I realised I was not
getting out enough when the boo.com collapse hit the press. I
confess that I had completely forgotten about boo.com; worse,
I wasn’t sure I had actually ever noticed its existence.
Admittedly I can see that I was not the target market boo was
aiming at, but even so, I felt guilty that an operation
spending $1m a week to be seen on the net had missed me so
completely. Then I asked a few chums, and they were almost as
bemused as me, so I didn’t feel so bad.
However, the boo
demise is being widely touted by the traditional press and
city pundits as evidence of the end of the internet, so boo
has done more harm to its net peers after its demise than any
good it did to the image of online retailing during its brief
and torpid existence. At least LastMinute.com has been
thundering good value for money for the entire duration of the
white knuckle ride. It seems boo.com was mostly known to an
inner circle of net luvvies and ponytails, and almost rejoiced
in this obscurity, having confused the cachet of designer
closing exclusivity with something that might usefully be
emulated by a fancy electronic shop. Thus one of the most
interesting questions to ask is just who was helping Boo spend
its money so effectively..? Despite tales of lavish executive
travel budgets, no one can get through shareholder funds
faster and more conclusively than an advertising agency on a
mission to spend. No One.
It’s nice clean
spending too. It doesn’t fill warehouses with stocks of
goods that you can’t sell and get dusty – and then have to
be counted every year with the audit. It doesn’t fill up
offices with people who want employee’s rights and the rest.
And if you are really clever and creative, all this
advertising doesn’t even cause the phone ring or emails to
be sent if you manage to hide your client’s identity
properly. The only downside is that you might occasionally be
obliged to attend an award ceremony or two at the Grosvenor
House, since a vast amount of specious advertising with
obscure messages that say nothing about anything is almost
certain to be on some advertising awards shortlist somewhere
Yes indeedy. Spending
money (preferably other peoples’) on advertising is easily
the most wonderfully quick, clean and simple way of getting
rid of vast wodges of cash.
One of the marketing
trade magazines attempted to get Boo’s various advertising
agencies to spill the beans on what they were owed. Strangely,
most of them wanted to remain very low profile and avoid
having their avarice and hubris measured in public. One agency
in the frame is BMP DDB Needham, known for short in the trade
as just “BMP”. One might imagine that they were hired for
having the silliest name in the business, buy such things
frequent occur in ad land as the result of the numerous
mergers, takeovers and alliances that crop up.
A cynical chap might suspect that this is to keep the
target moving so that high profile disasters don’t haunt
them for too long, since in a business that all about image
and presentation, you are only as good as your most recently
But at the end of the
day, BMP were doing what they were told, and one must assume
that their valued client, boo.com, signed off on the
creativity and the spending.
So the overall reasons
for boo’s demise are probably the result of the fundamental
daftness of the notion. No one has successfully sold fashion
by mail order to the sector targeted by boo. The type of mail
order clothing that sells is generally of the – err, how can
I say this politely..? – “prescription” and “unusual
size” variety. Amazon sells books and CDs on line easily
enough because there is no fitting or colour issue, and
probably very little by way of returns (assuming they sent the
right one in the first place).
If it was possible to
get the punters to measurements accurately, I would have
thought that the best net proposition would be to have a room
of garment makers (in a low labour cost area) knock up
something that was designer and customised, and not need to
actually stock a stitch. And thus make the waiting for "customwear"
a feature, rather than try and compete for off-the-shelf
timings and widely published prices.
So is the serial
mismanagement of boo.com symptomatic of anything more than the
naivety of its founders, the eagerness of the advertising
industry to spend other people’s cash for them, and the old
fashion stupidity of its backers..? Probably not, but that’s
not likely to prevent the city scribblers from attempting to
declare internetmania dead to help drive even the worthy stock
prices right down – before they sneak back in at the bottom
of the market, and make another killing for themselves.
In reality, there are
still lots of good ideas out there for internet treatment –
but not many of them are going to be based on the notion of
taking a simple high street concept (a clothes shop) and just
trying to replicate it (expensively) as an electronic
catalogue. Maybe we should rejoice that a bit of discernment
is likely to return to the market, and dotcoms with daft
concepts and tired “trophy management” boards are no
longer automatically going to take all the money from good
concepts and unknown management teams with fresh ideas.