Talking shop: Umbrella branding

As Heinz embarks on a £5m campaign to push the brand over beans, we took the case for umbrella branding to leading marketers. It is an issue that divides the industry.


Nicholas McKellow, Account executive, All for Sports

I’ve always had my favourite brands, so when I go shopping I do look for these as my first choice. I suppose that I hold these brands in high regard, so if I see they have launched something new, I am willing to try that out in the belief that it will be of the same high quality as the main brand.

When I see adverts like the Heinz one, it reminds me that I can get the same flavour that I get from ketchup in their tinned foods or salad cream. It grabs my attention and the motto then stays in my head. It also reaffirms my own personal tastes.

However, it doesn’t always work. I remember when Wispa became Dairy Milk Bubbly and lost all its clout. It took a huge Facebook campaign to get Cadbury to change its mind and bring back Wispa.

Overall, though, I think most famous brands rely on their corporate brands to build the sort of consumer trust that I have for selected brands. If you have a positive experience, you’re likely to be a repeat customer. If one corporate logo can open a consumer’s eyes to a vast array of products, then that’s great.

However, this could backfire if one of these experiences goes wrong. It’s worth remembering that most consumers think of relationships in a “once bitten, twice shy” kind of mentality so you should beware of stinging them in any way.


Heinz has identified eight key “platforms” which capture those life experiences where people recognise that a particular food experience “has to be Heinz”.

Jepson says the company’s brand heritage helps to make the platforms and multiproduct approach something that consumers want to relate to. He says: “Heinz’s relationship with customers is built on the trust of over 100 years of service.”

He argues that no other food brand in the country can claim such a personal connection with the British people or such a wide range of products. Jepson adds that the benefit of such an approach is it goes beyond the traditional trade promotion work that some of its rivals rely on.


He says the multibrand push is set to continue for quite some time, as it not only serves the brand strategy but also helps the business set its own terms for marketing campaigns rather than relying on retailers to push individual brands.

Jepson sums up: “By focusing on our umbrella brand, we are able to give all of our products central focus on advertising and not rely on trade promotions in stores. It allows us to demonstrate the credentials of all our core brands.”

Anti-umbrella branding


Argument: Umbrella branding is a case of corporate egos getting too big

Not everyone agrees that umbrella branding is the way to go. Some suggest that new brands need to take their time to break into the market rather than simply rely on their parent brand’s name to justify their existence. They claim that umbrella branding means weak variants limp on for longer than necessary; they might be poor ideas but they are artificially supported by the brand “halo”.

This could be seen when Cadbury introduced an umbrella branding strategy for its Dairy Milk range, taking existing brands such as Caramel and Whole Nut under the main name as sub-brands in 2003. While the sub-brands grew to 15 by 2006, the majority, such as Mint Chips and Orange Chips, were eventually discontinued, while Wispa, which had been phased out, has returned to the market.

Simon Myers, chief executive of brand consultancy Figtree, goes as far as to argue that while umbrella branding can influence consumer behaviour, it can also confuse them. He says the way that umbrella marketing is presented can leave the consumer feeling uncertain over what is being sold to them, leading them to commit “brand adultery”.

He says: “Corporations often want their logo very visible, getting in consumers’ faces to massage their egos. Sometimes this can be a benefit. However, the majority of times, marketers are having to fight over whether a campaign should focus on the product or the brand credentials, and by the end both are in front of consumers’ eyes.

“This creates a situation where consumers are then faced with a conundrum over where their affinity should lie – with the master brand, the sub-brand or just the product. The result becomes brand adultery; the consumer has too much to love with all the messages grappling for their attention. In the worst case scenario, they’ll end up avoiding the brand all together.”

This is something that some marketers are more conscious of than others. Despite having large parent companies behind them, these brands desire an identity of their own. Microsoft’s Xbox console, for example, faces tough competition. However, the company prefers to focus on the Xbox 360 brand than put heavy emphasis on owner Microsoft.

Microsoft’s UK Xbox marketing director, Stephen McGill, says: “Just being part of Microsoft isn’t sufficient for us. We want the Xbox brand to stand out in its own right. What we emphasise in ads is not that we are a Microsoft games console, but a console that can be relied on for innovation and solid research and development.”

Coca-Cola takes a similar approach to its marketing. It does not adopt one consistent strategy but picks and chooses the correct approach for each marketing initiative. It prefers to run umbrella campaigns on specific brand extensions and let its other brands be promoted alone.

Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland marketing director Cathryn Sleight explains: “Our non-alcoholic drinks cater for every occasion and taste, which means we have a wide range of drinks for different markets, which don’t necessarily have much in common. There is not much natural cross-over. So it makes commercial sense for us to focus our efforts largely on our individual brands and leverage our assets where there are opportunities to do so.”

A source from Central Office of Information (COI), the UK’s biggest advertiser, agrees that umbrella branding does not always work in the public sector. He reveals: “From past experience, I’ve seen multiple brands on materials confuse audiences and leave them uncertain over who the contact should be with. It’s something everyone needs to challenge and it’s why we’ve launched our brand and brand identity framework.”

In order to avoid this, some brands have taken an altogether different approach. In the broadcasting world, UKTV has relaunched all nine of its channels and introduced an additional one, scrapping its UKTV prefix and giving each a new identity instead (see case study, below).

Figtree’s Myers cautions: “You have to weigh up if umbrella marketing will meet your brand ambitions and the customer needs. You shouldn’t make customers choose who to forge a relationship with – after all two’s company but three’s a crowd.”


Undertaking such a large-scale rebrand required significant investment in research and strategy. The broadcaster spoke to almost 4,000 people and tested about 100 different concepts that were developed in-house before choosing its final ten new brand names. Red Bee Media then helped to build the strategies for these new brands, with UKTV Food completing the process when it became Good Food in June.

Lucas claims that moving away from umbrella branding has been a success for UKTV, taking its share of the total broadcast market to the same as terrestrial TV channel Five’s (4.69%). Its ten channels are now watched by up to 36.5 million viewers every month. Similar efforts have now been made online, where the channels have separate websites from the main UKTV site and are portals for the specific content the TV channels are aimed at.

Lucas summarises: “Consumers know that if they want a dose of a certain type of programming, our channels are right for them. This was harder to be aware of under the UKTV umbrella, but we are now on people’s radars unprompted, which can only help us as we look to sell more inventory.”

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