Juventus, one of Italian football’s most glamorous sides, unveiled their new state-of-the-art stadium last Thursday with a special exhibition match.
Juve could have invited, quite literally, any team in the world to grace this opening night. But it was not Barcelona, Bayern Munich or even Manchester United who stepped proudly onto the new turf of Juventus Stadium in Turin. It was Notts County.
Fresh from a home victory against Bournemouth and with the prospect of entertaining Walsall that coming Saturday, the English League One side had graciously accepted Juventus’ invitation to join them for the opening of their new multimillion-euro ground.
To understand why Juve invited little-known Notts County to co-star in their night of celebration, you have to understand branding. And I don’t mean the short-sighted, cack-handed branding theory that is taught at most business schools and expounded by drearily up-to-date branding consultants.
There are two worlds of brand strategy. The Anglo-Saxon school of branding uses consumer data to develop “aspirational” brand positioning focused on consumers’ desires. I was taught this approach during my training at some of the finest business schools in the world.
On the other hand, there is the older, more authentic school still practised by Latin organisations, which I learned when I started to work a decade ago for some of the great luxury brands of France and Italy. The emphasis on branded differentiation is just as strong, but in Latin countries the brand research begins (and often ends) with historical research.
We don’t respect brand heritage in this country
For a good Italian brand, the first strategic step forward is usually a step back because the answers to the future can inevitably be gleaned from understanding the origins of your brand. And there is genuine disbelief among Latin managers about the lack of attention and respect that British marketers pay to the origins of their brands.
This goes a long way towards explaining why the mighty Juve invited Notts County to share their big moment last week. Back in 1903, the Italian football club had an identity problem. For the first six years of their existence the team played in pink shirts and black shorts, but continual washing of the kit faded the colour so much that it needed replacing.
Juventus asked their only English player, John Savage, if he had any contacts who could supply new shirts in a colour that would better withstand the elements. Savage had a friend in Nottingham, who being a Notts County supporter, shipped out a set of the club’s black and white striped shirts to Turin.
And so Juventus switched colours, became known as the Bianconeri and spent the next century winning trophy after trophy in the team’s now iconic black and white striped kit.
But Turin’s most successful club also remembered its roots. More than a century later, when Juventus opened their new 21st century stadium there was only one name on the shortlist of clubs they wanted to share the historic moment.
Now contrast that with the disrespectful modernity of the British approach to branding. We live in a country where our football stadia are named not for their history but in honour of the highest bidder.
I can think of a hundred better, heritage inspired names for Arsenal’s new ground than The Emirates, but then again so could The Gunners. What price heritage and authenticity? In the case of Arsenal, it was the £100m that Emirates paid the football club to connect its completely inappropriate brand to that of the north London giants.
We don’t respect brand heritage in this country and we rarely use it as a guide for brand strategy. Take the marketing managers at Heinz. They are a perfect example of the inherent weaknesses of the modern Anglo-Saxon approach to brand management.
Heinz bought the famous HP Sauce brand in 2005 and promptly moved its production from the Midlands to a Dutch factory in Elst, where it could be manufactured more economically along with a host of other increasingly commoditised offerings from Heinz. This week Heinz went one step further and altered the recipe, unchanged for a century, to reduce the amount of salt in the sauce to comply with new EU health regulations.
The contrast could not be more stark. Both HP and Juventus were founded within 18 months of each other. One remains in touch with its history and uses that knowledge to guide its future decisions and future success. The other has forgotten its history and makes decisions in opposition to heritage and provenance.
Last week, Notts County held Juve to a well-earned 1-1 draw. But in the bigger game of branding, the Italians are trouncing their English competition.
Mark Ritson is an associate professor of marketing, an award winning columnist, and a consultant to some of the world’s biggest brands