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Doing a Ratner

March 23, 2010

Gerald Ratner, once the king of £500million empire of nationwide jewelry stores, took an infamous fall from grace following his badly misjudged “the stuff we sell is a load of old crap” speech at an industry directors dinner. Ever since then the phrase “Doing a Ratner” has brought smiles to the lips (and a chill to the hearts) of many in the retail sector.

These ads, from a campaign by M&C Saatchi, launched last autumn to reinvigorate the ailing high street electronics outlet Dixons, do a very good job of demonstrating the (not exactly flattering) differences between the company and their more sophisticated competitors – while John Lewis modestly describe themselves as “Britains Favourite Retailer”, Dixons scream “Low Price Electronics!”. With simple use of type, colour, and that knowing, distinctly un-Dixons-like tone of voice, the ads very effectively ape the brands of John Lewis and Selfridges, before giving the game away with an abrupt shift from high-brow to their own cheap’n’cheerful brand aesthetic. The ads freely acknowledge that Dixons staff don’t have two brain cells to rub together, and but appeal to the unspoken tactics of the thrifty customer with a self-depreciating humour that demonstrates more gumption you would give them credit for.

So have Dixon’s Done a Ratner? Well for a start, most Selfridges shoppers wouldn’t go into Dixons if they were giving out free mini goats cheese bruschettas with every purchase. This is more likely an attempt to hoover up some of ebay’s customers. And for me, Dixons is still plainly a horrible shop, but at least now I know they have a sense of humour.

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