Blog : Posts tagged with 'marketing'

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Snip, snip, snip

In which we reveal that there really are hundreds of government helplines that nobody ever phones – but cutting them won’t actually have any effect


Today’s big news story: the government has started on its grand crusade to save money and thereby rescue the nation. Whether it will work remains to be seen, of course. I was intrigued, though, by one assertion which I heard on the news this morning: the government will save money by cutting back on call centres and helplines, because there are, apparently, many many government helplines which have barely even received a single call.*

Which sounds, on the face of it, shocking. Hundreds of phone lines that have never taken a call? Surely there must be warehouses full of call-centre staff sitting waiting for the phone to ring, sitting with their feet up reading magazines and flicking balls of paper at each other, because they have hundreds of phone lines but no calls to take?

Er, no. Despite the image put across there, it is completely false. I know this because: well, I have worked for such phone lines. Yes, there are indeed hundreds of government-funded phone numbers that have never, ever taken a call. That’s because that’s how marketing people like it. The total extra cost of it, per phone line, is peanuts – maybe it gets into whole tens of pounds if you add up absolutely all the figures, but that’s about it.

This is how it works. When the government’s marketing people** think they might want to run a new advertising campaign, they buy up a block of phone numbers, 0800, 0845, or whatever. Then, they produce their TV adverts, print adverts, leaflets, whatever: and each one gets a different phone number on it. All of these numbers will point to the same team – who will usually be already handling a similar type of helpline – and, it’s true, someone does have to go through a spreadsheet of phone numbers and route them to the right call centre. It’s not tricky work. When a call comes in, the hard-worked call-centre staff look at their screen, and make a note of which number it came in on.*** That information all gets collated, filed, and sent back to the government marketeers, who will graph it all carefully and say “ooh, Leaflet 72B didn’t work very well, it only got half the calls-per-leaflet of Leaflet 72C.”

The reason they do it this way is: it gives them reliable data, not data that relies on the caller’s memory. If you actually ask the caller where they saw the advert, then a) it annoys them, and b) they can’t remember. Even if they think they can remember, they can’t remember. If you say “can you remember what you were watching when you saw it,” you’d be amazed how many people will tell you, in all sincerity, that they saw your advert in the middle of Eastenders. But, on the other hand, it does mean that there are lots and lots of phone numbers that have been bought up in readiness, but which don’t get used; they’re there, just in case more numbers are needed. Having them sitting and programmed-in to the phone network, though, doesn’t really hurt. It certainly wouldn’t save the government money if they weren’t there. Indeed, I’m sure that a marketing expert would argue that it wastes money. An advert that doesn’t get a response, after all, is an advert wasted; and if you’re going to pay for a prime-time ad slot, or to print x million leaflets of your latest advertising wonder, you will want to know what sort of response rate it’s getting. The less accurate the data you’re getting back is, the bigger the risk that you’re pouring your ad budget down the drain.

In the long term, a hurried cut in the wrong place could cost you millions further down the line. So: sometimes, something that looks like a simple saving isn’t one. Especially when it’s something that’s hardly a big saving at all. There are indeed many government-owned phone numbers that have never, once, been called. That doesn’t mean they’re costing us anything to have, though; and it doesn’t mean that somehow the government is doing something wrong, that it’s set all these call centres up then forgotten to tell anyone; or that it’s set up lines that nobody wants to call. Those people, waiting for you to ring, are already busy enough.

* This would have been on Today at some point, but I wasn’t really paying attention. I can’t really find any news stories online that refer to this particular claim, apart from this one in the Shropshire Star; The Guardian refers to it more obliquely.

** The Central Office of Information, who sound slightly Soviet but are really the government’s advertising and marketing arm. They are the people who sit between the media, the advertising agencies and the call centre companies on the one hand, and the government departments who want to put their message across on the other; whether it be an NHS public health campaign like “don’t get swine flu”, HMRC trying to get you to send your tax return in on time, or the MoD trying to get people to join up.

*** Well, it will be some sort of code like “Dept. F Line B2″, but it means the same thing.

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Fiction

In which FP gets annoyed by a TV advert


Now, I know I shouldn’t believe advertising. I know I should assume that most people probably don’t believe advertising, and I shouldn’t let myself get worked up about it. But, still, something has been getting my goat lately.

Crisps. One particular brand of crisps, in fact, whose adverts ramble on about some intrepid traveller finding particularly tasty spices overseas, and shipping them home so he could use them to flavour his crisps. And they go on:

That traveller’s name was Phileas Fogg…

No. No, it wasn’t. Phileas Fogg is a fictional character. He’s not real. He was invented by an author, for a book. He’s conveniently old enough to be out-of-copyright, so you can take his name and use it to brand your savoury snacks. So, he didn’t go to Indonesia or wherever and discover tasty spices, because he doesn’t exist. So stop lying to us.

Phileas Fogg: the crisps with the blatant lies in the adverts.

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Guided Bus

In which we discuss the West Of England Partnership’s misguided Guided Bus proposals


Through my door the other day: a leaflet from the West Of England Partnership, the organisation made up of local councils* that replaced the dead and unlamented Avon County Council. It’s about their proposals for a guided busway scheme in this part of the city. A new road, in other words, limited to buses only. Some of the buses on it would be expensive new buses cunningly disguised to look like trams, and running on “sustainable fuel”;** the rest would be the boring ordinary diesel ones that already serve this area. It would replace the current park-and-ride buses in this area, which are already the nicest and most modern buses in this part of the city. So, frankly, I don’t see why that’s the bus route that most urgently needs replacing.*** You can see their proposals for yourself, on the Partnership’s website – they very carefully avoid using the term “guided busway”, and instead call it “rapid transit”, using the word “bus” as little as possible.

The route isn’t really any more useful than the current park-and-ride scheme, either. It’s going to be built along the old railway line that served Bristol Harbour. A small part of this is disused; some is still used by trains to the docks that are still open, but most is used by the Bristol Harbour Railway, a council-owned steam railway that chugs up and down the Avon and the Harbourside, and does a pretty good trade. Here’s an extract from the map on the website:

Proposed rapid transit scheme map (c) Crown Copyright (I'm claiming fair use)

The purple line there is the new bus route, and the yellow line is the railway. The black blob there, looking like a station, is a proposed Cumberland Road bus stop – handy for Southville, because there’s a footbridge across the river there. The green line is a cycle path.

Now, so far, this is just a line on a map. Not much detail design work seems to have been done – one of the councillors responsible, Mark Bradshaw, said as much to the local paper with the words: “Residents, businesses and other stakeholders are invited to engage in this work and help shape the detail of the proposals.” However, the Partnership have gone as far as producing a mockup of the proposed Cumberland Road bus stop. Here’s their design. On the right: the new bus stop. On the left: a photo I took a few days ago from almost the same location, although I didn’t quite get the angle right.

Cumberland Road from Vauxhall Bridge Cumberland Road guided busway proposal.  Crown Copyright, but I still think this counts as fair use

You can see, on my “present day” photo, the railway line – it’s behind the yellow fence and in front of the road, and you can make out the rails if you look carefully. More interestingly, you can see that on the Partnership’s artist’s impression, the railway isn’t there any more. The cycle path along the riverbank is still there; but the railway line on the other side of it has been paved over and turned into busway. So, in fact, has half of the road on the other side – you can see, the busway near the platform comes out almost as far as the centre-line of the road.

Mark Bradshaw is, as it happens, one of the councillors for my ward. I wrote to him, and my other councillor, before I’d realised that he was on the relevant West Of England Partnership committee that has put these proposals forward. Based on that artist’s impression, I wrote:

The project will be hugely expensive in infrastructure costs, [and] will apparently destroy the popular tourist attraction that is the Harbour Railway and replace it with a buses-only road

I must have been writing in Pompous Mode that day. You can see, based on the above, why I’d think that. Councillor Bradshaw replied:

The Harbour train service will continue and the BRT services will not prevent this (see yellow line on map in consultation leaflet)

Which is fair enough – you’ve already seen that yellow line on the map. The problem I have, though, is that building a busway isn’t quite as simple as drawing a line on a map, as the artist’s impression shows. If the Harbour Railway is still going to be there, why did the Partnership put out proposals for consultation that show it paved over? And how is the busway going to fit between the railway and the road? Something will have to be moved, for sure.

If this scheme does go ahead, I strongly suspect that the guided busway along that section of the route will have to be dropped, purely because there isn’t room to build it. In the meantime, I’ve replied to Councillor Bradshaw and asked why that artist’s impression shows the buses running over the site of the railway when the railway is, according to the map, still going to be there; when he replies, I’ll update this post. Tomorrow, I’ll show you – with the aid of Google Maps and existing guided busways – just how much room the proposals would need on the ground, and how much land it might take up.

UPDATE: local blogger SteveL has, in the comments, pointed me to the Partnership’s video of the scheme. Which apparently shows the railway being turned into a tramway along the southbound busway, something that wasn’t apparent on the still images. So, the busway won’t prevent trains from being run, so long as trains only want to run when there aren’t any buses about. I see.

* and “a range of social, economic and environmental partners”, they say. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a grand name for what is, in land area, only a small part of the West of England, but it’s hard to think what else they could have called it – anything with Avon in it was and is taboo, and “Greater Bristol”, although that’s essentially what it is, would no doubt irritate everyone out in the hinterlands.

** They haven’t decided what fuel, only that it will definitely be Sustainable. Buzzwordtastic!

*** except the political reason. This is going to be built in Bristol, but funded partly by the local councils in the surrounding area. Hence, it serves commuters from North Somerset who might want to park-and-ride more than it serves Bristolians.

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Pride

In which we note the Grimsby Telegraph’s latest marketing campaign


The rather news-thin Grimsby Telegraph newspaper has decided to jump on a fish-marketing bandwagon and declare today to be Great Grimsby Day. A day to be proud of the Grimsby area! Its scenic mudflats! Its thriving heroin-injecting scene! The active support for boxing and extreme wrestling seen in the town centre every Saturday night! The wide range of chain-based shopping opportunities, and the picturesquely decaying industrial areas. Be proud, people!

It’s a good thing, I suppose, that they didn’t get it confused with National Fetish Day, which – equally arbitrarily – was yesterday. I hate to think what would have happened. There’s not much of a fetish scene in Grimsby, after all; a couple of the regulars in the Lloyds Arms and that’s about it.* I can quite easily imagine the Grimsby Telegraph’s staffers not understanding what the word means.

* I’m exaggerating, slightly. There’s more like four, plus a couple more people who drink elsewhere.

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Crystal balls

In which Mario Reading tries to predict the future, and fails


Today, author Mario Reading is in the news. Lucky for Mario Reading, because it gives him a chance to plug advertise his new book, a new translation and interpretation of Nostradamus. It’s the book, in fact, that’s newsworthy. It claims that in a couple of years’ time, someone will try to assassinate George Bush, and if they are successful he will be succeeded by his brother, who will take revenge with terrible results. Reading’s American distributors are rather upset about the prophecy – you’d think he would have seen the fuss coming.*

Reading himself seems very concerned that people should realise that you can’t blame him for what Nostradamus wrote. Interviewed on More4 News about the death of George Bush, he said:

This is Nostradamus predicting this, not me, I hasten to add.

See, I can spot a possible flaw here right away. I haven’t read his book,** but there’s a long, proud history of reinterpreting Nostradamus. Most could be summarised as:

This is me predicting this, based on a wild reinterpretation of a rather vague stanza of verse.

Given that many people have gone before him and failed, I’m rather doubtful as to what Reading’s prediction hit rate will be. However, given the timescale here, we don’t have to wait too long. In three years’ time, hopefully I’ll remember writing this. And if nobody’s tried to kill George Bush by then, I’ll try to remember to post an update. A rather sardonic one.

* Sorry, that joke is compulsary in any piece of writing that mentions Nostradamus. If I hadn’t made it, I would have been tied down and spanked.

** Well, obviously: it hasn’t been published yet

Update, three years later: hah, when I wrote this, I almost certainly didn’t realise that the next presidential inauguration ceremony would be three years later to the day.

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Squimtronic!

In which I think of a word


Standing in the shower tonight, I noticed – for the first time, probably – that it’s branded with the word “Aquatronic”. Or, rather, “AQUATRONIC”.

Now, this is a shower that was made in the 1990s, so I’m not really sure why. I mean, adding “…tronic” onto the end of a name to signify New! Scientific! Modern! really is such a 1960s thing to do. Plus, the “aqua” part is fairly self-explanatory, but the word you end up with is completely meaningless if not negative. Aquatronic? Electricity and water? Doesn’t that get you electrocuted?

It set me off wondering what meaningless-but-great-sounding words I can put together along the same lines. Filktronic? Definitely a plausible music genre even if Google hasn’t heard of it.* Plockfultronic? Squimtronic? This site is definitely very squimtronic, even if squimtronic doesn’t quite have a meaning yet.

* Not quite true – it returns one hit, a German-language page about a Momus album.

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