The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Subscribing To Foolishness …

Our industry loves to follow trends.



Digital transformation.


And the current fave – subscription services.

Each one promising better results than what went before – and yet they often leave a trail of destruction in its wake.

Part of this is because some companies do it simply to look like they are not being left behind, regardless of the fact the business situation they are in means it is either inaaprioate or irrelevant. And part of it is because the impact being promised by the agencies and consultancies is more fiction than a career write-up on Linkedin.

Subscription models are just another example in a long line of examples.

We are seeing companies jump on the subscription model as if it’s a guarantee of unbelievable success.

That by simply offering your product or service at a small monthly fee, untold riches will be raining down on you.

It isn’t.

For a start you need a quality product that fulfils a continuous need – real or perceived.

NIKE’s brilliant Adventure Club is a brilliant example of this.

It satisfies a real need with a quality product that makes sense to parents and appeals to kids.

Disney+ is another.

Both of those are examples of companies who know their audience, know their business and know how to offer a service that has real value to their customers emotionally and culturally.

Then there’s companies like Prisma.

Remember them?

They’re the company who was momentarily popular with it’s smartphone photo filtering app.

Well today, they’re trying to charge £65 a year to use their ‘service’.



Now I appreciate that works out to be only £1+ a week … people are taking endless amounts of photos each and every day … but while that might all sound a perfect justification for a consultant to sell a subscription service, it fails on so many of the basics.

Their plan shows no understanding of who they are talking to.

Nor any understanding of the actual business they are in.

And don’t get me started on the lack of understanding what problem they’re solving or the lack of evolution their product offers.

It is a perfect example of bandwagon jumping.

A desperate, last-chance-saloon act to try and stay alive.

A business model based on hope rather than actual strategy.

Someone sold them this.

I don’t know if it was someone internally or external, but this one-size-fits all, white label productising approach to business is killing business.

Yes there may be common issues.

Yes there may be common considerations.

But thinking you can just plug and play a solution because it may have worked for someone else is almost criminal.

And yet many companies don’t want to hear truth.

They don’t want to listen to what their real problem is.

They don’t want to accept people only have a limited amount of cash to spend on these things.

Instead, they happily pay exorbitant amounts to outsource their responsibility for a solution that looks like everyone else’s solution.

As with so many of these ‘business approach trends’, the real winners are those who are the most adept at selling the problem rather than the solution. The organisations who ‘package approaches’ that allow the C-Suite to feel they’re doing something, even though they have been designed to substantially drive the ‘sellers’ growth. ‘Approaches’ that will be sold almost identically to the next client, regardless of their industry or situation.

And the market thinks this is a good thing.

Selling bandaids at ridiculously high prices.

And while PRISMA may have had no other option left to them than to jump on the subscription model bandwagon, you can almost guarantee this approach won’t work for them … because their problem isn’t really price, their problem is they’re not a business.

21 Comments so far
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Apart from the odd slip, you’ve been writing some excellent posts this year. This is another. Marketing has always loved a good buzzword but now it appears they chase that rather than anything else. As if it’s a safety blanket they can use to explain why their results weren’t as expected. Ignoring they have erased all the elements that could have helped drive a distinctive and differentiated proposition to their audiences. Follow the leader has become the defacto strategy for mediocrity.

Comment by Pete

Ha … yes, that’s a good point.

It’s the updated version of saying, “but we did what the research said” … while conveniently ignoring the everything from their research being bad, their product being average, their audience understanding being superficial, their messaging being insipid and their competition being smart.

Comment by Rob

And prisma are insane. Love your last sentence.

Comment by Pete

Someone got rich off it. I bet it wasn’t prisma.

Comment by Bazza

bet the fucking consultant pricks have them on a 3 year retainer subscription that will cost them more than they ever fucking made.

Comment by andy@cynic

What I have found interesting is how many companies think all they have to do to be successful selling direct is to have some superficial difference to the competition. Colour is featuring heavily. Or a random name. And now subscription services. But rarely the actual product.

The Dollar Shave Club were successful because they were first and built a cult out of the brand. The 1000 followers have adopted a supermarket own brand approach of trying to be similar while pricing to be cheaper.

As you have said before, that is not building a brand but a commoditized product. It doesn’t have to be that way. As you also write, Nike adventure club is a brilliant idea. But for every one of those, there’s hundreds of others who are doomed to fail because their model is hope not commercial strategy.

Prisma was a fun app for a week. My life is not worse for not using it.

Comment by George

Dollar shave was excellent. But like most post-rationalisation, they chose to copy the obvious bits without understanding or respecting the nuanced elements. Flooding the market with inferior choice and ultimately harming their entire category, not just themselves.

Funny how so many follow success thinking it is a safer path to their own success and yet screw themselves by treating it as a shortcut rather than lessons.

Comment by Rob

If you’re solving a problem for a specific audience with a quality solution, chances are you’ll do ok. Needs to be a big enough or repetitive enough problem but it can work.

What I see is a lot of companies and consultants forgetting about those parts and placing all the success on the model. When that happens the sub model is just a pyramid scheme with better PR.

Comment by Bazza

Jesus, that’s harsh. And yet I see your point. Ha.

Comment by Rob

But fair.

Comment by Bazza

The lure of repetitive cashflow can rationalise almost anything,

Comment by John

I enjoyed reading this Robert. Your last paragraph neatly surmises the issue the app owners have moving forward.

Comment by Lee Hill

I believe the business term for this situation is “idiots.”

Comment by Bazza

Great post Rob.
And, to highlight why the subscription model is not an easy fix or indeed a cash cow for every company, even Nike has now decided to discontinue their Adventure Club.

Comment by Steve

As you can tell, I wrote this post before they did that and I have to admit, I think it is both sad and foolish. I really think it was a great idea that maybe needed a little more time to thrive. But this is also the attitude that so many companies are adopting. Trying stuff but not giving it the time or the support to actually explore if it can work.

They’re all turning into modern record companies. If it doesn’t strike immediately it’s out … which means all the bands that made music a cultural force would not have a chance today. Resulting in the post I wrote yesterday.

Comment by Rob

Grandpa comment.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Was this the thought process that led you to reject the subscription model for this blog?

Comment by John

I’m just a generous guy … and it has nothing to do with the fact it would be even less successful than Prisma.

Comment by Rob

generous in every way except parting with your fucking cash.

Comment by andy@cynic

the only twat i can imagine subscribing to that shit is you campbell so if you wont do it, its even more fucked.

Comment by andy@cynic

The ultimate damnation.

Comment by Bazza

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