This article also appeared in Romanian on www.121.ro.
My son Luca is nine years old and he’s obsessed by the supermarket chain Mega Image. If you ask him “What would you like to do today?” his face lights up and he says the same thing, time and time again: “Go to Mega Image!”.
When we get to one of the outlets of the rapidly expanding chain of small supermarkets that are dotted around Bucharest, Luca gets to work: he patiently waits by a check-out counter until there is a pause between customers and then he asks innocently “do you have any cards that the other customers don’t want?” They are unable to refuse his charms.Luca completed his collection of tropical fish cards about a week ago — and getting the final card took days of frantic trawling round the shops — but he still wants to go to the shop as these cards are a new form of currency for kids under ten in Bucharest schools (similar to the way that tobacco is a currency in prisons).
Luca goes to school in the centre of Bucharest and when I picked him up the other day there was a girl on the street who had her album (the one the cards slot into) spread out on the pavement, and there was a small crowd of friends gathered rounds — swapping cards.
Whenever I take him to school in the morning the trading begins as soon as we step into the classroom; they have about ten minutes to find out who has what and who’s willing to trade. Luca has built up a big stash of cards so he can make good deals; five Great White Sharks for a Portuguese Man O’ War (the most dangerous fish in the Mediterranean), and he tells me who’s an easy touch and who won’t swap anything. It’s complicated.
Sometimes I take up guard duty at the door to watch out for the teacher. She’s fed up to the back teeth of the Mega Image cards and if she sees any in the classroom she will confiscate them. Last week she searched their bags and took Luca’s stash of 110 card (luckily he got them back at the end of the day). All but two of the kids in his class are collecting these cards, which means their parents, and their parents friends, are also involved. Everyone I know seems to have a story about who they give their cards to (and they all seem to shop at Mega Image).
I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a phenomenally successful marketing campaign and, much as I hate the way supermarkets destroy local shops, I take my hat off to the people at Mega Image. I suspect they have all of Bucharest’s under-tens enthralled by this collection, and what better way is there to ensure that parents all over the city go trooping into the Belgian owned franchise?
If you compare this campaign to what the other supermarkets do in terms of marketing and advertising it’s clear that Mega Image have the others “on the run”. The only other campaign that I can recall is a stupid image of a boxer punching something with the lame message that Carrefour has the best prices. Then there is the chain store REAL which has quite a catchy slogan — “fara egal” (without equal) and that seems to have registered with the kids. As for the others — Cora, Kaufland and the like, I have never seen an ad or promotion that has had the slightest effect on me.
Much as I hate praising a supermarket chain, I feel compelled to praise Mega Image for their expansion plan of setting up small shops rather than vast aircraft hangers. It’s encouraging to see that the Mega Image model — small shops on main roads in the city centre — is spreading all over the city and the old out-of-town-warehouse model is fading. I really hope that people give up shopping in those vast suburban sheds and they start closing down. Hopefully they have no place in the cities of the future — not only do they destroy local shops but they are bad for the environment as shoppers can only reach them by car.
I also have a daughter — Lara — who is 12 years old. Nobody in her class would be seen dead with a Mega Image fish card; they are for the small kids. For Lara’s age group these cards are beneath contempt, but she still gets dragged into Mega Image every week by her obsessed younger brother.
(Post Script — in case you’re wondering if this is a “paid article” I can assure you that I have never had any contact with anyone at Mega Image.)