Sunday, 31 July 2011

Where Tesco meets politics - every gimmick helps!

The never ending saga of Tesco's Cola Zero pricing strategy has taken a not wholly unexpected twist, in that you really can't tell what will happen next. Thus it should be recalled that one of my favourite tipples was inexorably creeping up in price until it suddenly rocketed from 56p to 78p per two litre bottle, which meant it had almost doubled in a few months. But in true BOGOF style (well, almost!) this was accompanied by a 'three for two' offer, so although this made the price per bottle seem like a bargain, it was still significantly higher than previously.

And when the offer ended the price had still almost doubled over several months, underlining the fact that the 'bargain' was anything but.

Not to worry, though, since not long after the offer ended the price per bottle halved to 39p, thus around the price when I started buying it a couple of years or so ago. And now it's substantially cheaper than the effective price when the super-duper three for two offer was on - that worked out at 52p each if you bought three, whereas you can now buy one for 39p.

Of course, with tens of thousands of lines in these hypermarkets and myriad supposed offers and bargains this is the classic marketing gimmick type of stuff, where rather than making price comparisons easy the intention is to, er, discombobulate shoppers.

Another example is those big tins of sweeties that festoon the shelves of the big supermarkets at around Christmas time: the Roses, Quality Street, Heroes and Celebrations, sort of thing. Thus they're offered at a huge discount for a limited period, so you buy them up in case you miss the boat, then at the end of the offer period they add an even bigger discount for another limited period, and so on. Then they disappear from the shelves until next Christmas. And the thing is, I've never actually seen them on sale for the supposed 'real' price.

Of course, politics is all about selling something as well, and the marketing gimmicks are broadly similar. For example, marketing spiel in the commercial context becomes spin and soundbite in politics. A sales drive becomes an election campaign. A television advert becomes a party election broadcast. Adverts and leaflets become, um, adverts and leaflets.

Clearly this issue is multi-faceted and probably best left to professionals who know the field and can evaluate it critically and objectively.

But one gimmick that the political parties often use is to claim they are listening to people, for example while campaigning on the doorsteps. Which is fine up to a point, but it seems unlikely that a party would change policy in any particular regard unless they thought it would win them votes. Similarly, in retailing the big supermarkets invite suggestions from customers and may well act on them, but generally this will be with a view to improving the bottom line - if the costs outweigh the benefits, it won't happen.

Political parties also have the issue of principle to contend with - if they move too far to accommodate what voters want then they stray from their 'core values' and look hypocritical, presumably alienating some other supporters. But in true cost/benefit analysis style, if a policy change gains more votes than it loses them then to that extent it may be politically palatable.

In the final analysis, however, it may be the party's undoing, as perhaps was the case with New Labour - it moved too far rightwards to attract 'middle England', thus alienating much of its core support. As indeed the Lib Dems more obviously did last year in a similar lust for power, albeit that the intention was to curry favour with their prospective coalition partners rather than voters in an election. In the Scottish context, the SNP's dilution of independence could do likewise, but the calculation here will be the hope that more people will come to support [whatever] than will be deterred by the party shifting from the more fundamentalist stance on the issue.

By the same token, the essence of the democratic process means that politicians can't please all of the people all of the time, regardless of what they might claim. For example, in the past I've raised the issue of the political reaction in Dundee to Tayside Fire & Rescue's proposals to redistribute resources around the region to optimise public safety. Naturally voters in an area where resources were under-utilised weren't best pleased at having their nearby fire station downgraded, even though they would very probably still be significantly safer than someone like myself (say!) in a high-risk area.

But the politicians went with public opinion, hence it's nothing to do with principle or the safety of Tayside residents as a whole, and instead down to naked electoral advantage. Which pleases the politicians and those who elect them, but feels like a kick in the teeth to those in more imminent danger, like yours truly.

But as mentioned previously, not all the politicians were driven solely by party and electoral advantage, most prominently SNP fire board convener Ken Lyall. Hardly surprising, therefore, that he seems to have been excommunicated by the party and effectively exiled. He's moving to Australia.


barbarian said...

I like this article Stuart, and the comparison between Tesco and politics is spot on.

And what is the betting that the resignation of the SNP councillor will not appear on the nationalist websites!

Stuart Winton said...

Thanks, and indeed there was no mention of Councillor Lyall's resignation when it happened a few weeks ago.