Magazine article Marketing

Read between the Lines

Magazine article Marketing

Read between the Lines

Article excerpt

'Careline' phone numbers feature on 83% of US product packaging; in the UK it's just 8%. Why? Ken Gofton reports on an international survey into the careline phenomenon

Professional shoppers were sent out recently to buy 100 branded products in supermarkets in the UK, France, Germany and the US. The brief was tight: ten products in each of ten categories, from canned goods to sanpro, OTC medicines to the freezer cabinet. Then the packs were examined, to see what proportion carried "careline" telephone numbers.

It will surprise no-one to learn that the US scored highest. The Americans, after all, pioneered the careline idea as long ago as the late 70s, and it is only in the past few years that it has crossed the Atlantic. But the figures for the four countries are nevertheless startling: 83% of the US packs carried telephone numbers, against 30% in France and 15% in Germany. For the UK, the figures was a mere 8%.

The research was commissioned by London-based telemarketing consultancy the L&R Group (formerly Leiderman and Roncoroni). This is the company which helped Van den Bergh establish a careline for Flora at the end of 1990 -- a programme which, it is claimed, was the UK's first for a nationally distributed product. Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Arthur's, Farley's and Haagen-Dazs are among the manufacturers/brands which have followed this lead.

In The Careline Report, which it has just published, the L&R Group says that penetration of carelines on branded goods remains remarkably low in the UK. There is a counter argument of course, which is that 8% penetration among a sample of 100 products is not bad going in a little over two years. After all, this was from a standing start, and in a recession when most companies were looking for savings, not new ways of spending money.

However, putting numbers on the use of carelines was only one purpose of the report. L&R also wanted to know how well the carelines worked, and what companies were getting out of them.

The second stage involved a carefully-briefed consumer ringing each of the carelines, monitoring how long it took to respond, and how well the calls were handled.

The results of this test were a mix of good and bad for the UK. Operators (carers?) are almost as fast here as the Americans at answering calls, with an average response time of 3.7 seconds. This compares with an average of 59 seconds and a maximum of two minutes in Germany. As Robert Leiderman, joint founder of the L&R Group points out, manufacturers' reasons for starting carelines -- such as providing a platform for consumer feedback -- appear to be in conflict with reality in such cases.

Although the Brits scored poorest of all on sounding knowledgeable and confident, they also managed to sound the most welcoming. None of the Europeans did well in comparison with the Americans for reinforcing the brand and encouraging further purchases, but the Brits came out highest of all with offers to send product information (in 27% of cases), and in asking for names and addresses (45%) for, one assumes, their marketing databases.

Finally, the researchers called the managers running the carelines, to question them about their experiences, objectives, and future plans. …

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