During a family day-out in central London, I found myself drawn unexpectedly into a debate about the efficacy of destination marketing. While on the platform of London Bridge tube station, my wife pointed to an advert on the opposite side of the track which announced boldly, ‘Even our worms are a global marketing phenomenon’ and asked, ‘Does that sort of thing actually work?’
Further reading revealed that it was promoting investinyorkshire.com a place where ‘The can-do culture is thriving.’ A singular example is provided: the titular worms turn out to be Worms the popular video game franchise developed by Wakefield based Team 17, which led the copy writer to the bold conclusion that, ‘When you start something here, you can take over the world.’
My immediate response was (like yours no doubt) ‘Of course it f*****g doesn’t.’ And there the debate would have ended, if it hadn’t been for her supplementary question, ‘Then why do they do it?’
This is where it gets interesting, because I think it’s highly unlikely that you’ll find anybody who thinks that this kind of advertising has any measurable benefit all. A learned marketer might stroke his goatee beard and mumble things like ‘awareness raising initiative’ or ‘brand equity exercise’ but surely even they would find it a stretch to presume that someone real would be engaged by the campaign, let alone consider relocating their business (from London) as a consequence.
Worms is a good games franchise with a long history, but no more a global phenomenon than other UK developed series like Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider or Football Manager. The advert fails because it actually implies is that it’s not so much the game that’s remarkable, but the fact it was produced in Yorkshire (‘Of all places! Who’d have thought it?’). ‘Even our worms…’ is not unique: ineffective marketing is everywhere. So to return to my wife’s question – why do people do it?
The answer is quite surprising. It has little to do with ability or competence. The ‘Even our worms…’ ads are designed by, I imagine, some agency rostered because the marketing department believe it to be ‘good at this sort of thing’. In fairness they would only have been responding to a client brief (i.e. doing what they were asked). And I don’t doubt the brief itself was a professional looking document, itself a tactical response to help deliver some strategic corporate objective.
In fact the individual performance of those involved in the project is irrelevant, because of the culture they work in, they are always going to be greater than the whole. The shocking truth is that most business today is conducted on the understanding that it will end a failure. Success can often occur with an absence of any achievement. For example: The Ad agency’s success was winning the account in the first place. A lot of the time this is achieved by telling prospective clients what they want to hear. What you really think about their product or project is often irrelevant.
Failure is the biggest cultural driver in business. More than 80 percent of product launches fail in the first year. It is quite possible to enjoy a successful career without ever having worked on a successful project or for a successful business. And if the likelihood is that the project you are working on is not going to succeed, then the trick is to make sure your own performance looks good.
They could run this campaign for 1,000,000 years and still fail to move a single person. Yet when the inevitable failure occurs it is an orphan because this kind of project work has little accountability and success is difficult to measure. The failure isn’t the ad agency’s: it was merely responding to a brief. Nor is it the marketing manager’s: they selected the agency on an approved best value basis, from a list of tried and tested suppliers in line with the corporate policy. And it’s not the senior management’s fault; their strategy was based on rigorous research and it’s hardly their fault that the ad failed to connect with the target audience.
So it’s nobody’s fault, yet the fact remains, the ad campaign is a dud, so on to the next one. Perhaps this time, as Jade Goody famously said when asked why she was running the London Marathon for charity, it should be ‘all about erasing wareness.’