Warburtons, the Lancashire-based baker, is one of an increasing number of regional “superbrands” looking to move beyond their heartland into new territories. Warburtons has put its &£5m media account up for pitch and is seeking to develop a nationwide strategy amid plans to bolster production in the South and Wales (MW last week).
Meanwhile, Bradford snack manufacturer Seabrook Crisps has tasked Propaganda to create its first ad campaign as it looks to increase distribution nationally. Both are hoping to cut through in a saturated UK market dominated by own-label products and global brands.
Seabrook has attained near-cult status across much of the North, while Warburtons is a top bread seller in the region. Yet, as Interbrand executive director Graham Hales points out, success is far from guaranteed. “If you are successful in one geographical area it can be easy to assume that success will be replicated elsewhere, but it’s a dangerous assumption to make,” he says.
“Certainly, if it works in one place it can work elsewhere, but you need your brand to feel familiar for that to happen,” he adds. “If that familiarity is not there then marketers need to go back to the beginning of the product’s story.”
He points to Morrisons, which when it bought rival supermarket chain Safeway simply “changed the fascias and failed to tell the brand story”, alienating consumers. “It was operationally led,” says Hales. “Consequently, Morrisons has suffered from a lack of familiarity and hence people had the wrong perception of it: many felt Morrisons was a move downwards rather than upwards.”
Not the safest way
Propaganda managing director Mike Phillipson is more damning of Morrisons’ strategy, saying strong regional brands must make an effort to “fit in” when charting new territories. “The lesson from Morrisons is that southerners are just as parochial as northerners, and they take exception to people coming in and being self delusional, brash and arrogant,” adding that if Waitrose were to adopt similar tactics when pushing its own brand further north, it would be met with similar short shrift: “It’s like a village mentality where outsiders have to fit in with the locals when they first move in.”
Seabrook, he says, will be relying on “Northern values, both nostalgic and traditional” to sell itself in the South. “There is no reason why the brand should not be appreciated on a national level,” says Phillipson, and he points to the success of John Smith’s bitter, which traded on its regional roots and heritage to make it a national brand.
Yet others, such as AG Barr-owned Irn Bru, struggle to make a mark nationally despite many assaults and millions of pounds spent on marketing. Irn Bru is consistently in the UK’s top ten soft drink brands but sells few units outside Scotland even though it does have a national presence.
Warburtons must be hoping that its marketing appeals to all, rather than just ex-pats – hard to do, says Hales, with such an everyday product. “It is a staple, rather than an expressive or indulgent product, and it is therefore harder to create a dynamic with consumers,” he warns.
But there is some comfort in Hales’ prediction that shoppers are increasingly looking for warmth, individuality and regionality in a world dominated by global brands.