Posts Tagged ‘marketing’

Bull

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

In the Aylesbury and Wycombe area we thought we’d suffer a lot more pub closures post-smoking ban and post-credit crunch than we actually did. However, it seems like the bad news may have been postponed. The Rising Sun at Little Hampden closed over the summer — and it was a smart country dining pub in an idyllic Chiltern hamlet. Sadly it had been granted permission for conversion to a private house in 2006 — so the battle had been lost already.

In the summer a pub in Aylesbury, the Duck in Bedgrove, was demolished after being sold to new owners without any change of use permission being sought. (See the local LibDems blog for a good photo.) This was a type of pub that is fast disappearing — an estate community pub. It certainly wasn’t the sort of pub that lured real ale drinkers. However, huge areas of towns like Aylesbury are now without pubs.

In a couple of years the Southcourt and Walton Court estates have lost the Steeplechase (boarded up) and the Skinny Dog (now a Muslim community centre) and the Huntsman is due to disappear in a redevelopment of the local shopping centre. The first pub that’s on the road between Southcourt and Aylesbury town centre, the Old Plough and Harrow, has recently undergone one of the most common conversions for dead pubs (and one that doesn’t need any planning permission) — into an Indian restaurant.

Twenty or thirty years ago these sort of estate community pubs would be packed with drinkers, especially on a Friday or Saturday night. It’s not hard to think of reasons why they’re now in trouble — the smoking ban has hit these pubs harder than most (many customers no doubt went there specifically to smoke as well as drink) and the idiocies of modern marketers have also done their damage — targeting drinks like lager and alcopops at young people with relatively large disposable incomes but also very disposable common sense once they’d had a few wife-beaters down their throats. Pool tables and noisy machines would also target this particular demographic — and many pubs weakened their community links as a result.

But the main factor is surely economic. The typical price of a pint is now fairly close to £3, if not more, and is set to rise a lot further when VAT rises in the New Year as well any beer duty rises in the pipeline. Even using the government’s recommended 21 units of alcohol, this would work out at £31.50 per week (based on a session bitter)…and that would realistically only have a person in for 3 or 4 pints three times a week — far less than the traditional customers of such pubs would tend to do. The likes of Professor David Nutt would no doubt find this cause for celebration, except that the previous customers of community pubs are not likely to have moderated their consumption — they will be down the town centre supermarkets where, on a good day, £31.50 could buy them about 36 cans of Stella (more than four times the units of alcohol) and probably enough to keep most people stocked up with a tin to hand while watching TV for the whole week.

Beer in pubs is too expensive — simple as that. The social act of going down to the pub as an end in itself has been priced out of many people’s reach — and those who can afford it are too busy making more money for themselves or are eating in poncey restaurants or swilling their bonuses away in pubs in the City.

Town centre pubs will still do OK as people go to a destination for a night out. Also some pubs, particularly in the country, will keep their heads above water by concentrating on food — although the example of the Rising Sun shows that even serving up upmarket pub grub is less lucrative than turning the place into a country retreat for the kind of person who’s too posh to go to pubs.

And this also underlines another reason why supermarket beer has become far cheaper than beer in pubs — because pubs, like houses, have had their property values massively inflated and most pubs are now owned by companies who’ve foolishly raised money on the financial markets against these notional values — and the servicing of this debt has been passed on to landlords and customers.

Whereas a generation ago pubs only had to open their doors to get customers coming in, the above factors mean that pubs now have to differentiate themselves to generate custom — and offering interesting and well-kept real ale is a way to do this. The Whip in Lacey Green is an example of a pub that has a bar that’s still packed out most nights — offering five real ales that turn over, on average, every two days. The pub did about 800 different ales last year — that’s well over two a day. And the pub steadily built a reputation on quality — only adding a fourth and fifth beer when demand allowed, unlike the many pubs who offer more real ales than they can turn over before they spoil.

The Bull, Stoke Mandeville

The Bull, Stoke Mandeville in Sunnier Times (Summer 2006 -- there's now a smokers' shelter at the front).

There’s now cause for concern about one pub, which has been a Good Beer Guide stalwart for several years. The Bull in Stoke Mandeville is an old-fashioned, two-bar community local which has bucked the downward economic trend in large part by serving three well-kept real ales. Due to various complicated reasons not entirely unrelated to those above, Stuart, the long-standing landlord has left the pub. His last day was Wednesday this week when I went along to watch the Manchester derby on Sky. It’s a particular shame as the Bull, under Stuart’s management, was a quiet gem of a pub and embodied many of the attributes that many would reel off as intrinsic to the British pub.

Wetherspoons in Aylesbury Are Like Buses…

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

…you wait twenty years (well, seven in my case) for one to turn up, then two arrive at once.

For about ten years now Aylesbury has probably been the biggest town (pop nearly 80,000 in the 2001 census) without a branch of J.D.Wetherspoon. In June the company opened two pubs — both conversions. The Bell Hotel in the Market Square became The Bell and Chicago’s Rock Cafe (or whatever it was) on Exchange Street was converted into the White Hart, which is the more Lloyd’s No 1 of the two.

The White Hart is in a clever location it currently sits apparently forlornly looking out over what passes for an inner ring-road with just a closed-down furniture shop for company (at least the last time I remembered that’s what it was). But come November the new Aylesbury Waterside theatre is opening over the road and when all the barricades come down then hordes of intellectuals will come flocking down to the new cultural quarter down by the canal. Perhaps. But the White Hart shares the same development as the Odeon multi-screen and there’s going to be, eventually, a new shopping centre in the area and, we’re told, Waitrose is definitely on its way. So Wetherspoons might have been pretty shrewd in getting into this particular piece of real estate.

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Wetherspoons gets a hell of a lot of flack from the bloody-minded, anal retentive wing of CAMRA types — almost all of it unjustified. The only thing they do that gets my back up is their policy of pretending there are more real ales available at any one time than there really are — the notoriously tiny ‘Coming Soon’ sign that perches on the pump clips of what are inevitably the most interesting beers.

I also admit that they can be chronically understaffed and if you’re unlucky you’ll have an infuriating delay in being served — something I’ve found at the Falcon in High Wycombe. But this is a corollary of their pricing — a bit like how Aldi and Lidl might trade off queueing time against discount pricing. It would be pretty churlish to complain about less than instant service if you get a good pint of real ale for £1.89 — or 5op less if you use one of your £20 of CAMRA members’ discount vouchers.

Wetherspoons do vary — the Falcon in Wycombe is now looking very shabby and in need of serious refurbishment — but they do put something of an objective quality reference point in an area’s pub stock. Put simply, if the best pubs in your area are Wetherspoons then the other pubs aren’t really up to much.

To take Aylesbury as an example. A few years ago there were no Aylesbury town centre pubs in the Good Beer Guide. Then Chiltern Brewery took over the King’s Head and Vale Brewery transformed the Hop Pole. Suddenly there were two destination pubs for ale drinkers and many of the other pubs raised their game.

Yet both the King’s Head and the Hop Pole aren’t cheap and so aren’t particularly threatening the trade of their rivals. The same can’t be said of Wetherspoon’s arrival. With really cheap real ale now consistently available it would be a shame if established pubs were undercut. The Queen’s Head is currently closed but this pre-dates the Wetherspoon arrival.

But it could be argued that, like the Hop Pole and King’s Head, Wetherspoons is also expanding the market, rather than cannibalising it. For example, I was in Aylesbury on Friday lunchtime and had a quick drink in the White Hart (surprisingly, it was non-alcoholic). I’d anticipated probably buying a sandwich from M&S for lunch, or similar, but at £3.10 the Wetherspoon ham, (free range) egg and chips (not many of them though!) was much better value for money.

Prices for beer are so high in pubs that people tend to binge on cheap supermarket beer before going on a night out to save money. If Wetherspoons, with cheap real ale, gets people into the pub rather than boozing on bland stuff at home then what’s not to like?

Smithy Izzard Isn’t He?

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Sport Relief is an interesting concept. Someone must have thought ‘sports personalities are treated like celebrities these days, why not use them to do Comic Relief again without risking over-exposure’. The problem with this luvvie-PR approach is that the majority of sports personalities (although that phrase in itself is often an oxymoron) have less sense of humour than a set of goalposts.

The kind of selfless determination and motivation that’s required to get to the top in sport is almost, by definition, less receptive to many kinds of humour, particularly British self-deprecation. This is no doubt more true in individual events where there’s less social interaction than in teams. Also, the time needed to train and practice, particularly as a young person, means that many athletes are less likely to have spent time watching comedy on television.

This was comically apparent during James Corden’s ‘Smithy’ section on ‘Sports Relief’ last night. While I watch ‘Gavin and Stacey’ I wouldn’t class myself as a huge fan: it seems to be this year’s ‘Little Britain’ and seems to be similarly pumped up by the BBC hype machine, perhaps as evidence that not everything on BBC3 is total garbage. The appeal of the programme seems to come more from the engaging performances of Matthew Horne and the lovely Joanna Page (one of the recipients of Jonathan Ross’s loathsome lustings) plus good support from Alison Steadman and the ubiquitous Rob Brydon. The characters played by Corden and Ruth Jones seem to me to undermine the rest of programme.

Corden’s ‘Smithy’ character seems to be positioned by comedy opinion formers, such as Comic Relief, as a sort of mouthy, loveable slob England-supporting, sports following couch potato — sort of Loadsamoney with sport replacing the dosh. ‘Sport Relief’ showed a performance he must have done as a warm-up for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year last December which was a bit peculiar.

He started with a mock acceptance as Coach of the Year, then did a mock acceptance speech which veered at times into a serious rant and then followed, as if in apology, with a hammed up ‘let’s make Britain great’ conclusion. What was striking about the performance was that he picked on some of the sports celebrities in the audience in traditional stand-up fashion — and the looks on some of their faces were  of absolute thunder which said clear as day ‘I am a living legend. You can’t take the piss out of me.’

Fabio Capello probably didn’t know what the hell was going on so he laughed amiably throughout. Similarly, genuinely laid-back personalities like Ryan Giggs knew to laugh along at the (not very funny) suggestion he was about 45 by now. Also, politicians like Lord Coe knew that the worst thing to do in these circumstances was to look peeved or offended — though the Ovett remark seemed quite close to the bone. However, Freddie Flintoff’s face was a picture when Corden ridiculed his nickname and his injury record (pointing out that his drinking arm was always in good order). Kelly Holmes also seemed to be aggrieved when he said running 800m was nothing compared with Paula Radcliffe’s marathons — but Radcliffe suddenly looked rather serious when, in the most amusing of his jokes, Corden asked if anyone had shown her where the toilet was. I guess that some of these people wouldn’t have had a clue who this fat, scruffy oik in a tracksuit was — especially as he’d yet to join comedy royalty because this segment was recorded before he’d had the honour of having his show transmitted as a Christmas Day special

What was most striking, however, was when he went into tub-thumping, jingoistic mode — ‘We Can Win the World Cup, We Can Win Wimbledon’ and followed it up with a combination of sporting cliches about winning. The audience, having been fairly puzzled by the stand-up comedy, then got to its feet and cheered him to the rafters. While this was, no doubt, edited for effect, I’m sure that Corden was ridiculing himself (or his character) at this stage — a point that seemed to be lost on most of the audience. Steve Redgrave, sorry Sir Steve Redgrave, stood there wiping away a tear from his eye which, while it may have been staged, seemed to me to be the sort of reaction he’d make if that sort of speech was given straight. I suppose these sporting celebrities shouldn’t be criticised for reacting in this way — if they had the brains of comedians then we’d never win anything. (It reminds me of Clive Woodward’s, sorry Sir Clive, selection of records on ‘Desert Island Discs’ — it was the most unsubtle, two-dimensional list but, more than anything it was functional — uplifting, ‘euphoric’ anthems like ‘The Greatest Day’ by Take That or ‘Life is A Rollercoaster’ by Ronan Keating plus pumping, adrenaline releasing stuff of the sort they play on BBC Sport programmes incessantly by Eminem or Chicane. I guess his desert island life would be permanent reminiscing of the glory days of the world cup.)

Watching the thing a second time it seems that it was more edited than it may have appeared originally and certain personalities will have been prompted that they were going to get the Smithy treatment and may even have been told to try and keep a straight face (Kelly Holmes for example).  Nevertheless, most of the expressions looked quite transparently horrified that this tubby comedian could get on stage and say things that, taken out of the flimsy ironic context of supposedly been in character, were actually pretty insulting.

However, that re-inforces the paradox of Sport Relief — a comedy vehicle that features some of the straightest and least amusing people possible — although there was a fair amount of blokeish, dressing room humour in evidence when Lineker, Hansen and Lawrenson did Masterchef — sausage and mash, steak and chips and spaghetti a la carbonara — and all cooked quite well — such is the competitive nature of these people. I tend to think these fund raisers, laudable as they are for raising money, tend to be designed as a useful spin-off for celebrities to gauge their relative standing. Christine Bleakley got promoted to hosting a section this year, as did James Corden — so obviously they’re on the up. Obviously they’ll have taken the places of some fading personalities whose phones no longer ring with offers as much as they did when they were on the way up.

One person for whom I have unreserved admiration is Eddie Izzard. I watched the final ‘Marathon Man’ programme, which followed the end of his incredible 43 marathons in 51 days. I had expected him to have prepared thoroughly for such a masochistic challenge but I was amazed to see that he cut a very unathletic character, even with something of a pot belly after more than half the marathons. Even were he to have lost weight his heavy physique is not really one of a distance runner.

I do a bit of running myself but I’ve never gone near anything like marathon distance. The furthest I’ve done is the half-marathon, which is gruelling enough, and, at my pace, meant over two hours of continuous running. I lost a toenail for several months after that and was fatigued for a couple of days — even after having worked up to it for a few weeks. Eddie Izzard apparently only trained for five weeks and so ran at a pace that meant his marathons were taking around five hours — even ten hours in some cases when he was almost literally dead on his feet. To run for ten hours along roads and then do it all again the next day must take the most incredible willpower. I’m not a huge fan of his comedy but I can see how he must have had the determination to make a successful career (he returned to locations in Edinburgh where he’d started as a street perfomer during the programme). Of all the celebrity challenges that are performed for these fundraising events, Izzard’s must be metaphorically, if not athletically, way ahead of the field.

Nothing Says ‘I Love You’ Like A Pink Drill

Friday, February 12th, 2010

When I received an e-mail with the title ‘Nothing Says “‘I Love You” Like A Pink Drill’ I thought it was a stray mail that should have gone in the spam folder with the blue pill offers and the mails that promise to stretch parts of the male anatomy. Either that or it was an interesting reference to obscure sexual practices.

But no — it was a genuine marketing attempt from Screwfix. You have to admire their chutzpah in trying to get mail order DIY muscling in on the Valentines market but I’m quite dumbfounded by who they think might be the recipient of the drill. And, yes, it is bright pink. It can be seen online here along with their other Valentine’s offers.

I’m not sure that any sort of handyman, however in touch with his feminine side, is really ever going to want a pink drill so I’m inclined to think this advert is aimed at men buying Valentine’s presents for women. Apart from the fact that a drill is an ultimate utility purchase that has little romantic interest as far as I can see, this sort of present suggests that the recipient is expected to make good use of it. Rather than put up a few shelves or picture frames on Valentine’s day I can imagine most female recipients wanting to use the present to inflict violence on whoever bought it for them. Maybe I’m being old-fashioned and sexist but I’m not going to try it.

Benefits of Opaque Packaging?

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Innocent smoothies have a new flavour out — a healthy mix of kiwis, apples and limes. I was puzzled to notice that I was the only person in the household who was drinking this healthy concoction (see below).

Innocent Kiwi Smoothie

A paint company might call it 'snot green'

 

It was then pointed out to me that the colour of the smoothie when it was poured into a glass was hardly appetising — like the contents of a spitoon in a nursing home full of coughing and wheezing old men clearing their throats. I must point out that it tastes very good but probably a good move on Innocent’s behalf to have the opaque white tetrapak with their witty marketing material rather than a transparent bottle.

Every Little Counts?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Walk round certain supermarkets at the moment and you’d need a spreadsheet open on your trolley to work out the various multibuy options. The whole point seems to cover the store in bargain and money off and multisave stickers to try and give the impression that prices are being cut. The wine department is especially bad for this — with all the 3 for £10 on certain bottles and very similar shelf labels advertising half-price on wines (that are usually worth nowhere near the full price) — so shoppers probably end up with 2 of the £10 offer wines and one half price. It’s all become so complex than even the supermarkets themselves appear to have got confused. Here’s a shelf sticker spotted today at a well known store. Do the math, as the Americans say.

What a bargain!

What a bargain!

Only a few days to go to get this one…and it’s Vaseline Shower Gel, not any other of their products.

Never Mind the Quality, Feel the Weight

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I went to the impressive new Sainsbury’s in High Wycombe and ended up, surprisingly, in the beer department at the weekend. They had a special 3 for £10 deal on bottled Meantime beers. This wasn’t bad value as the beers are normally sold at over £4 each. The bottles are 750ml which makes one wonder if they are trying too hard to compete with wine. I bought two IPAs and one London Porter (the only two available). 

Meantime seem to be darlings of the beer writing establishment. However, I found the beers to be quite pleasant but not justifying the hype of some journalists. The IPA was enjoyable but had nothing like the complexity of the cask conditioned Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, for example. The London Porter seemed a little underpowered to me and nothing comparable with something live like the Chiltern Brewery Lord Lieutenant’s Porter.

When it came to bagging up the empty bottles to go to the recycling bin I realised that Meantime must be a marketing-driven operation as they’d pulled the a wine marketing trick. This was something I read about a famous wine warehouse chain who had advised their producers that a good way of upping the price consumers will pay for a wine is to put it in a heavier bottle. Apparently we, as consumers, equate bottle weight with quality and it’s possible that (before duty) more money will be spent on a bottle than on the liquid inside. Meantime’s bottles are almost as heavy as champagne bottles (and they have no reason to be as there is nowhere near the internal pressure in the bottle that champagne has). The bottles are stoppered like sparkling wine too. Apart from trying to con the customer these bottles are very eco-unfriendly.

Overall, they were nice beers but not the classics that the extremely expensive packaging suggested. Maybe Meantime should pay slightly more attention to their beer than their marketing — but I guess that this sort of sublimal marketing is part of their business plan. Often marketing considerations can degrade a beer’s quality as breweries, like a famous one in Kent, bottle their beers in clear bottles despite the adverse effect light can have on a beer’s flavour — at least Meantime’s bottles were the right colour. Even so, it’s funny how some of Meantime’s biggest fans in the press used to criticise lager lover for just drinking the marketing.