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the checkout chalkComedy is a potent weapon for disarming us and letting messages get through our defences, just like the ink gets into this chalk (pictured).

Likewise, consumer insight is a potent weapon for providing our businesses and organisations with a more stable future (provided we act upon them, of course).

At the moment, the ABC is screening The Checkout and in the humble opinion of this marketer I believe it is ESSENTIAL viewing for all of us with goods and services to market.

Week in, week out, Craig Reucassel and Julian Morrow, and a talented cast highlight inept, shady, unethical and deceptive marketing practices in Australia.

It reveals an unattractive underbelly that should spur us into action, today.

The Checkout in action

The sorts of things The Checkout covers include:

  • Shining a spotlight on the shirking of responsibility around warranties and refunds
  • Highlighting misleading label claims and and artwork
  • Debunking myths
  • Publicising sneaky practices

A major theme in the program is educating viewers about their rights.

Every week, more revelations are made about just how illegal ‘no refunds’ signs are and how widespread and all encompassing consumer rights are.

Much is made of the laws that put the consumer in control of judging whether a product or service is ‘fit for purpose’ and whether repairs should be handled by the manufacturer or retailer (they can choose).

robern strawberry indulgenceAn engrossing segment is watching a label get redrawn to transform marketing claims into truth claims.

For example, Robern Strawberry Indulgence is transformed into Dried Apricot and Pear Indulgence before our eyes.

A 73% Sugar bubble is added to the pack, along with a warning to vegetarians because the colouring is from crushed beatles.

Of course, few of us actually expect confectionery to be nutritious.

However, it is fair to say that when the word ‘strawberry’ is used, we still expect strawberry inside.

It is worth noting the confectioner puts this information on the pack in the regulatory panels.

It does make you think twice when you see that information on the front of the pack.

Equally intriguing is the segment that compares the product shot on a label with the actual product inside.

coles strawberriesTo continue the strawberry theme, the week they featured Coles Strawberries in Syrup was noteworthy.

On the tin, the label shows rich, red strawberries.

Once opened and poured into a dish, the ACTUAL strawberries look pinkish brown.

Some even looked bruised and quite sub standard.

When it comes to myths, a recent segment traced the history of the permeate in milk debate. It explained how permeate is a natural byproduct extracted from milk in a process that lets dairy producers extract a component for cheese production. It is perfectly natural to return it.

However, shows like those irresponsible fear mongering current affairs programs latch on to the ‘adding back’ process and scare us with dramatic images of milky watery liquid being added back to milk.

Marketers picked up on the fears, marketing permeate free milk even though such milk still contains permeate; it just hasn’t been removed and replaced.

The Checkout’s consumer feedback segment has also shone the spotlight on what can be best described as ‘sneaky’ practices like Jetstar’s skylight robbery credit card fees and weazly terms and conditions claiming the time and date of a purchased ticket does not form part of their agreement, protecting them from claims when flights are delayed or cancelled. The show pointed out that time and date ARE consider important if YOU don’t turn up in time for a flight!

The Checkout Guide To Consumercentric Marketing

What I take away from this show is a dose of common sense and common decency.

Quite frankly, if you need sneaky claims or tricky conditions to fool people into choosing your product or service, I don’t believe you should be operating.

What The Checkout does is amplify something that more and more consumers can and will be doing when they have been treated badly; share their experiences in public via social media.

Having worked with many thousands of businesses and organisations through Baker Marketing over the past decade and a half, I know there are all kinds of operators and consumers in the marketplace.

Many business people I work with are passionate about their venture and any deception or flaws in their offerings are truly unintentional and quickly remedied when discovered.

Likewise, many consumers only want a fair outcome and to be heard when they are not happy.

It is when we ignore consumers that evolutionary biologists warn us to expect a backlash; spouting venom about a service provider or manufacturer with as many people as possible is an inbuilt survival mechanism to protect those around us, in our tribe, from befalling the same fate.

How The Checkout offers a form of ‘future proofing’ is that it keeps us attuned to the consumer view of the world.

We argue that when marketing, as the guardian of the customer, sits at the centre of your thoughts and operations, you are most likely to be building a valuable asset of consumer relevance and loyalty.

My hope is that this program will run forever, as a community service for consumers and a big stick for those who operate on the basis of trickery and deception.

For the rest of us, may it give us a warm glow of pride because WE would never do such things.

At the time of writing, The Checkout screens Thursday nights at 8pm on ABC1, with back episodes available on ABC iView.

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