Well, if so, not often.Â I wouldn’t use the word “generic” toÂ criticise those useless warm-air dryers in loos, or the investment capabilities of most active fund managers, or Mark Lawrenson’s Premiership predictions column on the BBC website, or indeed the brakes on the Aston which have become extremely scary in the last few weeks.Â In all of these cases, “ineffective” is the word to choose.
But for an awfulÂ lot of people,Â “generic”Â is undoubtedlyÂ a word of criticism when it comes to advertising campaigns.Â Whenever anyone tries to get a “generic” campaign off the ground, they’ll invariably take flak for tackling such a hopeless task.Â In financial services, it happened to Daniel Godfrey when he launched his generic investment trusts “ITs” campaign a decade ago.Â And it’s happening to Tom Baigrie now as he tries to get funding for his generic campaign to promote life assurance.
So what’s the true story of generic campaigns?Â Are they invariably ineffective?Â Or sometimes?Â Or indeed never?Â And if some work well and some don’t, what accounts for the differences?
You won’t be surprised to hear that I have a theory about this.Â Here it comes:Â generic campaigns can work well when there is a well-developed marketplace in which consumers understand what it’s all about – what the product or service is, what it’s for, how to buy it.Â They work much less well when there isn’t a well-developed marketplace, and consumers lack understanding of some, or indeed all, of the basics.
Years ago, I used to work on Interflora.Â This was a very successful generic campaign.Â Most consumers understood that it was a way ofÂ sendingÂ flowers to people, accessible via (almost) any florist.Â When you ran advertisingÂ reminding them about this, and giving them reasons to do it, they rushed off to florists in droves.Â The same, I suspect, can be said of generic foods campaigns, like that rather odd beef and lamb advertising and campaigns from rather longer ago encouraging us to drink more milk and eat more eggs and cheese.
Vice versa, with Daniel’s investment trust campaign, hardly anyone had any sense at all of what an investment trust was, or where you could buy one, or how they differed from any other kind of investment.Â They responded to the TV campaign with unrivalled depths of indifference.Â It’s true that by pooling resources, the industry was able to raise a budget far greater than any one firm could have contemplated, but nevertheless the moneyÂ was completely wasted.
On this spectrum, whereÂ is Tom’s campaign?Â About half-way.Â People do understand what life assurance is, but it’s not a marketplace they feel close to, or knowledgeable about.Â The truth is, there’s a good reason for that:Â most firms that could provide it have shown little or no interest inÂ doing so, at least as far asÂ mass-market consumers are concerned, for many years.Â
If providers choose to stump up the seven-figure budget that Tom is looking for, my very strong suspicion is that they’ll do so becauseÂ they’ll think of it as a cheaper and easier way to establish a foothold inÂ this market than going to all the trouble and expense of designing, maintaining and promoting their own individual proposition.Â If so, I have disappointing news for them:Â Â it may beÂ cheaper and easier, but it’s also a whole lot worse.