Pret’s brand promise lost in translation


You don’t need me to tell you the story of Pret a Manger. Two young graduates, frustrated with the lunch options available to them in London, borrow £25,000 in 1986 to set up a café. It eventually thrives and gradually the Pret chain takes over London and then the rest of suburban Britain.

The branding behind Pret a Manger is a solid lesson to any marketer on how a relatively bog standard positioning – quality, fresh and handmade – can come to life when you commit to brand-consistent, but category-defying execution.

Take the group’s HR policy of asking all its job applicants to complete a one-day trial so that their suitability to deliver a quality, handmade service – or Pretability as they call it – can be assessed and only the best triallists are given a position.

Or the brave decision to prepare most of their food on the premises rather than saving money on a central production factory, where the brand’s fresh, handmade credentials would have been undermined.

Best of all is Pret’s advertising strategy. Or, rather, lack of. Despite its status as one of the country’s most trusted brands, Pret a Manger does not advertise. And the reason for that is very simple – it does not need to. When you have your people, products, policies and locations lined up perfectly with your positioning then above or below-the-line communications become unnecessary.

But a dark cloud is potentially approaching Pret’s bright silver star logo. The company has just announced it will open two outlets in Paris. To British ears, the Pret a Manger name conjures up associations of high quality cooking with a cosmopolitan twist. But Francophile readers will know that the name has rather mundane, low-end connotations when encountered by Gallic ears.

Imagine a new London restaurant called Ready to Eat Food and you’ll get the idea. As my French friend Guillaume put it last week, gesturing to a newspaper announcing Pret’s French venture: “Le nom c’est un problème en France.”

Pret a Manger’s leadership team must now take one of two well-trodden paths. Put simply, it can take either the brand name or the brand equity but it cannot have both.


The brand name option prioritises the logo and name of the brand over all other elements. Irrespective of how bad the name might sound in French, the value of global consistency and the existing brand awareness that many French consumers have gleaned from trips to the UK and their favourite Pret dictates that name should remain the same.

The most notable example of keeping a name despite the contradictory associations that come with it was Skoda. When Volkswagen acquired a controlling stake in the marque back in 1994, the new management team acquired a brand that had not only a terrible reputation across Europe but one whose name in its native Czech language meant, literally, shame or pity.

Despite these horrendously negative associations, VW decided that the brand awareness the name had already achieved was too good to lose. They opted to keep the Skoda name and spent the next decade attempting, eventually with much success, to change the associations that came with it.

Alternatively, Pret a Manger could follow the path set by another car manufacturer, Mitsubishi. In search of a name that conjured up images of off-road agility, the Japanese company named its latest SUV after an Argentine wild cat known as the Pajero. The car was successfully marketed across the world until the team arrived in Spain where it became immediately apparent that there was a problem. Unfortunately the term Pajero in colloquial Spanish means “wanker”, or to be more specific, someone who plays with himself constantly.

A very short meeting later and Mitsubishi Spain decided to ignore the need for global consistency and to ditch the Pajero name for the more regal option of Montero, which means mountain warrior in Spanish.

Pret a Manger stands at a French crossroads. Continue to build its single global brand name and accept the lacklustre initial connotations that will go with it in its new Gallic market. Or alter the name to something more in line with the French conception of fresh, handmade, quality food and lose the singularity and focus that comes with mono-branding.

Perhaps in this case there is the possibility of compromise because the word “pret” – which the chain occasionally uses on the front of its outlets – means “ready” in French and if used on the other side of the Channel would mean the chain retains the same name as the rest of its global network and yet avoids the more mundane associations that the full Pret a Manger name conjures up for French customers.

When I suggested the idea to Guillaume last week, he looked up from his newspaper and shrugged non-commitedly. That’s French for “great idea”, by the way.



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