If you're driving on the MKAD and notice huge billboards featuring a family that appears to be worshipping a LeGrand brand light switch, guess what: it's even more ridiculous than you might have imagined. For better or for worse, I happen to personally know why this light switch is being so comically mis-marketed.
Several months back, a brand executive from LeGrand called our agency's office, and asked to set up a meeting. LeGrand was preparing for a big campaign and kicked this off by inviting agencies for a series of briefings. Seeing an article about us in an industry magazine, LeGrand decided to bring us in.
There were three people in the meeting: the brand executive who called us in, the marketing manager, and one of her direct reports, some guy who seemed to resented us being there. LeGrand is a large French company that produces a range of building supplies and accessories, ranging from white electrical sockets to expensive designer light switches which cost a Saratov teacher's monthly salary.
Here I should note something I've observed in various foreign companies working in Russia. It used to be that Western companies working in Russia hired and promoted people based on their language skills (i.e. English), and not their talent. This occurs less often nowadays, especially since a free-ish market economy has been thriving for over a decade, bringing a whole generation of Russian professionals to the forefront. Furthermore, English is a common enough second language amongst the whole strata of up and coming professionals.
However, this is less often the case when a company is French. The problem is simple -- French hasn't really been that popular a language in Russian for a long time, but since the French don't want to concede to the Anglo-Saxon culture, they're one of the last of the Western businessmen who still rate their employees' performance based on the quality and quantity of their rolled r's.
So, what does this mean? It means that local French outfits tend to hire people not so much for their marketing skills, but for their ability to communicate in French.
According to the briefing that we got, LeGrand produces a line of basic light switches. These were white switches, costing probably less than a dollar a piece, the kind that you would find piled up in a brown cardboard box at the back of any hardware kiosk. The brief to the agency was to create an advertising campaign so clever, so memorable, that the public would rush their local hardware shops, demanding LeGrand light switches, forcing the merchants to stock them. The marketing manager delivered the briefing with the patronizing demeanor of a jaded third grade teacher, walking over to the white board in order to draw boxes and lines, describing their "BtB" and "BtC" strategies in thick blue marker. Incidentally, the industry acronyms are B2B and B2C but she was on a roll and I didn't want to stop her. Furthermore, she was wearing almost sheer white slacks, with a slinky dark thong and I really didn't want her to sit down from her lecture space.
After 45 minutes of listening of some of the most outrageously poor strategic planning, and mispronounced industry terms (bigboards, instead of billboards), she turned to me and asked: "Well?"
"Um, you see here's the problem," I finally commented, a bit uncomfortably. "This is not a consumer good. People need new light sockets perhaps once or twice every decade when they refurbish a flat or cottage. It's not Pepsi, and people won't be running to their favorite hardware shops demanding their weekly supply of LeGrand light switches. In fact, the only people who will be buying these things are either builders or open market merchants for resale. If you really want to stimulate sales for something which is essentially a non-consumer, commodity item, pay incentives to the resellers to include your light switches in their construction projects."
"But we want people to ask for our light switches, and if they ask for our light switches, then the resellers will be forced to stock them," she insisted.
"People will not ask for your light switches. In any event, the amount of money you'd have to spend per potential consumer in order for to someone to demand a LeGrand light switch would simply not justify the $2/decade potential revenue."
The advertising campaign went ahead without me, dotting the MKAD with photos of a J. Crew clad family playing on the floor of a house, powered by LeGrand light switches. Driving past one of these billboards, I asked whether we did the right thing by excluding ourselves from such a farce of a campaign. Someone probably made a quick $50k in agency and media commissions from this campaign. Obviously, LeGrand's marketing manager was ready to hit the streets, and all we had to do was hold our noses and agree with her that yes, people would be ready to head out to kiosks twice a day to buy LeGrand light switches. I wonder, when reality hits the fan, will anyone pay for it at LeGrande or at the ad agency? Personally, I wouldn't want to find out.