Britain’s families are more stretched than ever, with the average household income set to fall by around £2,000 a year before 2013, the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicted last month.
Meanwhile, prime minister David Cameron has made it his mission to place 120,000 of the country’s most troubled families in an intervention programme, linking the concept of strong families to a strong society.
The role of brands as extensions of a family through the values they portray is becoming increasingly important, according to advertising agency Isobel. For the third year in a row, it has run its FamilyBrands league table, showing the brands that come out on top in demonstrating traits such as caring, listening, social responsibility and overall family values.
Marks & Spencer, Boots, Fairy, the Co-op and Innocent make up the top five out of 107 brands, according to the survey of 1,500 people, which YouGov ran for Isobel last month.
The top five’s big movers include M&S in first place, climbing from sixth last year. M&S also took the top spot in the individual criteria of “good listener” and “family values” and improved its scores across all traits, according to Steve Hastings, planning partner at Isobel.
“M&S is interesting because there was a time when young people didn’t want to go near it because they felt it was only a brand for their parents,” Hastings explains.
“It’s still middle England, cosy and comfortable, but it’s not as fusty as it used to be. M&S is seeing the benefits of this change. It has a great presence on the high street and is a part of people’s everyday lives, which is something some brands don’t have,” Hastings adds.
John Lewis has consolidated its place in the top 10 at sixth, jumping from number 12 last year. Retail overall was voted the top family category, with utilities coming last. However, British Gas managed to stay ahead of rivals EDF Energy, E.on and Npower (see The Frontline, below).
Also debuting is Innocent, at number five overall, perhaps due to the extension of its range beyond smoothies to food and juice. It rates highly for being caring, socially responsible and a good listener.
“Innocent has been helped by the fact that it has a range that is being heavily advertised at the moment,” says Hastings. “It has extended its presence and reach. Its advertising has been highly visible so this has all contributed to the brand making a big leap in the league table.”
Also in notable positions are Persil (number 12, up from 22 last year), Andrex (16, up from 23), and Nivea (17, up from 20).
While global brands British Airways (37), McDonald’s (48) and Coca-Cola (50) lag further down, they have all improved their position from last year. BA is up from 60 and Coke from 63, while McDonald’s has leapt 20 places from 70.
McDonald’s strategy of focusing on community, sustainability and revamping its store environment is paying off, says Hastings.
“McDonald’s has been very clever in its strategy. It has improved the visibility of the ’better’ side of the menu, such as salad, and is open about its nutritional information. This is backed up by investing in messages around the origins of the food.
“It has its semiotics right it is very modern and appears in touch with the way we want to live now. Moving away from the brash, plastic brand it used to be has worked well.”
British Airways has improved its ranking over the past two years, despite negative press driven by staff strikes and its merger with Iberia.
“In the lead-up to the Olympics, perhaps we are feeling quite proud to be British and BA is a very visible carrier of the flag,” Hastings suggests. “People feel that BA displays family values more than its cheaper rivals.”
Those cut-price competitors make up the tail-end of the FamilyBrands ranking. EasyJet is at 99, up one place from last year, while Ryanair is at 106, just ahead of the last-placed Daily Star.
But the two budget airlines need not despair. Ryanair’s cheap and cheerful exterior is an aspect of its no-frills brand positioning that people expect and for the most part embrace, says Hastings. He believes easyJet shows “tentative signs” of becoming a family brand a feeling seconded by Mumsnet co-founder Carrie Longton (see The Frontline, below).
“EasyJet has moved up five places in the good listeners category and 20 places in family values,” Hastings reveals.
Digital brands are also firmly entrenched in the league table. Google is at 21, Facebook at 59, Twitter at 82 and YouTube at 88. While Facebook has fallen from 43 last year, Twitter has climbed 10 places. Hastings puts this down to Facebook encouraging digital over personal communication, while Twitter has become less polarising and more mainstream.
These brands may have got here via their entertainment factor, but this will be overridden by their roles as educators and guardians of internet safety, says Mumsnet’s Longton. She cites TalkTalk as an example of a brand that gains “Mumsnetters’ approval” for its HomeSafe website blocking initiative.
Out of the brands that have fallen significantly in the table, perhaps the most surprising is Tesco, down from 17 last year to 24. It ranks behind all its supermarket rivals, including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda.
“In 2009, Tesco was the leading price fighter, the people’s champion. Does it still stand out as the champion of pricing?” Hastings wonders.
Tesco’s dip in performance could be linked to a possible slump in its connection with its core audience of family shoppers, shown by a 0.5% drop in sales for the first half of the year.
Hastings says demonstrating strong family values is not a guarantee of profitability, but he contends that connecting to consumers via such a relationship is what makes them stay with you “through thick and thin”.
“Marketers use a lot of metaphors to configure the relationship between people,” says Hastings. “So we thought it was interesting to apply the family metaphor in terms of how brands fit into our lives.
“As incomes are stretched, we’re falling back on people and brands we trust. The basic values that people might be looking for are security, comfort and feeling like part of the family.”
Brands can take this literally, Hastings says, by developing products and messaging that are directly relevant to families, or take a more conceptual approach by demonstrating family values on a wider level. They can align with causes that help families, or create family based events and initiatives.
As Mumsnet’s Longton notes, altering a brand’s approach to family consumers also pays off.
Hastings says: “We are trying to build an emotional connection between consumers and brands and sharing a value set is a strong way of doing that.”
WE ASK MARKETERS ON THE FRONTLINE WHETHER OUR ’TRENDS’ RESEARCH MATCHES THEIR EXPERIENCE ONTHE GROUND
We launched our Family Friendly programme of partner brands last yearand our first Family Friendly awards were also announced recently.
Brands were awarded gold, silver or bronze according to how Mumsnetters voted.
We introduced the awards because the UK is one of the least family-friendly places to work or live in Europe.
Obviously, Mumsnetters are interested in how brands treat families but they are equally concerned about how families are treated in the workplace because more than two-thirds of them work.
All the brands involved were audited by Mumsnetters, who have voted for the brands that are making an effort and listening to people.
In a crowded market, being family friendly can give a brand a USP.
We’ve been really impressed by the brands we have worked with so far. They have taken it incredibly seriously.
And if a brand has managed to pull off something brilliant, then learnings and new policies can be shared.
We have worked with Pizza Express, for example, as a lot of the people who work in the restaurants are quite young and haven’t had families yet.
We asked Mumsnetters about what makes a difference in a family environment and a lot of it is about how they are treated.
We made a video to show Pizza Express, which has been making changes to a series of stores, such as Play Dough Hour.
It’s not necessarily about adding whole new buildings or créches, but about changing attitudes and listening to little things.
Another brand that comes to mind is TalkTalk. Mumsnetters have been talking about their anxiety about internet safety and TalkTalk has launched its HomeSafe initiative, which gives parents more control over what websites their children can access.
Metro Bank, meanwhile, has done something as simple as having a toilet in its branches, and Mumsnetters have gone mad for it.
BAA, Heathrow and easyJet have also signed up to our Family Friendly programme, as families have expressed more concern about travel.
BAA has created more family areas in its airports. I just travelled with easyJet and I felt like there was a definite shift in how it treats families.
Brands can be a bit nervous about holding themselves up to be ’family friendly’ because they can make themselves open to criticism. But people appreciate that brands care enough to commit.
Marketing and communication director
Our brand strategy is encompassed in ’looking after your world’, because people’s homes are their world and obviously family life goes on in the home.
Our campaigns are always set around ’planet home’, often featuring families, and this might be why we score better than our rivals in the FamilyBrands rankings.
A lot of the activities we are involved in revolve around families. For example, through our partnership with British Swimming, over a million people have benefited from a free swim.
One of the reasons we did that was because there was a strong family angle to it.
We’re doing a number of community projects, such as Generation Green, which teaches children about sustainability, and they can then pass this information on to their parents.
This research identifies ’caring’ as an important value and it is for us as we have a duty of care in terms of service and safety.
We know things are tough for families and they want as much help as possible with keeping their bills down.
We do what we can to help customers reduce their energy use with initiatives including free insulation and Energy Smart monitors.
If you can appeal to the family as a whole, you effectively have four or so advocates of your brand talking to each other about you that’s a powerful place to get to.
Families are no longer consuming media together in a passive way. Content is consumed by each member separately, all the time, and not just at home.
Social media has had a huge effect on this trend as brands focus more on the context of the ad placement as well as the intention and mindset of each family member.
Greggs, which is ranked in the survey for the first time, in 34th place, has ramped up its social media spend. “The Facebook page has driven awareness of Greggs as a socially responsible, trusted brand,” says Nick Bennett of digital agency Steel, who developed the brand’s social media strategy.
But TV still has a strong part to play in influencing the three key attributes, particularly ’being a good listener’.