The ‘truth’ about branding

Branding is a great way to quickly convey the quality and lifestyle relevance of our services or product, but what if it goes astray? What if the branding parts company with the ‘truth’ of the brand. Here are three moral tales.


Would a chicken by any other name….?

The recent scandal of repackaged chickens uncovered by the Guardian is partly about food standards, but also about branding. Tesco has been packaging budget chicken drumsticks attractively labelled “Willow Farm, reared exclusively for Tesco”. The sales went well – an improvement on selling very similar drumsticks without the Willow Farm branding. Unfortunately an investigation by the Guardian revealed that some of the chickens were returns from Lidl and simply repackaged by the mass market supplier 2 Sisters as Willow Farm. So neither exclusive, nor from the charming but imaginary Willow Farm.

Tesco were quick to respond, but not to repent. There is was no deception, just ‘confusion’ said Tesco boss Dave Lewis.  Customers are “savvy” about how marketing works. “Do they (the drumsticks) come from farms? Yes. Can one farm satisfy all the demand from Tesco? No”. So his conclusion is? “The product truth is absolutely right.” To paraphrase the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, this must be a meaning of the words ‘truth’, ‘absolutely’ and ‘right’ that I wasn’t previously aware of.

To help matters along, 2 Sisters solicitors weighed in with the helpful distinction “The Willow Farms brand is exclusive to Tesco, but the raw material is not.” So while there may be an implied connection between the words exclusive, the Willow Farm branding and the actual drumsticks, in Tesco’s mind they can be quite separate while still remaining ‘true’.  If you think otherwise, the confusion is yours.

The question is, will the drumsticks sell as well now that there is less ‘confusion’ about the Willow Farm branding?


The product that failed its brand

The Sunny Delight story suggests no. Losing the connection between branding and product in the public mind soon caused this market leading soft drink to fail. The decades fastest selling orange juice drink traded on its apparent healthy properties, even being marketed in fridges to convey freshness when this was unnecessary. But when it was realised that “the kind of healthy attributes that were being given to it in the marketing campaign might not actually be justified … consumers began to lose faith in the product, particularly when a little girl turned orange having drunk large quantities of it”.

After the ‘orange girl’ story broke, Sunny Delight went from market leader to nowhere very fast.


The brand that failed its product

The third story is of another orange drink, Tropicana. Here the product remained the same – a high quality fresh orange juice – but the new branding was perceived by the public to have parted company with the “truth” of their favourite drink. Despite the new branding costing nearly 30 million to produce (nice work if you can get it) it immediately lost the confidence of 20% of the products regular market, with recorded losses of another 20 million or so within months of the launch.

The product remained the same, but the new packaging somehow conveyed a cheap and supermarket own brand kind of feel. (The impostor is on the right).


As Business Insider put it “People don’t like change. And when a logo or packaging  for a favorite product changes, it creates trust issues. The package has changed and they wonder if what’s inside has, too. The generic logo made people expect a generic product”.


The research view

Marketing is a tough job and is flying in the face of our essentially conservative natures. As reported in the Harvard Business Review, “families… repeatedly buy the same 150 items, which constitute as much as 85% of their household needs”. So not surprisingly “only 3% of consumer packaged goods exceed the sales goal benchmark of a successful launch”. In other words, 97% of newly branded products fail to sell.

On the bright side, a University of Zurich research team examined “the relationships between brand equity and customer acquisition, retention, and profit margin”. It concluded that effective branding is “significantly associated with CLV in expected and meaningful ways”. In particular “customer knowledge of a brand has an especially strong positive relationship” with customer acquisition and retention.


The moral

Last word to Solicitor Flor McCarthy from his award-winning book “The Solicitors Guide to Marketing and Growing a Business“. “If anyone mentions advertising in terms of your brand” he writes, you should “nod politely but run away as fast as you can”. For solicitors, he argues, the integrity of the lawyer is the brand. Packaging will only cheapen it.

This is a sound point, but not the whole story.  The moral is that if your branding is true to your product, and vice versa, you won’t experience a Sunny Delight or Willow Farm moment. As Douglas Adams put it, “to give real service you have to add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity”. Or as George Burns put it “Sincerity is everything. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made”.

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