PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

The end of the beginning..?
August 2000

I realised I was not getting out enough when the collapse hit the press. I confess that I had completely forgotten about; 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 has been thundering good value for money for the entire duration of the white knuckle ride. It seems 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 or other.

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 avoided disaster.

But at the end of the day, BMP were doing what they were told, and one must assume that their valued client,, 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 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.