Magazine article Marketing

Opinion

Magazine article Marketing

Opinion

Article excerpt

The existence of the licence fee insulates the BBC against the true, bottom-line impact of a dramatic shift in consumer sentiment.

If the latest results from Primark tell you one thing, it is that consumers will reward brands that get it right. The retailer's 15% surge in profit, to pounds 356m, reflected all the exuberant abundance of the stores themselves.

These are places where wheelie bins and copious tote bags at entrances are a deliberate signal that you are at liberty to fill your boots. Primark prices are 'why-not?' low: you pull out a soft wool jumper, hold it up, tilt your head as you decide if it's exactly right, quickly check the price tag and, since its only pounds 6, conclude, 'well, why not'?

Of course, shoppers might be less enthusiastic if they had misgivings about how those prices are achieved. The brand, knowing that ethics could be its Achilles heel, takes great pains to reassure, with a prominent section on its website dedicated to supply-chain probity.

Its case wasn't helped by a 2008 BBC Panorama documentary that claimed to show its garments being made by young boys in Bangalore. The creators of the film would have known that their accusations would prompt consumer guilt, and that this would have a knock-on commercial effect; indeed, that was doubtless the intention.

The trouble is, that story was bogus. Following a lengthy investigation, the BBC Trust confirmed that the footage had been fabricated and that the programme should never have been aired.

Had it all been true, Primark would, quite rightly, have felt immediate financial pain. Consumer reaction has that direct, unmistakable effect - not just when there is a scandal, but also in lesser-charged areas, such as service standards or the choice of merchandise on offer. Money is how the market speaks.

Yet, perversely, the one brand that never hears this direct, unmistakable language is the BBC, because it has set itself above market rules. Every time it lets its consumers down - as it did with Hutton, Ross and Brand, and Savile - the financial effect of any related consumer drop-off is zero.

People might stop watching or listening to its output completely; they might tune out of just those programmes they feel are culpable; they might never have engaged with the BBC that much in the first place - but, just so long as they have a device capable of receiving a TV signal, they must pay the full pounds 145.50 licence fee or face imprisonment. …

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