Advertising Media Planning
Dixons UK: Strength out of Weakness
The much publicized advertising wars between Dixons, the high street shops, and their other online competitors reflect the perceived desires of consumers and the projected benefits of sustained firm-customer awareness. The Dixons.co.uk advertising campaign in 2009 seemed to break a lot of rules in advertising and marketing planning while it actually reinforced, in a rather novel way, some key underpinnings of advertising theory. The campaign ultimately shifted perceived consumer psychology by targeting embedded thoughts and feelings in their reproduction in consumer behaviour through a successful repositioning of Dixon’s in the chain of retailers. Additionally, the firm ultimately freeloaded the media coverage and the counterproductive strategies and positioning of competitors to its advantage.
The ‘Dixons.co.uk Strength out of Weakness’ case study successfully captures a creative “problem-solving” approach that more dogmatic strategists would have rejected, in exploiting the exceptional circumstances and situation of Dixon’s, which in this case, turned to be its weakest. Coupled with general strategy in the market for technology, the Dixons.co.uk campaign was audacious in turning the perceived “doggedness” of the firm into its greatest asset in its public presentation and appearance.
The case study’s focus is the “Visit us last” ethos and modus operandi of the 2009 campaign. The concept and phrase is ingratiatingly self-deprecating and deterministic, easy to say, and provocative. Dixon’s, a popular high-street retailer in London and around the UK suffered from a middle position. Web-sales in electronics were up, but Dixons was losing. Customers did their own research on tech-products and could alternatively enjoy the more customer-friendly environments of retailers such as John Lewis. The confluence of these factors weighed heavily in Dixon’s decision to use its implicitly lagging behind competitors (“Visit us Last”) message with competitive pricing. The sensational response to the seemingly benign phrase proved to be provocative, provocatively fortunate as dixons.co.uk enjoyed both paid for coverage in the London Underground, for example, and unpaid coverage in the media, where dixons.co.uk received the majority of the publicity good or bad sharing the stage with many other competitors.
In many instances, and particularly in the fields of marketing and advertising, “theory” is a pejoratively value laden term. The logocentric practice of advertising may be theoretically averse (for example, ‘theoretically’ often connotes a thought not in practice, or for example, ‘in theory’ is usually referring to something that should work given abstract paradigmatic assumptions).
Just as advertising as a discipline is particularly concerned with human communication and behaviour, the policies and practices of firms in the branding marketplace are engaged in the same mechanisms. The two would benefit greatly from more dialogue, just as advertising and marketing theory has been enriched through its interdisciplinary framework. Advertising academics interrogate fields as diverse as Linguistics and International Relations (among many other social and behavioural sciences) for example. In the case of the former, the perceived structure of human cognition as language (Derrida 1970 18) has enabled advertisers to extend neuroscience research with more qualitative data to the greater impact of marketing plans (Hackley 2010). In the case of the latter, trends say, for example, in fair trade can be linked to the demographic within the developed country of consumption (Landes 1999). The attitude of modernity understood by academics is dictated by the forces of modernity (Latour 1991). These social movements have led to the rise in the branding of brands and parts of brands such as Costa and Starbucks to highlight “fair trade” coffee and other products in response to public opinion (Doran 2009). Here social movement theories, psychology studies have all had an effect on academic advertising, but in order for advertising to affect these important concepts, a paradigmatic theoretical perspective is necessary. Advertising sciences need advertising, and advertising needs cross-disciplinary creative strategies.
The dixons.co.uk strategy defined the problems facing the ailing firm, and worked with the legacy and assets of its beleaguered position in the electronics retail market, and developed a coherent and creative strategy to attract attention and ultimately purchases.
The result however, of a firm advertising without a creative strategy theoretically grounded, is much like the critique of existing advertising initiatives by the Y & R consultancy firm’s outline for creative marketing strategy:
“Without a [creative] strategy, advertising belongs in the theatre of the absurd provocative, ambiguous, uncertain, interesting but what’s it all about?”
Similarly, Vaughn warns of advertising theory’s marginalization in its nascent stages and encourages inquiry:
If we had a proven theory of advertising effectiveness it would help in strategy, planning, response, measurement, and sales prediction. We have no such theory. Empirical ‘proof’ is scattered in numerous company and agency files. The possibility for a scientifically-derived model of advertising seems remote. (Vaughn 1980). However, ‘maverick’, these marketing tools were effectively promoted, and so provoked public interest, not just in firm-awareness, but even of corporate marketing strategy. In this instance, dixons.co.uk, however sensational its message, followed a very clear and realistic problem solving approach. The commonly built upon and processed original Y & R Work Plan (1970) worked from such consultancy advocacy to see its creative and practical benefits. The dixons.co.uk strategy, as outlined in the case study, involved first assessing the primary problems facing the firm. For the purposes of this essay, it is necessary to briefly discuss the Y & R Working Plan as its skeletal and theoretically pragmatic approach is consistent with the extension of the dixons.co.uk branding.
The Y & R plan departs from four primary elements. First is in the statement of the “key fact”, based on an analysis of all ‘facts’ pertaining to the key fact (1). The plan then defines the problem (2) marketing must engage with in respect to the key fact. Thirdly, there must be a “statement of the advertising objective (3) which stems from the problem”. Finally implemented is a creative strategy (4).
The strategy outlined and documented in the case study shows the very reach and multi-pronged media venues of the program, ‘Strength out of weakness’. Importantly, it works from the perspective of a creative strategy to overcome very immediate hurdles: Significantly, the group determined “the only realistic way anyone would choose and buy from Dixons UK was if they visited already knowing exactly what make and model they wanted”. This is not the strongest selling point.
If we determine the key fact is to be that Dixon’s “was passed its 80s heyday”, then the following problem resulting from this must be passed as a heteronomy of factors. First, Dixon’s perceived strengths must be taken into account. Dixon’s inventory capabilities were massive. Since it’s high street shops had gone the way of Curry’s, its main issue was that there were very few prospective customers who came to dixons.co.uk directly. Dixon’s had to attract customer’s straight to dixons.co.uk, the firm’s fate rested on this. The advertising objective would be to make dixons.co.uk the most attractive online electronics distributor. The overflow from traditional retail would follow. The creative strategy implemented marketing signs, specifically in the London Underground, that exaggerated a consumer’s trip to the lofty auspices, and lofty prices of high street retailers, featuring the most desired electronics, ending the perfunctory phrase with “…and then go to Dixons”. Competitive pricing, highly researched consumers of electronics, and a provocative slogan and ad campaign combined to make this very effective for Dixon’s. Following from this, a coherent capture:
High street retailers have knowledge, expertise and service, but don’t have low prices. Dixons has low prices but doesn’t have great service, expertise or knowledge. Now get devious. So, Dixons has the low prices and they do the service for us.A transposition of the technology market to the FCB grid developed by Richard Vaughn shows how a firm can augment its own position by using the services and positions of competitors to greater penetrate where venue and product meet consumer. This was Dixon’s strategy.
The figure above is an example taken from Richard Vaughn (1986), “organizing advertising effectiveness for strategy planning” (Vaughn 1980 27). Consumer electronics can be thought of as “high involvement”, as individual specs cater to the consumers’ needs. Electronics are also both high think and high feel—high think in that consumers read and try extensively, they research electronics. However, there are inherent stratifications in the electronics market that can only correspond to “feel”, such as that of a hi-fi stereo system or a sterling-silver washing machine. Dixon’s positioned itself to wedge these three parts of a triangle through its creative marketing triangle.
The high concentration of billboards and advertisements taken in London’s Public Transport created media frenzy as it replicated in exhibition.“…and then go to dixons.co.uk” urging commuters coming home who do not want to deal with lines at Oxford Circus, and the friends they tell about a peculiar ad, etc.
Interestingly, the “tone” of the advertisement, an especially important characteristic in advertising and marketing theory, challenged common perceptions in how a brand could promote itself, and in so doing, created a kind of feedback continuum of interested traffic. A simple creative solution was needed. Compared to the $3.4 billion GM spent in 2006 in U.S. advertising (Horsky 2006), the much smaller budget of Dixon’s was proving profitable beyond the wildest imaginations of executives.
Placement in the underground was critical, the case study showed a progressive growth in “hits” in London area ISPs, and the underground was once again shown to be a great marketing vehicle for the right advertising strategy. In this case, marketing and advertising placement was appropriate for the project, as the buyers of electronics are typically as varied as the professionals and musicians and children that travel the Tube.
The dixons.co.uk media coverage descended—much to Dixon’s advantage—to the dirty depths British presses are capable of. It dragged in some high names, but always featured Dixon’s as the challenger, the underdog, or else the precocious electronics giant—regardless, people now spoke of dixons.co.uk. This is and has been a significant issue for firms to develop effective and cohesive advertising strategies. Dixon’s capitalized on “major improvements in the quality of consumer information and the growth of targeted media which allow firms to precisely target according to consumer segments within a market” (Iyer et al 2005 461). The placement of provocative ads on the London underground for example captured a commuting captive audience’s attention. This broad demographic are all in the market for electronics, it’s efficacy was not in declaring its position, but in reactivating products in the mind and imagination of somebody on the Victoria Line, for example..
“Strength out of weakness” was the perfect campaign strategy. It used Dixon’s entrenched market position and vulnerabilities to its advantage by exploiting its legacy, its inventory capabilities, and it’s resolution from one main problem to one basic fact. “The only realistic way anyone would choose and buy from Dixons UK was if they visited already knowing exactly what make and model they wanted”. The site was subpar. Product comparison, review of specs, product and design aesthetics: “This wasn’t just a minor difference communications might be able to gloss over. It was fundamental. By identifying the key facts, understand the problem in relation to these key facts, a creative and effective strategy was promoted. Dixon’s made a good holiday run and then some on this, consistent even with foundational advertising theory thirty years ago even as it appeared radical.
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