Poor usability and how brands and local authorities can work together for mutual benefit
One of the irritating side effects to working in the marketing industry is the unintentional automatic evaluation and critique of pretty much any form of communication we are exposed to.
And so last night in Casa Zeitgeist there was an unneccesary sense of frustration when reading a seemingly harmless and well-meaning letter from Watford Borough Council explaining the new ‘Communal Recycling Station’.
The front of letter introduced the new recycling scheme and explained the introduction of new communal bins with bright colourful stickers that would leave residents in no doubt as to what kind of waste went into each recepticle.
On the back was a ‘Handy Recycling Guide’ with tables showing which items did and, just as importantly, didn’t go in each bin.
Cunningly printed on the back of the original letter to save paper, the guide offered the opportunity to forever associate each colour with the appropriate contents.
At agencies we go on (and on and on and on) about the shopper journey and how effective communications can prompt behaviour change.
Whether this also happens are local councils is not known.
However, if the desired reaction to receiving the ‘Handy Recycling Guide’ was for thousand of households to pin it up on kitchen noticeboards or to take down beloved childrens artwork so that it could take pride of place on the fridge, one has to ask ‘Why the hell is it in black and white?‘
The sheet, reproduced below, misses a huge trick in usability terms. By saving money on coloured ink the council has made the guide a lot less user friendly as each colour is pointlessly represented by a slightly different shade of gray.
With spending cuts dominating the news the council’s decision to reduce spending on ink might be commended by some while others will point to increased environmental damage caused by coloured ink.
This would miss the point. The purpose of the letter is to introduce a new policy and encourage compliance. Doing it properly first time reduces the need for follow up letters and spoiled bins where people have thrown in general waste where there should only be glass or paper.
Making the most out of bad luck
While the council may have to cut its cloth ever smaller there is a fantastic opportunity to turn adversity into something positive.
Around the land there are plenty of brands for whom recycling is a topic of huge interest. They spend great deals of money communicating their ethical policies and would most likely jump at the chance to get their logo pinned up in kitchens around the land.
Identifying such a partner who would provide the required budget for some coloured ink in exchange for the guide being co-branded would not only save the council money but also increase the likelihood of residents changing their waste disposal behaviour.
As it is, the guide is only really fit for the bin. If only I could work out which one it should go in.
How will the snow affect the UK retail landscape?
While the news at the time focused on stranded air passengers, a crippled transport network and the need for some inventive parenting to explain why Father Christmas was unable to deliver presents on time, the after-effects of December’s heavy snowfall are now being felt strongly on the UK high streets and shopping centres.
With the tinsel and fairy lights still in full view, it has been a far from Happy New Year for the number of retailers forced to announce that their sales were lower than expected with the consquences ranging from store closures and job losses to profits warnings. Many cited the unwelcome cold snap as compounding difficulties brought about by the economic crisis, changing consumer habits and threats appearing from non-traditional competitors.
First to register concern were HMV, who admitted in an unscheduled trading statement, that like-for-like sales across its UK and Ireland outlets had plunged by 13.6% in December. Having seen other music and entertainment retailers, including Zavvi, Our Price, Tower Records and even Woolworths bite the dust in recent years it isn’t surprising that the entertainment specialist is feeling the heat while the rest of us freeze.
Zeitgeist has already touched on how ‘In some industries, the concept of owning something tangibly has become redundant;‘, with music and film sitting high on that list. More worryingly for HMV as the owner of Waterstones bookshops is Amazon‘s online dominance of the category and the rise of devices like the Kindle and regular smartphones that are likely to eat into book sales in the coming years.
While the sub-zero temperatures may have kept shoppers out of their stores the weather can’t take all of the blame. This weekend, this half of Zeitgeist bought a CD as a friends birthday present. A quick look online showed the item retailing on HMV.com at £8.99, however in-store I was obliged to pay £17.99. The Sales Assistant helpfully told me that the difference was because online sales are shipped from Guernsey. I rather suspect that the lower price has more to do with the fact that other online stores such as Amazon.co.uk and Play.com are also selling the item for £8.99 than where the item is shipped from.
It’s not hard to see why the bricks-and-mortar stores are in so much trouble when they have to sell items for nearly double the online price to cover their overheads. In this instance the extra cost doubles as a ‘Failure to Plan‘ tax for me, but increasingly shoppers will go online for their entertainment needs rather than paying a premium for the convenience of getting it immediately on the high street. Alternatively they’ll simply download or stream it and do away with the need for any physical material purchase.
This final option shows how behaviour change can be brought about with the right motivations. For years now, we have been encouraged to reduce unnecessary waste and raw materials to help the environment. However, it is the convenience of having music, film, games and books stored digitally, rather on discs in plastic boxes or paper, that has proved more of a driver than any desire to save the planet.
For Clintons this is the second such warning in six months and time will tell whether ‘strategic intiatives‘ taken by the board will have the desired effect or whether as a nation, a new generation is growing up to wish ‘Happy Birthdays’ and ‘Merry Chistmases’ via text message or social media sites.
Encroachment on their traditional market by the major multiples hasn’t helped Mothercare and brokers Seymour Pierce have questioned quite how much of their problems are down to the snow.
With the Christmas period so crucial for many retailers there may be more similar statements being prepared in boardrooms up and down the land. The slightly milder weather in early January may help ‘The Sales’ boost some bottom lines, but with a number of retailers choosing to delay exposing shoppers to the increase in VAT the bargain hunters may not spend enough to make up the shortfall, particularly if they are saving for a more expensive 2011. If a handful of retailers do go under it begs the question, ‘Who will take over their retail space and what will the retail landscape look like in a couple of years from now?’.
In the meantime we’ll have to wait and see what legacy the snow is going to leave in other sectors such as insurance, utilities and travel. Either way, it might be an idea to start saving now for those premiums and gas bills.
Shell and Renault might not leap to mind as producers of the most ‘green’ products in the market right now. Hence why both companies are trying to alter this perception by touting their so-called ‘green credentials’. In the past week, one brand has come off better than the other in managing these expectations.
Though unquestionably adept when it comes to social media – having in the past month launched their products on the latest incarnation of the Sims game, as well as the ubiquitous Facebook integration – Renault has fallen foul of the ASA twice over a period of five weeks. At the end of March, seventeen people complained that the company’s strapline for their new electric car, that it was a ‘zero-emissions vehicle’, was a fallacy, as it “did not take the full life cycle of the vehicle into account… the ASA adjudicated that if the car was charged using energy sourced from the UK’s national grid, CO2 emissions would be produced as a result.” The article also mentions a new set of codes by Defra meant to combat ‘greenwashing’ tactics. Yesterday, Brand Republic reported the ASA had banned a second Renault advert, when one person complained “it was using French rather than UK figures to make the claim that one of its electric cars reduces CO2 emissions by least 90%.” The ASA concluded the ad was “misleading”.
Where Renault has stumbled, Shell has not, with those wonderful JWT minds producing a simple but visually engaging advertisement that immediately speaks to the relative cleanliness and quality of its fuel.
One luxury brand not usually associated with such serious things like sustainability is Aston Martin. But then neither was BMW before it recently unveiled its prototype electric car (see headline picture). Campaign magazine reported yesterday that the manufacturer “is looking for an agency to handle the launch advertising for its Cygnet city car”. The project is being managed in conjunction with Toyota, based on that company’s iQ car. “a large proportion of Aston Martin drivers also own a smaller car, such as a Mini or smart car, which they use for their inner-city commutes or to do the shopping. Reports suggest that the Cygnet will cost around £30,000 and feature a low-emission economical engine.” It’s an interesting decision. Although one might initially blanche at the idea of Aston Martin producing a more economical car, as the above quotation illustrates, it is in fact very on-brand. In this case, why sell to half of the consumer’s automobile product purchase, when you can sell to it all? The model will, initially, only be available to those that already own an Aston Martin.
Zeitgeist is most pleased to see efforts being taken by the those industries with an environmentally questionable past to prepare for a cleaner future. Moreover, who’d have thunk it, but electric cars can be cool and fast (although UK hybrid and electric sales are unfortunately slipping). It’s clear from Renault’s example though that people won’t tolerate a greenwash. Perhaps the open-source project “c,mm,n“, will help.