their new ATL is taking a step back in time, reminding us how great we thought McDonald’s used to be, how much of a treat it was and the special occasions that we had long forgotten during which we chose to feast on McDonald’s. Roll up the new look and feel of McDonald’s, at least portrayed by its advertising, that will entice some of us to go back and revisit that memory of our first McDonald’s. Perhaps even make a child’s first experience of McDonald’s a seminal moment like it was for us, rather than what it has perhaps become as a soiled moment tinged with guilt. Maybe we should all be a bit more carefree, a little bit of what you like as a treat on occasion is alright.


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Gekko add another two awards to their collection

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Over the past month, Gekko has added another two awards to their collection with a win at the IPM COGS Awards in the Best Experiential category, and a highly commended in the Creative Industries category at the London Loves Excellence Awards.

At the COGS Awards, Gekko’s ‘Down by the Lilypad’ campaign for Freeview impressed the judges with its creativity, effectiveness in communicating Freeview’s brand message, and impressive results.

The Institute of Promotional Marketing hold the COGS Awards each year to recognise and reward the achievements and successes of the UK’s marketing service providers.


Gekko was also highly praised at the London Loves Excellence Awards for its innovative approach to the channel, and for its clear consumer focus.

The London Loves Excellence Awards takes place each year to recognise talented individuals and organisations in the capital.

For the full list of COGS winners, please visit:

For the full list of London Loves Excellence winners, please visit:

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