A view from Dave Trott: The answer isn't always brand
A view from Dave Trott

The answer isn't always brand

In the 1960s a cigarette brand was launched called Strand.

The ad opens in the early hours in a deserted London street, a man has his coat collar turned up and wears his hat pushed back, Frank Sinatra-style.

He is weary and hard-boiled, like a noir movie.

A lonely harmonica track echoes through the wet streets, he stops and lights a cigarette.

As he blows out the smoke, he smiles slightly.

Cut to pack of cigarettes and the line: YOU’RE NEVER ALONE WITH A STRAND.

At the time, I smoked about a pack a day, I was the target market and I liked the advertising.

So why did the product fail?

Modern advertising gurus will tell you the advertising failed because the brand was seen as a cigarette for loners.

This is to misunderstand how advertising works, and assume people only ever choose a product based purely on brand image.

But of course, to anyone outside advertising, this isn’t so.

Brand is a minor point, mainly you choose a product based on real-life attributes: price, taste, size, availability etc.

In order to break into an established market, you need a point of difference.

Why should anyone switch to a new product without a reason?

I remember liking the advertising and trying a pack of Strand, but I didn’t much like the taste so I went back to my usual brand.

It didn’t matter, I could still enjoy the advertising, because IT COULD APPLY TO ANY BRAND.

It was generic, it sold an emotion, a mood that was true of all cigarettes in general.

You could take Strand out of that advertising and replace it with any other cigarette brand and it wouldn’t matter, you wouldn’t even notice.

How can you launch into an established market unless you give people a reason to switch?

What killed the brand wasn’t loneliness, it was that it didn’t have any point of difference.

It lazily took a market generic, the romantic imagery, and tried to claim it as its own.

This is fine if you’re the market leader and already established with a loyal following.

If you’re Coca-Cola or Nike or Microsoft or Toyota, you don’t have to elbow your way into the market, you can carry on maintaining the status quo with a generic claim.

But if you’re launching into a market, and you do advertising that is generic, you will fail because you’re supposed to be going for market SHARE.

Otherwise the existing market will carry on and just ignore your presence.

Which is exactly what happened to Strand.

Everyone liked the ads but carried on smoking their regular cigarettes, and the brand died.

Meanwhile, Strand cigarettes were relaunched under a different name: Embassy.

But this time they learned their lesson.

They made sure they had a real point of difference: coupons.

And for the first time, the coupons came with serious gifts: kitchen mixers, hairdryers, stereo systems, TV sets.

Now there was a genuine reason to switch brands and stay switched.

Embassy became the number one brand in the country by understanding the basic difference in launching a product: market SHARE is different to market growth.

Of course, it’s not the story you’ll find in the marketing text books because it’s not so flattering to brand experts’ egos.

Conventional marketing wisdom is that “brand” is the only reason anyone ever buys anything.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that “brand” is never the answer.

But I am saying that “brand” isn’t always the answer.

Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three