At the shop.kiwi event held on Tuesday, Paper Plus CEO Sam Shosanya, who has previously worked for Sainsburys in the UK and Life Pharmacy and The Warehouse in New Zealand, spoke of Paper Plus’ journey to stand out in a competitive market.
Founded in 1983, Paper Plus’ long-time slogan up until 2015 was “My books. My stationery. My store.”
However, the slogan has become somewhat dated, as Shosanya was open in saying the company’s product range isn’t what makes them different or unique.
“If you think about the environment we operate in, we’re up against some decent competitors,” he says. “They’re all bigger than us – Whitcoulls, Warehouse Stationery, Office Max. The reality is, we’re all selling broadly the same gear, independent of what they say.”
The way they decided to differientate from their competitors was through a rebrand, he says.
“Our challenge is to be who we are in a distinctive way, so we’ve chosen a green, blobby thing.”
FCB was the agency behind Blurb, a rotund alien with a deep, seductive voice.
Blurb begun fronting Paper Plus’ campaigns in April last year, a year after Shosanya joined the company.
Shosanya was tongue-in-cheek when referring to the bright-green brand ambassador.
He acknowledged the character caused a stir when the campaign launched, with many having an initial reaction of ‘What the hell is that?’
“You will have any number of debates whether not our character Blurb achieves that [representing the brand in a distinctive way]. We’re testing that over time. But what we do know that we can say things about our brand and things about our product that are broadly in line with what our competitors say, but we have a more meaningful of making that stand out in customers’ minds.”
He also mentioned that Blurb helps with brand recall in a crowded market place.
“Part of the reason why blobby green things work is not the fact that people are going to run up to us and go, ‘What a fantastic campaign!’ I’m much more interested in them going, ‘I remember that was you’.”
He gave the example of USA Kmart’s Ship my pants ad as another great example of building “mental availability”.
“If you can say something interesting, that will pique people’s curiosity and grab their attention.”
Other examples he mentioned that are doing well in differentiating themselves were FCB cohorts Mitre 10 and Pak’n Save, with Shosanya jokingly calling Blurb a “fatter, bit less expensive” equivalent of Stickman.
“When I first saw [Pak’n Save’s Stickman], I remember thinking to myself ‘wow, that’s fantastic’. These guys are about price and value. I know that campaign must’ve cost money. But actually, its got two colours, a stickman and one voice. That’s clever.”
The other opportunity for brands to stand out is through emotion, he says.
“What has been happening across the world, and the UK are leading in this space, is engaging people emotionally.”
He said this is being dubbed the “cry and buy” technique, like John Lewis’ latest ad, #TheManOnTheMoon, which had almost no product or price mentions.
“They say, ‘We are John Lewis, and we are here for life’s most important moments’. At Christmas they run a campaign and it’s all about emotional engagement.”
Farmers is heading down a similar route with its latest advert, he says, which didn’t emphasise products and prices as heavily as before.
But he says this approach isn’t just for the big companies with ample cash.
Paper Plus regards itself as a SME when compared to its competitors, and it’s marketing itself on emotions.
“For those who are in challenging circumstances and you’re up against competition who are great in price, like we are - we can’t afford to battle them on a price point, but we can do a better job with emotion.”
Paper Plus’ new “tickle your imagination” slogan plays right into this, he says.
This echoes what head of planning at FCB David Thomason said last year about Blurb, and the revival of retailers appealing to shoppers’ emotions.
“When you think back to the early days of retail, it’s not a new idea to think there should be excitement,” he said.
“It’s almost like we’ve forgotten. People choose to buy on emotions, no matter what, so they should be excited about going to a shop.”
- This story was originally published on The Register.