Breaking up is hard to do: so is replacing a familiar, much-loved brand name with a completely unknown one. Yet the paper products company Scott has decided to kill off one of this country’s biggest (in sales terms) grocery brands, Andrex, and rename it Scott-Ex.
Cleverly, though, Scott has managed to deflect from the tabloid press by promising that the Andrex puppy will not be put down along with the old brand name, but will survive as the Scott-Ex puppy.
Scott believes it has solid business reasons for its decision – Scott-Ex is the brand name by which the product is known in the rest of Europe – but the switch usefully highlights the problems that many brand-owning companies have been wrestling with for the past decade.
As one well-known designer (who would rather not be identified because he might want to work for Scott some day) observes: “Exactly what relevance does it think the Scott name has for toilet paper? It doesn’t mean anything to the ordinary UK consumer.”
Scott would undoubtedly counter this argument by saying that Scott means paper, in the same way that Cadbury means chocolate.
But the real problem is the confusion that still exists in many marketers’ minds over what exactly a corporate brand is, and what it should be used for.
Springett Associates director Rod Springett believes the only reason to use a company’s name on the packaging of its products is if that company is associated – in a positive way – with the brand. So Walkers, for example, belongs on crisp packets, while Kellogg means breakfast cereals, he says. (Springett Associates designed the new corporate identity for Walkers Snack Foods when it changed its name from Walkers Smith’s.) “Anything more than that is of no importance to the consumer,” he adds. “Not many people would pick up a new product and say: ‘I like the idea of that – and it’s from Lever Brothers.'”
Chris Collis, managing director of consultancy Turner Duckworth, believes the idea of corporate branding really started about a decade ago. “It was very much a reaction to the takeover fever of the mid-Eighties. Even now, a lot of corporate branding is still about sending messages to the financial community, not to the users of the brand.”
This sort of corporate branding was imposed by companies’ top management, without any real thought about whether or not it would help sell the products. Boards were not concerned whether the public knew which companies made their favourite products: it was their stockholders they wanted to get the message through to.
Springett says: “In the Eighties, it was flogging companies rather than products.”
The merger fever of the Thatcherite Eighties made companies realise that some of their biggest assets – the brands they owned – had an existence completely independent of them. By linking the company and the product name together, they reasoned that they would be able to add value to the corporate name, which would in turn help if they were involved in a takeover battle.
Allied Lyons (as it was then) used corporate branding when it became a potential takeover target. Television advertising for any product owned by Allied Lyons had the corporate name added to it, almost overnight. Rowntree Mackintosh, while trying unsuccessfully to fight off NestlÃ©’s attentions, very publicly sent baskets of its branded products to MPs. The message was very plainly: “We make these great British brands. Help us keep them British.”
In the confectionery field, Cadbury is often cited as an example of a company that got things spectacularly wrong (in the corporate branding sense) in the Eighties and spectacularly right in the Nineties. At one point, the Cadbury’s name was on an enormous range of products outside what the company now recognises as its core area of competency: chocolate and chocolate confectionery.
The product most people remember is, of course, Smash. There was nothing wrong with the product, they hasten to add, and indeed BMP’s tin Martian ads have gone down in advertising history as one of the greatest long-running campaigns ever. But what value did the Cadbury’s name add to dehydrated mashed potato granules? None.
That, however, is the old-style corporate branding, where little or no attention was paid to the potential effect of linking a brand with the name of the company that made it. Things have changed – for most marketers, anyway. Companies are far more careful about which products they link with which names.
Satkar Gidda is sales and marketing director for Siebert/Head, the packaging designers that created a corporate branding device to go on Cadbury’s confectionery products. He believes the new-style corporate branding is on the increase. “We will see more of it. If the corporate brand is established successfully, then it can make it much easier to introduce new products or range extensions.”
Creating a mass-market brand from scratch in the Nineties is an incredibly expensive proposition. Using established emotional values, associated with a “corporate” brand name, can short-cut much of the time, effort and expense.
Gidda also believes that advertising put behind the corporate brand, as opposed to the individual product brands, can have a beneficial effect. Heinz, he says, is a tremendous example of this, with its concentration on corporate “Heinz-ness”. He warns, though, that “it depends what heritage you have behind you. Those with real heritage can manage it quite well.”
It’s easy to forget there was a time when many companies only made one product, and the brand and the company were synonymous – Colman’s Mustard, Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Bassett’s Licorice Allsorts. It was only later that mass consumer demand led to the creation of much larger companies which eventually became, from the general public’s point of view, faceless and anonymous.
As Clare Fuller, director of consultancy at identity specialists Bamber Forsyth, says: “As companies got bigger and had broader portfolios, they had to weigh up the benefits of unification. But unification involves a certain amount of central control, and central control is not the best thing for certain types of brands.”
In the Eighties, Fuller suggests, “a lot of corporate identity schemes were trying to button everything down” with monolithic corporate identity programmes supported bibles of dos and don’ts. Nineties brand owners have begun to recognise that the need is “to get it mostly right, most of the time”, but to allow marketers local flexibility. A “too controlled, too centred” identity system ignores the realities – companies are complex organisms. The objective, Fuller believes, should be “to establish a powerful brand with a light hand”.
Bamber Forsyth has recently completed a corporate identity project for Whitbread, which aims to strengthen the links between Whitbread, the parent, and Whitbread, the parts.
The first task, Fuller says, was to establish what exactly the Whitbread corporate identity “brings to the party. Is it right for Whitbread to be linked to this business?” The flexibility which the new corporate identity offers includes two different versions of the Whitbread corporate symbol, one for the company and one to go on its beer products.
But this sort of give-and-take flexibility demands that marketing departments and corporate affairs departments, at the very least, talk to one another, and if not work hand-in-hand. Such an integrated approach to the communication of corporate and product brand messages is rare in this country. Boots achieves it through the imposition of strict design management. The Body Shop, too, appears to be a “transparent” organisation, where what you see is quite literally what you get.
In the Nineties, consumers demand more information about the companies which make the products they use than ever before. That means companies will have to look at their corporate branding more carefully.
Lewis Moberly managing director Robert Moberly says that consumers are quite capable of making assumptions about the companies that make the products they buy, without any help from a corporate brand. If a brand does not convey any information about its owners, then consumers fill in the blanks themselves, he argues.
Done properly, corporate branding offers marketers enormous benefits. Done badly, it can cost millions and perhaps even destroy both brand and company.