Posts Tagged ‘Brands’

Horsemeat scandal highlights purpose of brands

by Alex Benady

One of the fascinating aspects of the current horsemeat-in-your-lasagne scandal is that it takes us back to the original purpose of brands. With echoes of the banking crisis, it has tarnished trust in brands that has taken nearly a century to build. It’s yet another blow to the reputation of ‘business’ generally.

In recent decades, society has viewed brands primarily as vehicles for personal expression. They have been used by consumers to make statements about themselves, the kind of people they are, their aspirations and limitations.

But the first fmcg brands emerged in the Victorian era, not to express lifestyle choices, but to reassure consumers about the provenance of their foodstuffs. (more…)

What you save in taxes you pay for in brand value

by Alex Benady

Yesterday Amazon, Google and Starbucks, three jolly giants of modern American capitalism were up in front of the Public Accounts Committee accused of short-changing the British tax payer by shifting profits out of the UK to lower tax regimes.

You cant help feeling that what they may have saved in tax, they could lose in brand value.

Starbucks was said to have paid no corporation or income tax in Britain in the past three years and had paid only 8.6 million pounds tax since 1998 on sales of 3.1 billion pounds.

Google had £2.5 billion of sales in the UK last year, but still managed to report a loss in 2011 and 2010, paying tax of just £3.4m in 2011. Amazon meanwhile paid only £1m tax last year on sales of between $5.3 and $7.2 billion.

Consumer disappointment will be all the sharper because these firms were supposed to represent the new capitalism. They are thoroughly modern businesses with positive social missions at their heart. Starbucks wanted to liberate us from the strictures of home/work and bad coffee. Amazon wanted to help us by giving us huge consumer choice and convenience at rock bottom prices. And most ambitious of all, Google wanted to give everyone access to all human knowledge in seconds.

So somehow we expected better of them. Listening to conversations in restaurants and pubs over the past twenty four hours, people are cIearly taken aback by the gap between the image and reality. There seems to be a real anger that these companies which have embedded themselves so deeply in the fabric our everyday lives could turn out to be such poor corporate citizens. There is talk of boycotts and buy British campaigns and consumers punishing them generally.

They have put themselves in the same category as bankers: people who profess to be helping us but who are perceived to be ripping us off. They will almost certainly be punished by lower sales and more intrusive legislation. Their brands are now tarnished. And the damage isn’t confined to them. They have contributed to the general decline in trust in business

What is particularly baffling is that companies continue to think they can get away with such dubious behaviour. Surely it can’t come as a surprise to them that business is under scrutiny like never before? Have they not heard of social media? Are they not aware that news easily leaps national boundaries? Society is a legitimate stakeholder in all large enterprises these days and sees no reason why it shouldn’t hold them accountable for not only the legality but the morality of their actions.

Clearly part of the problem is a byzantine tax system that effectively allows people and organizations with complex financial affairs to decide for themselves what tax they should pay.

But the real issue is that some businesses are still only paying lip service to the concept of social responsibility. In many companies the marketing people are treated a bit like children. They are allowed to do the soft stuff like ‘brand’ and consumer relationships. But the grown ups in finance and tax planning do all the hard work that makes the business profitable.

Maybe someone somewhere in thse companies is comparing the gains through tax avoidance with the losses in brand value. Maybe they have concluded that bad behaviour is worth it.

It is quite clearly not enough that companies’ should simply claim a higher purpose as part of their business philosophy. Perhaps people like Paul Polman of Unilever are right when they say that such thinking needs to be more than an intent. Maybe companies should have their higher purpose written into their articles of incorporation.

Punks pursued propaganda power of packaging

by adamsweeney

Ever feel you've been cheated?

If I were a proper hard-edged punk Leftie (instead of a soft, champagne-slurping one), I’d say that a brand design agency like us makes packaging – the outer shell, the dressing up of a product which is otherwise totally ordinary; blinding consumers with ever-more swanky executions, dazzling them into filling trolleys with stuff that looks nice because it looks nice.

But about thirty years ago, it was precisely these exponents of an anti-commercial stance who mounted a more eloquent defence of packaging than any industry apologist blogger could.

Last weekend, I caught a documentary about the rise of post-punk, featuring anti-Royal pinup and butter salesman Johnny Rotten. He was about his follow-up to the burnt-out Pistols – Public Image Ltd (aka PiL). Their album smashed into territory wholly unexpected by critics and fans alike with a sound that was futuristic, layered, even – God forbid – tranquil.

But what made as much of an impression on tune-buying public was that this record came not in a cardboard sleeve with art-school upstart graphics; not in a throwaway sleeve, as had become the fashion for every punk band of the time; but in a metal canister. As if it were a film or, to use Mr. Rotten’s humble description, ‘a time capsule from the future, or the past’.

The packaging was as much the product as the product itself. PiL had twigged that the record, the physical record, was the tangible form of everything they stood for. Its effortless statement - ‘this is not just another record’.

Nor was it a one-off. One of the first albums to be put out by the central label Factory Records was the Durutti Column’s first album. Apart from being a damn fine album, the sleeve was coated in sandpaper - so that playing DC’s fierce new wave music would, figuratively and literally, ‘wipe away’ your other music. A witty embodiment of their ethos.

Bands with something to say have continued this tradition. Post-hardcore band Shellac delivered their industrial-strength guitar noise album ‘At Action Park’ in corrugated cardboard; Spiritualised’s chemically-inspired sound arrives in clinical blister packaging; and System of a Down’s CD-R mimic ‘Steal This Album!‘ simply begs to be half-inched.

Packaging can grab attention for your product in a way no other channel can – and if well done, with enough balls, it can even be more than a continuation of what your brand stands for. It can set the agenda, communicate and even amplify your values. Turns out that the anti-commercial punks twigged this before plenty of the big brands.

Ever get the feeling you’d been cheated?


Going Back is the New Forward

by Tom Hearn

Have you seen the new Yellow Pages ad – excuse me, the new Yell ad – that follows a man looking for an old trance mix by ‘Day V. Lately’.  (Didn’t he play with Fur Q?) We see him visit numerous record shops and meet disappointment at every turn. He returns home dejected when his helpful teenage daughter hands him her Smartphone with a Yell App. Within moments he’s found what he’s been looking for. The last thing he needs to do is leave his name. Day V. Lately.

Even if you haven’t seen it, it should sound familiar because it’s the modern version of ‘J.R. Hartley’ the 1980’s Yellow Pages classic that was so successful they even released two books by the fictitious author. In fairness there are changes – for instance its seems that dads no longer look like kindly old gents; they look like old junkies.

But the Yell ad is just one of a spate of recent TV commercials that hark back to the past in a very deliberate and self conscious manner. A number of brands have been using vintage footage, re-purposing old films (think EDF Energy) and in some cases re-telling old stories for a new generation. In an industry that usually places a premium on novelty and currency you have to wonder why are brands leveraging nostalgia in this way? Is it to pull at our heart strings and make us feel all warm and fuzzy towards them? Is it to save money, or to display their green credentials?  And more importantly, is it successful?

As I say, Yell isn’t the only brand that’s doing it. Last year Fairy Liquid launched an advert that used historical footage to persuade us that Fairy’s cleaning power is as good today as it’s always been, with the reassuring tones of Nanette Newman, the recognised face of Fairy, who informed us that it even goes 50% further, so you hardly ever have to buy it.

This served to support the launch of a retro pack as well as help the brand celebrate its 50th Anniversary. So having a nostalgic tone seems to logically fit the strategy and reassert the brand as the leader of the category for another 50 years.

Another household brand, Tetley, has used a similar tack. It has looked back in order to go forward by reinstating their old cartoon characters to star in two subsequent adverts that allows the brand to showcase how it has progressed with new blends, like Redbush and Green Tea, whilst also demonstrating that the brand is still better than the competition.

And you must remember the epic Hovis advert? Running for 122 seconds to mark each year that it was celebrating, it harked back to the original 1973 ‘Biker’ advert shot by Ridley Scott that cleverly follows a young boy through momentous events of the past. Virgin Atlantic and Sainsbury’s have also both used similar story telling to celebrate their respective anniversaries too. So it appears that brand heritage and length of service are motivating to their customer base, offering us reassurance in these troubled times.

The other tack being depolyed is where branda are literally recycling an old advert. Halls Soothers, Milky Way and Aquafresh have all done it recently. About the only thing that has been changed is the end frame.

For these brands it appears that they are cloaking cost saving by simply re-hashing the old in the absence of the new. It smacks of the marketing department realising that their budget has been slashed in the economic downturn. So in order to maintain share of voice, and avoid costly production costs, have dug into their archives to find a commercial that will remind people to keep buying their products.

Personally, I have no problem with this. I’ve always been amazed that marketers are prepared to splash out hundreds of thousands of pounds on film that is used for less than a year before consigning it to the archives, never to see the light of day again.

Perhaps, just like consumers, marketers are learning that it is irresponsible to use things a couple of times and then dump them. It’s true of clothes, furniture, electrical goods and now ‘advertising collateral’. Second-hand has been re-branded as ‘vintage’ and as we know vintage is in.

But nostalgia is by no means a new theme. Brands have often relied on imparting heritage stories in times of economic trouble. It’s like they are presenting themselves as the trusted companion to see you through the hard times, so that when you become more price sensitive, their brand will be the one that you retain.

Welcome to London. Sorry, Barclays London.

by Vicky Bullen

When I first heard of the new ‘cycle super highways’ that run into central London from the suburbs, my first reaction was to compare and contrast the achievements of our newt loving former mayor Ken Livingstone with those of the incumbent Boris Johnson.

In the red corner we have Ken. A bit foul-mouthed, a bit bossy. But he introduced the first major stand against the hegemony of the automobile by any major city in the world: The Congestion Charge. It needed sharp political instincts to bulldoze it through, a commitment of hundreds of millions of pounds in new technology and the willingness to upset large swathes of the electorate.

There was another world first in the Oyster card, a ground-breaking automated transport ticket with the potential to become an electronic currency holder. (more…)

Emotional product placement beats warning symbols

by Tom Pinnock
Spot the product placement

Spot the product placement

I don’t know about you but I’ve always felt that there is something sneaky about product placement. Ads declare themselves. They say ‘I am trying to sell you something’ and the viewer is able decode, delete and generally deal with the message in whatever way they see fit.

The problem with product placement however is that it doesn’t declare itself. It pretends to be something else. It says “I’m an innocent prop in this film/tv programme/news broadcast and I have no commercial agenda. Dramatic resonance is all I seek.” Which of course is just not true.

TV is a passive medium. I for one watch to disengage with the world and engage with what is being screened. I really don’t want to have to watch television with my bullshit detectors on full-power the whole time, trying to decode the commercial agenda of every artefact that appears on screen.


I was a Gatwick brand vandal

by Christian Barnett
Ultra competitive Gatwick

Ultra competitive Gatwick

What can a duty-free shopping mall tell us about the role of brands on-line? Last week I found out. A few dead minutes at an airport turned into an object lesson in the ways that brands work and the benefits they bring to both brand owners and consumers.

I was waiting at Gatwick for a flight to Rome when I realised that I needed an adapter for my phone charger. A couple of years ago they were giving them away free, so I reckoned now I would have to pay between two and three pounds.

I happened to be standing outside Dixon’s, right next to the travel goods carousel .Hurrah, the basic UK-to-European single adapter was on sale. But much to my annoyance the price was about £6.50 – more than twice the price I had in mind. (more…)

Ryan unfair?

by Alex Ririe

Ryanair has announced plans to make passengers carry their own luggage on to its planes. This is on top of the move to charge for using onboard toilets and banishing airport check-ins from October 2009.

Surely this is another ridiculous story to get maximum PR coverage? It’s fairly obvious that Michael O’Leary subscribes to the ‘any news is good news’ school of thinking. But what if this is for real? At what point does ‘cheap and cheerful’ become ‘cheap and nasty’?


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