Monday, 7 January 2019


Brands have been a large part of my life, buying them, creating and building them as a marketeer and as an advertising executive. I spent my time persuading myself that Britain was a brand (it isn’t) and that I was a brand (I am certainly not). The definition has become too self-important. But here I am today in a chilly January mourning the passing of my favourite brands as though they were football stars who’ve hung up their boots.

The  thing about brands is they give you certainty. Wherever you are in the world that favourite brand will look the same, behave the same, taste the same and indeed be the same. Brands are consistent. Brands never let you down. Like Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Many have tried to emulate or even surpass it. All have failed. There is only one Tomato Ketchup

I thought the same was true of wine until there was a scandal around Chateau Giscours (above), one my favourite clarets, in 1995 when they were caught mixing milk, water, acid and cheaper, local red wine into the chateau's second vintage.

The power of the brand historically was demonstrated again by Heinz when they won in what was called the “Baked Bean War” of 1996. A torrent of cheap baked beans hit the selves of supermarkets selling for as little as 5p (or in one bizarre case they reduced the price to - 2p a tin).  Heinz stood firm and their price remained the same as did their brand share. Enough people believed there was no taste like Heinz. Is that true now of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise? Of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate? Of Heineken? Of Persil?

Does Ford have the brand salience they had when they produced the Ford Cortina or the eccentric Ford Capri which performed like a skittish stallion with a very long neck whose concept of braking was somewhat rudimentary? Is Ford a brand anymore? Is Vauxhall, Peugeot, Citroen? Do they mean more than Skoda or Seat?

In the certain world of the past we knew where we stood with the Tories, Socialists, Liberals and the Church of England. But the fact that there is no brand consistency or reliability may not in fact be such a bad thing. It allows us to recalibrate and regard the so-call contemporary super-brands as the transient things they are. Apple, Facebook, Google are like the Detroit brands of the past - flashes-in-the-pan of branding.

But there are brands that sustain and survive the odd misguided leader’s attempts at product sabotage and that’s football clubs. Manchester United have reverted to their brand values after José’s attempt to make them what they were not.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are all true to a style of playing and set of values that are consistent.

Brands matter. They are the artefacts which persuade people that they’re better. Only one thing. Today you have to live up to that image rather than just rely on advertising magic.

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