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Sunday Soundbite

Percy Pig comes to retail’s rescue

Chris Field
Chris Field

People, it seems, still buy from people. And failing a well-known face at the helm, Marks & Spencer has discovered an unlikely hero in Percy Pig, the sweet patriarch of a brand that has been growing fast since 1992. Now locked in a permanent embrace with his life partner, Penny, the two pigs oversee an empire worth more than £10m a year.

Marks & Spencer’s unlikely mascot is a lesson in how to do customer engagement. Forget staff training and iPads for a minute, and consider the community that M&S customers have created all on their own, with almost no input from the retailer other than encouragement through social media (and bowing to pressure over gelatin with the release of the green-eared Veggie Percy).

Put this into context – value-seeking consumers have been embracing retailers’ own-label brands for over 30 years, and, despite remorseless competition from manufacturers, they continue to grow, often outstripping the growth of manufacturer brands.

When it comes to value, Percy Pig ticks all the usual boxes; but how often has an own brand become a conversation starter?

Everyone in our office is united around M&S food and this shared superhero. Personally, I wouldn’t be seen dead eating a sugar-filled chew that tastes of perfumed soap, but I don’t hold it against Percy himself, whom I have come to regard as the face of a brand that has become increasingly faceless.

Every retailer should get themselves a mascot. On the pure economics alone, how much cheaper must it be to start conversations and grow relationships using a personality, rather than any number of point-based loyalty schemes? M&S has Sparks, but that scheme leaves me cold – I just don’t want to play.

Percy also provides a valuable element of loyalty, and this is anticipation; not the anticipation of waiting a whole year to save up enough points for a Christmas supermarket sweep, but something more immediate.

Millennials won’t wait; they want to know if new products are coming. Will Percy get slapped with a paternity suit from the legal representatives of the Percy Piglets? Will Penny ever consider a dalliance with Henry Hog? OK, I made that one up, but here I am saying positive things about a business that, editorially, I have been critical of for many years.

What’s the lesson for other retailers? For those struggling to establish a meaningful dialogue with their customers, a home-grown mascot is not the only answer, but Percy Pig does demonstrate that we all love a product story with a narrative and a hero. For those retailers whose ‘story’ is a long diatribe about ethical sourcing and sustainability, consider that it may not be enough. Once the ‘I am a good citizen’ box has been ticked, what will make you stand out?

I’m with Percy.

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