The new subliminal marketing

A marketing mind like mine is troublesome at times and forever looking for new creative connections or media that will appeal to consumers.

I found myself thinking about advertising on bus backs the other day, remarkably unsuccessful if you are looking to optimise for take on cost in my experience, but I was thinking about new, different, media opportunities for 2013.

Only a couple of weeks ago in a presentation I found myself referencing subliminal advertising, and a recent drive took me along one of my favourite stretches of road – past the distribution depot near Worksop for B&Q and past the Wilkinson HQ and distribution centre.  Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for the Wilkinson brand. They do things very well in my view, from advertising to living by their brand values and ethics.


Unconnected you may think, well not to me … and I accept this blog may run a risk of me being seen as a bit of a geek !! But here goes anyway …

Subliminal advertising was a hoax initiated by James Vicary in the US in the 1950’s.  He reported that he had managed to induce cinema goers to drink more coke and eat more popcorn thanks to single frame images he had spliced into a film.  It took him 20+ years to admit this was a hoax and that it was driven by a desire to promote his marketing consultancy.  The effect lingers on however … just try searching subliminal advertising !  It still induces consumer fears of manipulation even today.

But maybe subliminal advertising is still relevant, at least in spirit.  I interpret this as being almost unconscious awareness and this is where my thoughts about lorries come in … see I told you this ran a risk of being a bit geeky …

B&Q lorry

Driving past B&Q distribution depots you realise a number of things;

  • The sheer number of lorries they own
  • The impact of their brand at the size it appears on their lorries
  • The sheer value of these moving ‘posters’ must be immense

They just reinforce the brand though, Wilkinson’s on the other hand have taken their use of freight advertising a step further.  They are using powerful visuals that are immensely appealing and have incredible standout as you drive past, either single lorries or, their depot.  The beauty of this is that they are timeless to an extent as well, no need for continued upgrades, they are not campaign specific.

wilko lorry allsorts

Why is this remotely interesting I hear you ask; well, the amount of domestic tonnage shifted by road in the last year has grown to over 400 million tonnes and so even if there are the same number of lorries moving about they are becoming more visible.  Alongside Germany, France and Italy road haulage volume has been consistently growing since 2009.  I am indebted to the fascinating DoT Road Freight Statistics Quarterly bulletin for this insight – a real page turner I might add!

Of course the exemplars of extending haulage into its own marketing success story are Eddie Stobart – from toys to TV shows to fan clubs.  But they are building their haulage brand B2B and that must have worked brilliantly. In fact if I need a haulage brand I would think of them first, then Norfolk Line – because I love their branding !  Ok I’d go for Norfolk Line just because of the branding, what can I say, I’m shallow !

eddie stobart

If Eddie Stobart is the exemplar in extending the brand then we should look at how the worlds most ubiquitous brand is using haulage to sense check if B&Q, Wilko’s etc have something:-  Coca Cola.

In simple terms they are using haulage as an opportunity in two ways

  1. they are using lorries in their advertising and
  2. they use their lorries to advertise with some very clever stand out in Europe.

cocacolaads2 coke lorry

Even Eddie Stobart tried something different with the Rugby League sponsorship on lorries, deemed to be a failure by the RFL and Rugby League supporters, but perhaps that is only because it was too few lorries for too short a period?

stobart sponsorship of Super League

One other company who have done some clever things very well, in my mind, recently are Currys & PC world.  Their co-branding makes sense in how they present it and connect it using colour.  A step further for them is the use of the “Knowhow” branding.  On lorries this is clever and engaging – look out for the messages on the lorry backs – funny and relevant (and the font is big enough to carry impact).

know how truck

So can I tie all of this together, perhaps it is not a perfectly thought out theory, perhaps it is not a trend for 2013, but I think the following are interesting points/opportunities to think about:

  • If you have ready access to a moving media that covers large amounts of the UK and is increasing in presence … and have a consumer brand … then use it !  People have spent enough on bus backs to make this worth a try when it is your own media
  • It will stand out, if you think about the media, as the vast majority of lorries out there are plain … take a look next time you are driving along
  • Think about longevity, like Wilkinson have done
  • Think about getting stand out through strong creative, just like any other media, and use Coca Cola etc as inspiration, or alternatively … use a big font and your name !

If you do that, maybe, just maybe, this will become a form of subliminal advertising in a way that works, after all Stobart have managed to create a very strong brand in the UK and extended it into areas well beyond traditional haulage.  Now back to the lovely Norfolk Line branding ….

norfolkline branding


26 December 2012

PS Have a great 2013 !

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3 thoughts on “The new subliminal marketing

  1. Mike Ratcliffe says:

    A very clear argument and good thinking – nice one Paul! Now that I don’t work for you lot I can point out the obvious contradiction that are the Co-op lorries as I see them a lot (in the SouthWest you have a big depot at Andover). The use of this significant fleet is, by comparison to the examples you showed, uninspiring! Big letters yes, but nothing else. Something of a wasted opportunity for an organisation with limited budgets wouldn’t you say…?

    • I tend to agree Mike … It’s an estate we could make more of. I’ve noticed on a drive to the NE that we have fallen behind Asda and Sainsburys in using our haulage to convey a food appropriate message.

  2. Mary says:

    I love it! I rave and rant about lorry branding in equal measure…

    (And thank you for the presentation that included the insight into subliminal marketing 😉 )

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