OPINION: Don't let media's search for a story cloud the business issues

Two stories dominated the business press last week. Most of the media began the week by sounding the death knell for McDonald's. Citing falling US sales and litigious obese Americans, the press concluded that the fast food company's day were numbered.

The second story to the grab column inches was Marks & Spencer and its poaching of Vittorio Radice, chief executive of Selfridges, to run its home furnishings division. Even typically sober newspapers swooned over the photogenic Radice and his impressive CV. The FT described him as the man who single-handedly transformed Selfridges "from a down-at-heel department store into a cutting-edge house of brands". So there we have it. McDonald's is finished, M&S all powerful.

Two years ago the same media were being equally strident about these two brands, but the stories were very different. M&S was finished. The media cited its awful ads, poorly positioned products and incompetent Dutch chief executive as proof that M&S was soon to be RIP. Meanwhile, fuelled by Naomi Klein's ramblings, the media were bemoaning McDonald's worldwide growth. McDonald's was portrayed as a sinister, but effective global marketer set to achieve world domination.

How could the respective fortunes of these two powerbrands have been reversed in little more than two years? The answer, of course, is that they haven't. M&S was never in anywhere near as much trouble as the media suggested. McDonald's was never as dominant or as effective as the media portrayed it to be.

Seasoned marketers should always take the media's oversimplification and miscomprehension of the business world with a generous pinch of salt.

McDonald's does have strategic problems, but it is still a company with billions in assets, an aggressive international expansion programme and it also owns or co-owns a diversified portfolio of profitable national brands (Pret A Manger anyone?). Similarly, Radice is an extremely good executive, but it defies belief to suggest that he alone has masterminded the rise of Selfridges. What about the rest of the management team? Was Selfridges really "down at heel" back in 1998 when he took over?

The media do not describe the business world. They write stories. And when they do, they start with the message and then work backwards toward the facts. A good story is simple, has a narrative, and ends with a message.

The problem comes when this framework is applied to the complex, convoluted world of business.

I once met with a BBC producer who was interested in using some of the case studies taught at LBS as the basis for a business documentary series.

After several hours discussion he let out a sigh: "I'm sorry," he said, "these case studies don't have a 'story arc'. We need to see the firm rise quickly and then at its zenith have an Icarus-like downfall followed by a moment of revelation". I began to explain to him that the world of marketing rarely follows this formula, but he was already heading for the door, desperate to maintain his simplistic assumptions and to avoid the big bag of salt I was throwing his way.

Discussion

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now

Latest

Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers