WH Smith Munch – A brand with fake values is a brand that is destined to fail

I was at east Midlands Airport recently and they have something of a captive market for their meal deals with both Superdrug and WH smith offering meal deals for £3.99. On the surface this looks like great value.

WH Smith is a brand that started 224 years ago in 1792 in London and has 1,351 outlets with 615 on the high street and 736 travel outlets in airports and stations. It turned over nearly £1.2 BILLION in 2015 and employs 14,500 people.

So with all of these years of experience, heritage and the sheer number of interested parties, you’d think they would understand the concept of authentic brand values. Built on this history and surviving the worst of the high street recessions they really ought to know better.

But they don’t. They have an own brand product in store called ‘Munch’ which is entirely fake.

WH Smith Munch Sandwich a brand with totally fake values
WH Smith Munch Sandwich a brand with totally fake values

Munch, which is a range of sandwiches and wraps, tells you you can ‘Grab a bite of the good stuff’. A pretty compelling proposition for food on the go. They back this up with a brand support statement that says ‘Gloriously delicious food-to-go. So irresistible everyone wants to get their paws on it! Satisfies even the wildest of appetites…’

WH Smith Munch Sandwiches with a brand statement that is totally fabricated
WH Smith Munch Sandwiches with a brand statement that is totally fabricated

But the sandwich was disgusting. I didn’t want more, I never want to eat it again, I never want to eat anything for sale in WH Smith. I didn’t even want to finish the sandwich. Eating it, made me feel ill and dirty. Eggshell in the egg mayo didn’t help and even the bread was stale and unnatural. So I had to have look at the ingredients.

This was a total shock. I was genuinely horrified with what it contained and it bore no relation to the brand values all over the packaging whatsoever.

WH Smith Munch Sandwich - The ingredients 100% horrible with an added of 18% of total shit
WH Smith Munch Sandwich – The ingredients 100% horrible with an added of 18% of total shit

Even trying to ignore the fact that claimed ingredients added up to 118% (It must be all the shit they have piled in to make it taste less natural and healthy) the list was not all all irresistible. In fact it was entirely resistible.

I won’t be eating ‘Munch’ again. I’d suspect that if this is how WH Smith run their business, they are in trouble. I’ve talked about Tesco in the past and the start of their problems being with the quality of their products, which all came true. Any brand that says one things and delivers another like Abercrombie and Fitch will be found out soon enough. WH Smith are that brand.

I’m no whistle blower, but if I had any money invested in WH Smith, I’d get it out fast. This is a brand heading for the gutter.

Why plain packaging for cigarettes is a bad idea

The UK is about to become the second country in the world (after Australia) and the first in Europe to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. It is due to be implemented by 20th May 2016, although it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. I wrote about it here in 2011 and my view still hasn’t changed.

Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK
Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK

And I think it’s a bad idea for a few reasons.

  1. Taking away the branding will allow cheaper brands to compete on a level playing field with the big brands. Rather than making it less attractive they will make it more affordable. If you can’t see the difference in the packs and you’re new to smoking, why would you buy the bigger and more expensive brands?
  2. It will make it easier for fakes to come into the market as the packaging is even easier to copy. Fake cigarettes aren’t made to the same standard and could even be more dangerous and contain all sorts of additional nasties.
  3. You will make it cooler. It is now so obviously a bad thing that it becomes something that is more attractive to do. Anyone who has ever smoked, knows the dangers and ignores them. In Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology he proves using brain scans that when smokers see the warnings on packs, rather than put them off smoking, it creates an almost religious like fervour. They become more desirable – despite all good sense saying otherwise. The more you try and drive it underground, the more prevalent it will become. As a parallel, it’s not exactly difficult to get hold of Cannabis these days and that’s meant to be banned altogether.
  4. It appears that the tobacco industry are going to take the government to court for loss of trademark value. According to the Telegraph, this could be for up to £11 billion.
  5. Smokers pay their own way – Because they kill themselves with smoking they have finite lives. they pay fortunes into the NHS through the taxes on cigarettes and on average, die much younger. The cynic in me says the government know this and by taking this route, they will maybe even make more money in tax revenue on smoking. The UK government take £11 billion PER YEAR from smokers. Are they really trying to kill this golden goose?

The only good plan (according to the Sun) in my mind is to ban packs of ten cigarettes and Menthol cigarettes. These are definitely entry products for young smokers. There will always be enterprising kids at school who will break bulk and sell singles (or loosies as they were in my day) but it will make smoking a little harder to start.

It’s only my view, but I am convinced I see more young people smoking than ever before. Putting cigarettes behind doors in the retail outlets doesn’t appear to have made any difference – It may even have had the opposite effect to the one they claim they were aiming at – And they are ploughing on anyway.

Is Google playing fair with competitors search results?

I’m not going to say much here, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. I have talked about Google and their monopolistic power previously. Google is still totally dominant in the global search market. You’ll see from this graphic below that they have 67.78% of total search share compared to the next biggest Bing with only 13.27%. That’s over five times the share. In the Uk, this is 86.6% for Google and only 8.88% for Bing, which is over ten fold.

Share of search market April 2016
Share of search market April 2016

So you would expect that their results would be completely above reproach wouldn’t you? They’d play fair as they are in such an obvious monopolistic position right?

Wrong.

I wanted to understand how seller ratings worked in Bing. Were they any different to those in Google? Was there anything else I needed to know?

So an obvious search term produced the following results in Google with no sign of Bing on the whole of the first page.

Bing Seller ratings search results in Google
Bing Seller ratings search results in Google

And in Bing, quite different results here with their own two useful articles in first and second place as you’d expect.

Bing Seller ratings search results in Bing
Bing Seller ratings search results in Bing

So based on my search intention of trying to find more information about ‘Bing Seller ratings markup’, which produced the most useful results?

This does look remarkably like a playing field that is not at all level. Naughty Google.

Since I wrote this earlier today, Google have been all over BBC news for their alleged abuse of power with Android too.

 

Why we need British Steel

British-Steel-logo
British Steel logo

British Steel first appeared in 1967 which was formed out of the nationalised British Steel Corporation (BSC). It went on to be privatised and launched as British Steel plc in 1988. It was even big enough to be part of the FTSE 100 Index. In 1999 the company merged with Koninklijke Hoogovens to form Corus Group  and even then, many of us thought it was a mistake and would start the end of the steel industry in Britain. It’s easy with hindsight, but it looks like that was right.

Corus-logo
Corus logo

And it’s why we need British Steel again. Quality, traceable, home manufactured fabulous, british steel.  It may not have been a glamorous brand, but it was one we knew and understood.

I shared a tweet the other day by a man called Dick who pointed out the following “The argument for Trident is that it costs £120bn and saves 600 jobs. The argument against Steel is that it costs £1.5bn and saves 15,000 jobs”

There is a new standard in Europe called BS/EN 1090 and what it says is that EVERYTHING, right down to welding rods has to be traceable back to source. No traceability, no CE Mark. This is currently impossible with imported steel as there is no way of knowing where it came from. If you don’t know how it was made, where it was made or what it was made with, then how can you guarantee it is safe? For an insurer, how can they assess that risk?

So for me, bringing back British Steel would be a huge step forward.

So maybe this is just too obvious to be useful but if we are about to lose our steel industry and 15,000 jobs anyway, then surely it must be worth investing in this industry again.

We poured billions into our banks to save face more than to save jobs and now it must be time for this support to turn to one of our core industries. Steel.

Even taking the finances alone. 15,000 families will be immediately having to draw benefits for some considerable time. Let’s say an average of three years. Then by my maths that’s at least £1bn million over this period and ongoing devastation to communities that just don’t need more bad news.

If you take Port Talbot as a case, then maybe energy is the issue? This can be solved with the Severn Barrage. Every aluminium producer in the world seems to use Hydro Power to smelt  aluminium, so why not clean steel up at the same time and make it go green. That’s a bargain at between £10-34bn – which makes the saving of steel look positively cheap.

Severn-Barrages-map
Severn Barrages map

British Steel is Britain through and through. It’s literally what our country was built with and by my very simple way of thinking, something our government should not just support but make it a model of how decent targeted intervention can help rebuild Britain from our proud industrial heritage outwards.

 

The best theme park in the world – Puy du Fou

Puy Du Fou

As I work with some great theme parks, I am a member of the Themed Entertainment Association.  One of the benefits of membership is their organisation of visits to some of the best the world has to offer, to see what they do and how they do it. And I have just come back from Puy du Fou, and can safely say that it is, without doubt, the best theme park in the world.

It’s a total one of a kind and without any of the conventional rides you associate with other theme parks. It draws in the local community, trains all its own staff through its academy,  creates everything internally (even the shoes and costumes) and delivers spectacular, emotive and beautiful shows that you have to see to believe.

It’s been created by Phillippe de Villiers, the father of Nicolas de Villiers who runs it today (and who showed us around). The control Nicolas still exercises is phenomenal. It’s not like any other brand.  If anything it’s a little like Google in the way they controlled their growth in the early years but this has lasted for 35 years already. He even interviews the shortlisted kids for the academy and watches every Cinescenie to be able to feed back to the managers where they could do the show even better. The level of detail they manage is unbelievable and even the back stage areas are immaculate.

We had a totally jam packed 48 hours and got to see behind the scenes of nearly every show. Here’s a summary of the best of them.

The Vikings

The first show I saw there and an amazing introduction to life at Puy du Fou. It’s filled with eagles, horned beasts, vikings and marauders, all backed up with huge explosions, gigantic flames and boats magically appearing from stage left and under the water, with the performers disappearing with it. Animals everywhere and a large cast. It’s an amazing start and an even bigger ending.

The Knights of the Round Table

It’s a story of Excalibur with Merlin, mermaids, sword fights in the water, horses walking out of the huge hidden caverns underwater and probably the simplest of the whole lot we saw. It’s great fun, has the best safety warning I have ever seen (hilarious) and I saw it twice.

The Secret of the Lance

This is a huge show that just keeps on growing. Spectacular horse riding, massive sword fights and jousting and flames everywhere. Then a disappearing castle, another HUGE castle that moves and rotates and amazing sounds and effects everywhere. There are things going on all over the place and we were lucky enough to get to see behind the scenes here. It was sooooo good, that a few times during the show I felt myself becoming a bit emotional.

Triumph’s Sign

This is a huge great roman spectacular played out in a purpose built amphitheatre that seats over 7,000 people. Again, it starts off quite small and then just grows and grows. The cast is huge and varied and whilst the story is their own version of history, it’s still truly amazing. Just look at the pictures.

Richelieu’s Musketeer

I saw this one twice too. It’s the only inside show and simply massive. Perhaps a little hard to follow in french, but I found it far more enjoyable to just watch the show and ignore the story. It’s breathtaking but you aren’t allowed to take photos, so this is a sneaky one of the set, just as the flamenco dancers start going crazy. It’s quite reminiscent of Riverdance with horses and water and swords and explosions and…..

Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu's Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.
Puy du Fou has a huge indoor show called Richelieu’s Musketeer with a massive stage and even bigger cast.

The Phantom Birds’ Dance

Now this was a real highlight. Again I saw it twice from two different seating positions. The first time from down in the pit gave a great view, but the second time, right at the back at the sides gave you far closer access to the birds. The show itself is incredible with beautiful, haunting music and a cast of over 170 birds. If you are going to sit at the very back, it’s probably best to shuffle forwards just a little so you don’t get pooped on by a vulture, like I did. There is simply noting like this anywhere in the world. It is totally breathtaking.

 The Organs of Fire

This was the first night show I saw and can only be described as breathtaking (I’ve used that a lot haven’t i!). It starts with a lone violinist emerging, her dress lighting up and her floating around the lake playing music until she meets the pianist, who does the same. The orchestras appear, huge fountains emerge and an even bigger organ suddenly appears to add to the music and the gigantic party. I thought it was the biggest show I’d ever seen, but I hadn’t seen Cinescenie at this point!

The Cinescenie

Now this show breaks record after record. It’s the largest permanent show in the world with a nightly cast of 1,500, all of whom are volunteers. None of them get paid. There are 3,400 of them trained to play their roles and it’s held 28 time per year in front of a crowd of 14,000. For the volunteers, it’s a huge social and cinematic event and they train all year. It’s so popular that there are over 1,000 on the waiting list to volunteer and you can’t buy tickets for the event for another year. I won’t say too much about it but it is simply massive, incredible and beautiful (and hard to photograph). I have again, never seen anything like this. It started at 10.45 pm and went on until well after 12.15, so it’s a good long show too. It’s worth it for the fireworks alone.

The TEA Team

Being with the TEA gave us an all access pass to the whole site and the team that created it. It was a huge privilege and worth the membership in its own right. For only three days away it was completely exhausting, but to be able to get to see this place was worth it and i’ll be back to do it again.

A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
A few relaxing drinks after with the TEA party
The Land Train that takes you around the park
The Land Train that takes you around the park

Are you watching Nottingham?

It does however make me sad when I see references to knights, castles and even Robin Hood himself that my home City of Nottingham, can’t even get an attraction out of the ground to recognise our most famous son. The French have delivered a genius show that would draw in millions of visitors if it was created here.  Nottingham still hasn’t delivered a single thing. So, Nottingham, please take note. Puy du Fou turns over €74m and is very profitable, filling every hotel for miles around with it’s 1.9 million visitors per year. A little of this would go a long way.

Where we stayed

The accommodation offer is quite new, but growing fast. They may look like simple tents, but they house a fabulously well equipped four poster bedroom with wet room, two bunks for kids and even decent wifi.

The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beuatiful hotel room in disguise
The tented village at Puy du Fou which is a beautiful hotel room in disguise

Summary

If you have kids you have to come here. If you don’t come anyway. It’s amazing, awe inspiring and unique. It’s the best kept secret and the best theme park in the world. And it’s my new favourite.

What next for Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler?

What next for Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler
What next for Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler
What happened in the accident was nothing short of horrific and has wrecked young lives forever.  I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been and it must never happen again, anywhere in the world.

But for a moment, I would like to take a slightly dispassionate look at what I believe will happen to the brands of Alton Towers, Merlin and The Smiler.

Firstly I think the brand of Alton Towers will be fine, it will be damaged for a while, numbers will be down, but in reality, there is never a safer time to visit any attraction than just after an accident. Every early warning system will be on super high alert and the HSE will be crawling all over their every move. Alton Towers is a British superbrand and the way that Merlin CEO Nick Varney has handled himself in the press has been, in my opinion, nothing short of excellent, open and honest. He has allowed all of the bad news to come out, offered refunds to anyone who wants them and generally sounded very distressed by the incident. He has displayed good human values that people will relate to. He has four kids himself and I’m sure they use the park themselves, so of course he would want it to be world class safe – what parent wouldn’t?

Merlin are a world class brand. I saw a presentation from their Head of HR at Blooloop live a few weeks ago and they are delivering standards worldwide. I think this means you can rest assured that they will be running the most stringent safety checks on every one of their rides in every country they operate (which is a lot). Merlin will now get better because of this – everywhere.

But for Smiler, the future is less certain. There is an awful argument that this only adds a new element of danger to the ride for the real risk takers, but I hate this argument. For me, risk in an attraction MUST only ever be perceived. Real risk is just not appropriate in a fun environment.

So I think Smiler is on its way out. I would suggest that it will be removed as quietly as possible (press coverage allowing), maybe with the costs covered by the German manufacturers and it will turn up with totally new branding and maybe a new track layout in another market (The Far East or possibly Eastern Europe). The Smiler brand is busted and if I was in charge, I would bite the financial bullet and get rid of the bad name it could yet deliver.

In the meantime, I can only wish for a speedy recovery for those who have been injured both physically and mentally. And thanks to the London Evening Standard for their image. Here’s the link to their article.

The real health of the Tesco brand

Dave Lewis, Tesco chief executive

 

We saw recently that Tesco announced a quite staggering £6.4bn loss on trading. A huge headline figure, but in reality a total myth to allow the business the time and money to restructure.

The loss was caused by £7bn of one off write downs including a property write down of £4.7bn. Now, I’m no accountant, but if my maths are anywhere near right, this will meant they can reclaim at least £1.4bn in tax on their profits they paid last year and maybe claw some back from previous years too. So rather than lose £6.4bn, they have actually made £2bn in actual cash profit in the last 12 months. With me so far?

On the day that Tesco made the announcement, their share price fell by 5% to 223p. But in reality it had been at a low of only 150p during that same year and it is a huge growth in actual value over the same period. It’s at around 216p today. Hardly the sign of a business in crisis in the eyes of the market.

The disparity in their profit is far stranger when you consider how they got away with such a HUGE property write down when Helical Bar, the (mainly) London based Property Developer announced yesterday that their portfolio had increased in value by 27% in the previous 12 months?

Each of the other supermarkets seems to have followed suit with huge portfolio write downs, which only goes to confirm that it is another corrupt accounting practice each of them is employing to claw back tax.

Jack Welch, the former GE CEO said in a famous interview that with bad news, you have to get it all out fast, as it’s going to come out anyway. This feels to me what Tesco have done. They have painted a picture that is even worse than reality to shock the expectations lower.

This will give them the time, money and opportunity to take stock and rebuild the brand by putting in front line staff. They need to rebuild relationships with suppliers and build trust with customers. They need to listen, adapt and listen some more. And then they need to action their ideas fast, before the market moves again.

The Tesco brand is not dead, it’s just sleeping. It’ll be back and hopefully with a little more grace and a desire to please customers rather than only focus on the profit.

Real engagement for brands is more than just online engagement

I saw this video today by Gary Turk and shared it on Facebook on my personal account. Without any form of promotion, today it has been shared 40 times which is exceptional. If you watch the video it talks about real engagement.

Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on facebook Johnny Lyle
Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on Facebook

As a brand and social media specialist who shows real brands how to treat their customers and behave online, it is a very, very timely reminder that real engagement is about far more than likes, shares and a few extra follows. You have to be brilliant offline to allow people to get you online.

Real engagement is about getting inside people’s heads. It’s about becoming part of their lives, so they can’t live without you. It’s about building proper relationships where you give things as well as just take them.

Real engagement is real life and that’s what Gary’s film shows us.