THE NAME DROPPERS

The globalisation of brands is more than just a name-swopping exercise – it helps products to bestow more consistent values. The danger comes when the quest for tidiness defies business logic.

If brand owners have their way there will be no corner of a foreign field forever called Andrex, Spillers, Access or any one of a growing number of other well-loved brand names.

Despite sentimentality in local markets about the demise of these brands, which have been nurtured over the years through a combination of careful handling and advertising spend, the twin bridgeheads of a global marketing strategy – uniformity and consistency – are here to stay.

Renegade brands are being swept away in a gigantic tidying-up exercise because they do not fit into a neat and tidy corporate structure. But the new wave of big brand clean-ups is about more than name changes or swopping one name for another – it underlines the increasing globalisation of brands.

The latest casualty is Spillers, which is dropping its name from its branded dogfoods and rolling out the Winalot name as an umbrella brand across Europe. Spillers is tight-lipped about its plans but it is expected that Spillers Prime, for example, will become Prime from Winalot.

The Spillers name may also disappear from catfoods to be replaced by Felix, which already has a strong presence across Continental Europe. This is likely to be at the expense of Arthur’s, which is strong in the UK, a contender in Germany, but unheard of elsewhere.

The timing of the move comes as Spillers parent Dalgety announces plans to spend 67m in the next two years reorganising its petfood interests. This is a direct result of its 440m purchase of Quaker European Petfoods last February.

Interbrand chairman John Murphy says: “It is a common issue for companies going through acquisitions. You have to decide which [brands] will stay and which will go.”

Spillers refuses to reveal its full plans. An insider says this is because “there is still quite a lot of the European dimension to be resolved”. But Spillers’ has already cut its advertising agency roster. Bates Dorland was last week awarded the Prime account, previously with Ogilvy & Mather and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe which handled new product development. BMP DDB Needham continues to handle Felix.

Spillers spokeswoman Mary McKendry says: “Winalot is a brand we will be looking at very closely in the future and Felix will be our number one focus in catfood. We are refocusing our efforts on Winalot and putting money behind it. Winalot is not used on the Continent but [the name] will have the ability to travel.”

The reason for dropping the Spillers name and concentrating on two core names for dogfood and catfood is simple – competition. Spillers is not only facing increasing competition from own-label products but also rival brands, including Pedigree Chum. A source says: “They have to unite behind one brand to take on the might of Pedigree, which has a strong identity throughout Europe.”

Interbrand’s Murphy says another reason for the recent spate of proposed changes is that “international brand owners want international brand portfolios, rather than a patchwork quilt of local brands in local markets. It makes more sense from the managerial point of view”.

Branding specialist CLK’s deputy managing director Richard Zambuni says: “The reason an increasing number of multinationals are standardising their brands is quite simple. Apart from sending a consistent worldwide message it also means that they can take greater advantage of growing media opportunities. They can promote one brand, one pack and one positioning across markets.”

This is certainly true of Scott Paper, which has declared its intention to kill off the Andrex name – but not its trademark puppy, dog lovers will be relieved to hear – and replace it globally with Scottex.

The Scottex name is already in use in the US, Continental Europe and Asia and, despite Andrex being the UK’s seventh largest grocery brand, its familiarity does not safeguard its future. While Scott’s UK marketing department concedes that it would be consistent to change the name, Glyn Harper, who was European category leader for toilet tissues at the time of the announcement in May, says that Andrex in the UK “may be a case for an exception”.

But Scott’s chief executive Albert Dunlap dismisses opposition as “sentimental”. And the fact that the European Commission last week initiated an anti-competitive investigation into the $17bn proposed merger between Scott and Kimberly-Clark will not halt the inevitable. Sources say the axing of Andrex is merely on hold because the investigation is the company’s number one priority.

Dunlap may accuse detractors of sentimentality, but does it really matter that much to consumers if a well-loved brand name disappears? Are brand owners taking that much of a risk?

Last year, General Motors announced it was extending the Opel name to cover all Continental Europe, except the UK where Vauxhall has survived because of its robust brand values and its strength in the domestic market. But there is an inevitability, denied by all at Vauxhall, that the name will disappear if General Motors is to reach the logical conclusion of its globalisation plans.

Zambuni thinks the risks are not that great if the change is handled properly. “Clearly, in many instances it is the right thing to do, to divest a company of unnecessary clutter. Consumers weather the change if it is handled well.”

He points to the change of Marathon to Snickers in 1991. In many ways this is less complex than either the Andrex or Spillers situation, but it is a good example of how smoothly the process can be handled. Over a period of months Marathon had Snickers emblazoned across the side of the packaging. Snickers was then moved to the front and Marathon disappeared. This was supported by a TV ad campaign to keep the public informed. The net result was an increase in sales.

Slow, steady phasing in would appear, then, to be the correct approach. “They have to handle the baton-change as cleanly as possible, otherwise they risk fracturing the brand equity,” says Murphy. “You can change names but you cannot change everything at once without being in danger of destroying the brand and then having to rebuild it all over again.”

Philips white goods, which merged with US domestic appliance manufacturer Whirlpool in 1989, dual-branded its products Philips Whirlpool until 1992 when the Philips name was dropped. The rationale was that consumers had enough time to become aware of the Whirlpool brand. According to Whirlpool figures, by 1992 awareness of the brand across Europe has reached 97 per cent of the level previously enjoyed by Philips.

This approach is also likely to be adopted by Scott which is expected to add the Scottex name slowly and progressively highlight it, before eventually dropping Andrex.

Mastercard is in much the same position. In the UK, Access acts as the local brand but is almost unknown in the rest of the world. Mastercard is understood to be in negotiations with the four clearing banks – Midland, Lloyds, NatWest and Bank of Scotland – which own a stake in it, to regain control and rebrand the card as Mastercard.

Murphy says the move is logical: “Access is a strong brand in a small market. Mastercard is a global company. The rationale

for replacing Access becomes overwhelming.”

There is a danger that some of the changes now being contemplated in boardrooms could be for the sake of symmetry, rather than for logical business reasons. What is certain is that Andrex, Spillers and Access will not be the last brand names to be surrendered to the needs of a stronger global one.

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