“Reassuringly Expensive”

Frank Lowe created a series of adverts that a generation of British will know instantly due to the words, ‘Reassuringly Expensive’.

During the campaign that he created, which ran for 25 years, he turned a high alcohol content beer, beloved of lager louts, into a prestigious brand that spoke to those looking for quality and with a desire for the best. The beer in question was expensive due to the taxation on drinks with a higher alcohol content. To turn this weakness into a strength was a stroke of genius, but more than that, highlights a fascinating human paradox.

With some items, one looks at the high price tag and will declare the item to be a ‘rip off’, while with others one associates a low price tag with a lack of quality and therefore discards it as an inferior product. So why is there such a polar opposite in reactions? To the best of my knowledge, nothing was changed in the production method of this brand of beer, so how does its status change so markedly?

Many experts in this field, which I am clearly not, will argue as to the reasons for this paradox. Aristotle even had a go, though whether his interest was sparked by a love of extra strength lager escapes me. I do know that he identified persuasion with rhetoric and, as the latter embodies aspects of both reason and emotion, this suggests that persuasion cannot be a case of simple logical debate. He believed that rhetoric, and therefore persuasion, was based predominantly on emotion rather than knowledge. So is it enough for an advert to strike a chord with the values of the potential buyer? To make an emotional connection? Surely all buyers want to feel they are getting the best while paying the least?

Image from Paul Charlton Coaching

In the defence industry, planes are launched with smoke billowing across the floor of the arena as large silk sheets gently slide off the new product. In my early years of flying on helicopters, I was told that the sight of smoke billowing is a good thing as you know there is still oil in the engine but, sadly, I never saw the silk sheet being slipped off my aircraft by the engineers. So why the charade? Are military forces going to buy an aircraft because of the quality of silk sheet at the launch event? Of course not, but there is an unsettling sense that emotion may, at times, ride roughshod over logic even in military procurement.

It seems to me that the purchase of military equipment because ‘that is what the neighbours have’, or because ‘that is what we should have to maintain our image as a serious global force’, is a common occurrence throughout history. The need to be seen to purchase from the right company is equally prevalent. Reason tells us that the size of the company is no guarantee of quality but emotion may tell us ‘better the devil you know’. In fact the only truly reliable guarantee from a large defence company is probably that the price tag will be high.

Smart procurement by the military demands a clear understanding of the requirement and then letting industry innovation bring forward the best, most cost-effective, solution. This solution may come from a Prime but then again it may not. In defence procurement and in application of tax payer’s money, there is no place for sentiment as ever tightening budgets demand that every effort is made to find right solution at the right price.

In defence there is no such thing as ‘reassuringly expensive’, though Frank Lowe’s short Jean De Florette style films were, and remain, great adverts.