Posts Tagged ‘communications’

Media Markt is an electronics superstore that must have killed more than one small shop that sold TVs, HiFi, Computers, etc. Now they are fighting a bigger opponent: a media, the Internet. Can they win?

MediaMarkt was launched in Germany in 1979, and according to Wikipedia there are now 235 stores in Germany, followed by over 60 stores in Italy and over 40 in Poland. This makes it Europe’s largest retailer for consumer electronics. I know Media Markt since I was a kid, because their ads appeared nearly weekly in the local newspapers my parents read. They’d usually be on several pages and would show crazy looking people. Their slogan was “Ich bin doch nicht blöd!” – which means something like  “Cause I’m not stupid!”. While there are now stores in 16 countries, it is clear that Germany has remained the main market. This is where the interesting part starts: As opposed to other electronics stores, who developped their web-presence, Media Markt still focusses on in-store sales.

Their main communications tools are posters and generous newspaper inlays with often more than 6 pages. Earlier this year, Media Markt launched at least one campaign where they guaranteed to offer a price below anything a « serious webstore » would offer. It turned out that they weren’t always able or willing to keep the promise, doing some damage to their brand-image.

But now, they went a step further. Perceiving the World Wide Web as a serious threat, they launched a new campaign all over Germany where they clearly defy the Internet. I learned about it – how else? – when I saw a prospectus at my dad’s house this Thursday. (this is a dad, by the way, who always argues with his girlfriend about going to Media Markt – which is his preference – or ordering over the Internet – her favourite method – which in turn shows that Media Markt is right to argue.).

The theme of the new campaign that is still running wild is “The new Media Markt Price”. The campaign attracts attention by caricaturing short term offers with a graphical layout that features sentences like “Bring your mum and get 20% off”, “The Nirvana of Price. Pay now for delivery in your next life” or “Cutting down the price. Shave your beard and get 50% off”, etc. Both style and content work very well together and are reasonably funny. A little arrow tells you to turn the page for a way out of the price jungle.

You turn the page and as opposed to the crowded first page, you’ll face a very clear, simple layout. This is what the philosopher Monroe Beardsley calls “Fusion”: form and what you want to express are the same. They say their price is clear. They make the page look clear. Media Markt tells you that the store managers will check online offers by major providers on a daily basis and adapt the price. Supposedly this means the end of  complicated and weird short term offers. The campaign is formally  interesting. It’s unfolds like a narrative. It starts with a (caricature) description of the current state of affairs. There are tons of strange short term offers that make people run to stores. Then it offers a solution: “Das Ende des Preis Irrsinns” (The End of the crazy prices). Then it develops different aspects of the solution: ethical (save  jobs of the department store workers), practical (don’t loose time looking for offers), hedonistic (do other things with the time you save), qualitative (make sure you don’t buy a fake). This is advertisement as an argument. Just the way it used to be in the olden days.

In the print version and on some of the posters (but not in the pdf download of the prospectus) you can read:

“Dear Internet: If you want to copy our price, please also copy our 14,694 employees.”

The prospectus shows a supposed webstore where you wouldn’t want to buy, suggests that items you order on the Internet may just as well be imitations, and says: Because their are nice things than to look for the best price online, offering a typology of web-price-hunters.

 I must say that I’m impressed. This is a store, a company, overtly fighting a medium. I don’t know any other examples of this, but I would be interested to learn.

 It’s as if Sony had fought the CD Player, because they were selling Walkmen. Or as if Grundig had fought the DVD, because they were selling VHS. Actually, it’s more than that (and a bit different). It’s MediaMarkt fighting the new media.

 “HardDisk recording kills DVD recorders kills Mini-DV kills VHS kills Super8 …” That’s the way things go. Now here’s a megastore that has a new enemy: a media. And maybe MediaMarkt’s ad campaign even has lateral benefits for other stores that they compete with.

 “Video killed the radio star…”? Well, no, it didn’t. Sometimes new and old co-exist, because they offer something different. Media Markt tries to show that they can do all the internet can, which is, basically, offering a better price. But that they also employ many people,  make sure the quality is good, etc. Do I think they’ll succeed? Maybe. In any case it’s a strong statement that makes people think about something they usually take for granted. I’m not sure that it will help, but the initiative seems mind-blowing to me. Here’s the link to their campaign page online.

Here’s one of the – arguably less efficient – videos of the campaign:


Sartre vs. Camus: the two big approaches in Marketing

According to Jean-Paul Sartre, “Existence precedes essence”, according to Albert Camus “Essence precedes existence”. Sartre conceives of human-beings as “thrown into the world” without any sense so if they don’t want to get lost they have to give themselves a purpose, their essence, something to live for.

According to Camus, we are born with certain preferences. So the essence is already there when we come into being. Essence precedes Existence.

I think these are the two main ways to explain the relationship between Product-or Service-Development and Communications, Marketing, and Advertising.

The ideal Sartrian product or service already exists when you decide what you want to do with it, i.e. what you want its essence to be.

Post-it: A false Sartrian product

It could seem like the glue for the post-it stickers at 3M – where the engineers aimed at creating standard glue, but the glue was not sticky enough – was a perfect Sartrian product. But it really isn’t. The product came into being with an essence, it was glue that was sticky enough to make something stick to something else, but not so sticky that it would not go off without a trace if you pulled. It’s only that this essence was not immediately apparent and seen to be useful when the glue was created. The main creative act was not making the glue, but understanding it’s main property (it’s essence) and realizing what it could be used for. Once you understood what it did, you could attach it to paper, and then conceive the communications according to the product’s essence.

Coca-Cola: The real Sartrian product

The real Sartrian product or service doesn’t have any essence, known or unknown, when it comes into being. You randomly give it an essence. So here’s the process that yields Sartrian produts: You create something that doesn’t have any particular purpose or use. Maybe it’s just another soda that tastes ok. Then you start giving it an identity. You call it Coca-Cola or Sprite or Schweppes, you link it to Christmas and to beaches or to a certain sport and certain celebrities etc. and this gives it an identity, an essence.

Soda Pops: The real Camusian product

The ideal Camusian product has been thought through in every detail before it’s given birth. This is what happens with lifestyle-products supposed to fill a niche. You realize that there is a soda pop, a sweet highly alcoholic beverage, “based on Vodka”, with a “Russian” look and advertising, that sells pretty well,  and so you decide to create a similar drink that’s based on, say,  Rum, with a Cuban look and advertising. You determine what the product has to look, taste and “feel” like based on a precise preconceived idea about the niche it is supposed to fill. In this case the essence precedes the existence.

Webservices: Sartre and Camus combined

If a product has a certain complexity, like, say, a website offering a service, approaches are usually mixed.

Take twitter, which was created as a “micro-blogging” service, where people would tell their friends what they are doing. Like on a blog, the default was that everyone could read what everyone else wrote, it was enough to “follow” the other person. You didn’t need her explicit approval (she didn’t have to confirm you as follower like you confirm friends on facebook). But then it turned out that people used the service quite differently. It could be argued that the service’s essence was different from what it’s founders had thought it was. They had created something with a certain idea of it’s essence in mind, but they were wrong. So they changed the question and went from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”

I conceive of my work at hypios mainly as trying to understand the essence of our service and then sharing my understanding with (potential) users. If some element has not yet been specified, we try to conceive it according to what we already learned about the essence of our service to try to maximize its coherence. I might seem a bit old-fashioned if I say that I like it substantial: I find products that actually have an essence which you can discover – rather than just an identity that someone gave it for no other purpose than making it into a succesful product – more exciting.

(an earlier version of this post was published on – the now defunct? –