Worrying about the ads

By Bill Kaye-Blake 02/10/2012

Two television advertisements have caught my attention. One ad by itself would just be an anecdote. Two ads, well, you can draw a line through two ads, and then you start to wonder whether to extrapolate or not.

In one for Countdown, we see the Coleman family at a crossroads. We’ve been watching them happily for two years, with their teenagers and pre-schooler (and fabulous kitchen despite their average jobs). Dad’s a bit hapless, but Mum keeps the family running smoothly.

[I tried several ways of embedding the video, but always got the wrong one. It’s called ‘Changes’, and is currently the third video on this page.]

I’m concerned the campaign is heading in a Hanna Rosin direction, since Mr Coleman has already been established as a man-child. But that’s more a cultural than an economic issue.

Economically, it’s telling that Countdown is targeting consumers who need to tighten their belts. They may be laid off, or they could simply be worried and looking for ways to cut back spending. In this assessment, Countdown is just reflecting the macro statistics. Whether we use official or alternative [pdf] measures, people are saving more of their incomes:

The other ad was one of those 6.00 PM ‘what to make for dinner’ spots (the associated Wattie’s webpage is here). The lady was showing us how to make pasta with meat sauce, and suggested we throw in a can of baked beans to make the meat go further. First, there is the act of stretching meat with bread, beans, rice, etc. Nothing new there. Anyone who has eaten on a budget knows there are tips and tricks to getting more for less.

But secondly, there is the fact that the food company is counselling consumers to do the stretching, and labelling it as such. That is far more unusual. It suggests that advertisers’ market research has found that people are worried about stretching their food dollars, and that the concern is prominent enough that food brands can safely recognise it during valuable prime-time ad space.

So — anecdotes or trend? Leading or trailing indicator? I don’t know, but I am concerned. Good branding is as much about positioning as selling, and positioning requires a longer-term view. Countdown and Wattie’s are middle-class brands. They seem to think that the middle class is hurting and will continue to do so.