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Two marketing strategies: Sainsburys and Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut has been sponsoring The Simpsons (when it appears on Channel 4, at least) for years, but just recently they've changed their strategy. A few years ago the sponsor's notice was something composed by an advertising executive on autopilot: a laugh-track, a picture of a pizza, and a reassuring voice telling us who it was who sponsored The Simpsons.

They must have read up on marketing psychology in the mean time, because the new branding is a crafty little trick of turning the sponsor's notice into a pseudo-game that consists of a random selection from a set of silly voices responding to the question, "Who's called the Hut?". The unpredictability of the responses makes it quite a lot like the in-joke in the Simpsons opening credits (when something different happens to the sofa every time the credits roll), and the daft voices used are designed to be imitated and for viewers to have fun with. When people make something their own - through imitation etc - that's when it really sinks in.

Sainsbury's have a new marketing strategy too. Their old tag line was "Making life taste better", which seems fairly bland on its own but then of course that's the point: since Sainsbury's sells such a wide variety of products to such a large group of people, the tag line had to be empty yet reassuring.

The new line is "Try something new today". The reason? They've been thoroughly analysing the data they extract from your Nectar cards, and realised that supermarket shoppers tend to buy the same limited range of items, week in, week out. Personally, that's what I want from a supermarket, but of course those who want to increase the company's market share naturally want you to buy more. So their new campaign involves (quite patronisingly, in my view) putting large signs in shops, and adverts on TV, telling you not to be so boring and to consider putting extra herbs and spices on your vegetables/chicken.

So far, so good, but there are two things wrong with this scheme. First, I've shopped in Sainsbury's recently and the instructions (which are pretty much everywhere once you're in the shop) are too distracting. I stand at the end of the tea and coffee isle thinking, "Teabags, we need some more teabags," but I'm interrupted by a sign declaring "Put some marshmallows in your cocoa," and the next thing I know I've forgotten what I was after in the first place. Supermarket shopping is a regular, automatic process, which people do in a mild trance (very similar to when driving a car), and interrupting the trance will make you forget what you were doing and feel less comfortable in the shop. It's the same kind of thing as the bottom-brush effect.

Second, a proportion of people will certainly be willing to try something new, but not indefinitely. They'll be happy to buy some nutmeg and try grating it over their bolognese, but very few of them will turn this into a ritual and carry on doing it every time they make some spag bol. And once they've tried a handful of the suggestions being blared out, they will start to fatigue and most people will in the end not respond to the suggestions at all.

So, the testable hypothesis that comes from all this is easy to make. The "Who's called the Hut?" campaign will outlive the "Try something new today" campaign. I'm looking forward to seeing if I'm right or not.

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