Coalition’s Ronseal deal is no tin-pot stab at branding

With approval levels of 31 per cent and a stream of headlines detailing their fractious relationship, David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s joint appearance at the UK Coalition Government’s half-term review on Monday was always likely to be tense.

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When the two leaders announced their new partnership in May 2010 there was idealistic talk of a “marriage” between the men and their parties. Two and a half bitter years later, however, Cameron appeared ill-at-ease re-using such an emotional and enduring metaphor.

Instead, he needed something less flowery and more practical to capture the reality of the coalition and communicate his pragmatic objectives for the remaining two years in charge.

And so he turned to branding. In a moment that was clearly pre-approved by the mandarins at Number 10, Cameron uttered the immortal phrase: “To me it is not a marriage. It is a Ronseal deal. It does what it says on the tin. We said we would come together, we said we would form a government, we said we would tackle these big problems. That is exactly what we have done.”  

The concept of the ‘Ronseal Coalition’ has spread quickly across the nation’s media. It may yet become the defining phrase of this Government to sit alongside the likes of ‘New Labour’, ‘Tory Wets’ and the ‘Gang of Four’ in the pantheon of political sobriquets. That’s perhaps premature, but the one winner in all this is Kate Sitch, the marketing manager at Ronseal. She’s just won the branding lottery.

To put this in perspective, although Ronseal is one of the biggest brands in DIY, annual revenues of £60m and steady profits of no more than £2m a year dictate a relatively tight marketing budget. Last year, the brand commissioned a new TV campaign with a limited media spend and digital work utilising a new app aimed at its 23,000 followers on Facebook.

This week, thanks to our Prime Minister, Ronseal is likely to enjoy the highest level of brand awareness in its history. It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that around 30 million people will have been exposed to the brand by the end of the week.

It’s one thing to achieve such prominent, recurrent and widespread brand awareness, quite another to do so with such proximity to your brand positioning. In recent years, Ronseal has struggled to maintain its brand values but it need worry no longer – not only has the Government given Ronseal’s enormous injection of awareness, it has done so in a manner so consistent with the brand’s positioning that its own marketing team could not have done a better job.

Cameron’s intent was clear on Monday – the coalition wanted to be like Ronseal: practical, straightforward, efficient, effective. The branding fairy could not have been any kinder.

To be fair to Ronseal, there is more than just serendipity at the heart of this marketing coup. Three decisive factors should be celebrated.

First, Ronseal picked a great agency in HHCL to build the brand. One of its creative teams, Liz Whiston and Dave Shelton, came up with the famous phrase nearly two decades ago. It’s a special slogan because, unlike so much of the esoteric, new-age crap that now seems to spew from agencies, it’s a proposition that captures the essence of the brand’s appeal in only eight words.

Second, we have to elevate the slogan even higher because it subsequently engaged with popular culture and was co-opted into everyday speech. Ronseal’s advertising regularly appears in the list of the 10 most memorable British slogans of all time. However, its memorability stems not from media repetition but from its leap from TV screens into popular vocabulary. Google the eponymous phrase and after six or seven brand-related links you’ll discover hundreds of instances where it has been used to describe everything from boyfriends to bird-watching holidays. As the great advertising thinker Judy Lannon used to say, ask not what advertising does to people but rather what people do with advertising. Cameron was merely the latest in a long line of people to take the slogan out of context and into popular application. 

Finally, Ronseal’s marketing team had the good sense to stick with a winning slogan for 20 years. That might sound obvious but too many marketers get itchy fingers and walk away from million pound slogans in search of the new and the weak. Chances are you will know the slogan for Avis, Apple, Heinz, Guinness, and KitKat, but all of them eventually walked away from something irreplaceable and invaluable. Ronseal might have got lucky this week, but you make your own luck in branding and it deserves all the free publicity it gets in the weeks ahead because it stuck with a slogan that works.

For the Government there is perhaps a realisation that using pre-existing slogans works better than creating political statements from scratch. That’s handy news for Cameron because there will surely be a need for more inspiration in the second half of his tenure. Can I recommend he looks at KitKat for his next big announcement?

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