Last week, our sister magazine, Marketing, got together with AC
Nielsen MEAL to produce the annual ranking of the UK’s top 50 fmcg
brands. Since this always provides a snapshot of changing British
tastes, it was picked up by the tabloids and dealt with entirely
As you might expect, the top eight - Coca-Cola, Walkers, Nescafe,
Andrex, Ariel, Persil, Pampers and Pepsi - only shuffle places, while
Stella Artois and Muller are new to the top ten. Lower down, the big
risers are Pringles, Heinz Baked Beans, Colgate and Mr Kipling. Big
fallers include Whiskas, Daz, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and Kleenex.
Now it would be interesting to take the risers and fallers in the fmcg
stakes and then (purely subjectively, of course) look at their
But the more striking point - for clients at least - is less obvious:
that the top 50 brands rarely change agencies. In fact, I can only think
of five with brands in the table - Coke, Andrex, Budweiser, Mr Kip-ling,
Whiskas and Walkers (which moved after this survey was completed) - that
have changed within the past five years. Of those, only two - Coke (in a
category of its own as far as agencies go) and Whiskas - changed
voluntarily (so to speak), while the rest changed as a result of their
own or their agency’s global realignments. It would be simplistic to
link the two events, but it should be recorded nonetheless that Whiskas,
despite its much-lauded ads through M&C Saatchi, is doing less well than
But the lesson here is obvious. Brands that are successful in the long
term rarely change agencies. Although individuals may come and go at
both client and agency, agencies clearly build up a repository of
knowledge that is invaluable. That is not to say such long-term
partnerships lead to better advertising per se - you just have to look
at some of the top 50 brands’ advertising to know that this is not the
case - but as we all know, mould-breaking advertising is not the be-all
and end-all of the game.
Marketing directors looking to make their mark on an already successful
brand should realise that changing the agency should be the last thing
on their minds.
That said, there is one aspect of the table that should depress us. It
is that very few of these brands ever win (or even enter) the IPA
Effectiveness Awards. Exceptions are Walkers, Stella and Gold Blend, but
it seems curious that some of those fmcg companies whose success has
been built on consistent advertising (ie P&G, Unilever, Heinz, Mars,
Bass) don’t seem to wish to make the wider case for advertising.
A poor man’s Bob Dylan called Barry McGuire had a big hit in the 70s
with a song called Eve of Destruction, notable only for the way he found
50 words all ending in ’-on’.
The launch of ONdigital reminded me of this since, according to the
press pack, the name is meant to make us think of concepts such as
’creatiON’, ’televisiON’ and so ON. This is either very clever or very
up its bum.
I go for the latter, but what really puzzles me is why the biggest
revolutiON (sorry, it’s catching) in broadcasting history doesn’t
include TV anywhere in its title. The whole idea of digital has already
thrown the average viewer into a state of cONfusiON. So why are they
trying to make it harder still?