Close-Up: Live Issue - Are umbrella campaigns effective?

Coca-Cola UK's over-arching campaign has surprised the industry. Claire Billings investigates.

Coca-Cola has become the latest company to use an umbrella advertising campaign to support its portfolio of brands. After all, how many consumers know that Coca-Cola, worth $67.4 billion in a recent Interbrand study, owns the Fanta, Minute Maid and Malvern brands in addition to the eponymous brown fizzy drink with its lemon, lime and diet variants?

VCCP has created the campaign to address this. The advertising, which uses the banner "A world of refreshment", brings together all of Coca-Cola's brands within the outline of the iconic Coke bottle. A website,, has also been developed to promote the message.

The campaign aims to tell consumers that Coca-Cola produces healthy drinks, such as orange juice and water, as well as the less wholesome sugary carbonated ones it is famous for. At the same time, it hopes to boost sales of its lesser-known brands by promoting their association with Coke.

Adrian Coleman, a partner at VCCP, says: "It's a good information vehicle. It surprises consumers as well as adding to the stature of the individual and the overall brands. It's a double hit."

However, some commentators believe it is an unusual strategy for a branding campaign because the separate products are not linked by name. Others think umbrella campaigns are best suited to corporate campaigns designed to boost a company's share price or promote its products to the trade.

One planning director, who prefers to remain anonymous, says this kind of strategy smacks of "corporate arrogance". "Such campaigns are usually selling some kind of emotional high ground that bonds audiences to the brand. But, inevitably, they just want to push product sales," he adds.

Others question the benefit to consumers because it is their individual experience of a product that counts, not which company owns it. "If you're a punter you're not going to buy a brand because it's from Coca-Cola.

But it makes sense if a company is doing it for efficiencies," Simon Clemmow, a partner at Clemmow Hornby Inge, says.

An example of a similar strategy was the "Your happiness loves Cadbury" campaign by Publicis. The ads used different animals to represent the happiness people experience when they eat one of Cadbury's products. The campaign failed to connect with consumers and was taken off the air in February after just six months.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of umbrella campaigns that have worked. Ford's "Everything we do is driven by you" in the 80s and Apple's pre-iMac "Think different" stand out as successes.

Andrew Marsden, the marketing director of Britvic, believes branding campaigns are well suited to certain types of company. "They are good for service companies, such as BT or British Gas, which are trying to add radical new features to a master brand," he says.

Umbrella campaigns are a popular and effective way of reaching mass audiences but can run into trouble if they attempt to promote too many individual products to too wide an audience.

Judging by Cadbury's lack of success, advertisers would do well to remember that consumers do not necessarily buy sub-brands - or care that they come from the same holding company. To achieve the desired response, umbrella campaigns should be used with care.

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THE SUIT - Bruce Haines, group chief executive, Leo Burnett

"I think brand campaigns are brilliant for companies that are trying to impress the City. Companies don't do enough to communicate to analysts what they own.

"If it's a vanity exercise, it has a value that is pretty inwardly focused. But it can be good to remind the company what it owns.

"Consumers buy products based on the affinity they have with the brands, not on who owns them.

"An umbrella campaign can work if it recognises each audience has a different requirement. A needs-based campaign is more effective than one that assumes consumers are happy to buy anything from the same manufacturer."

THE CLIENT - Tim Evans, group marketing director, BT

"An umbrella campaign requires lower media exposure because customers aren't asked to trade between creative styles. They quickly lock into the brand.

"For brands such as BT that provide multiple services to the same people, an umbrella campaign provides overall context and you can talk about your services holistically. Consumers have a unified view of brands. It also helps you to paint a consistent picture of your brand. This is important if your brand is moving into new markets.

"With increased frequency, the creativity must be excellent - the ads must not bore people. And the executional device must not become bigger than the brand."

THE PLANNER - Guy Murphy, vice-chairman, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

"The motivation for using umbrella brands is that they appear to be efficient. As companies create more sub-brands and divisions, there isn't necessarily the budget to create ads for specific brands.

"However, that's not a strategy that benefits the consumer. It's more of a finance-based strategy.

"Consumers buy sub-brands or products, they don't buy a master brand because it doesn't exist.

"The risk you take in making the communications more efficient is that you dilute the relevance to the consumer. At worst, the consumers may feel 'will you please talk to me about the brand I am buying'. It may not engage the consumer."

THE CREATIVE - Mark Roalfe, executive creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"Umbrella campaigns are the same as brand campaigns in a way. Some companies just do brand campaigns rather than ads for specific products. Nike and Adidas run brand advertising around the World Cup rather than ads selling certain products. But I'm not certain if anyone's interested in whether Coke makes Fanta.

"Umbrella brand campaigns can work but not necessarily in the case of Coke because I'm not sure who it is advertising to.

"Quite often, cars will advertise their top-of-the-range cars but not necessarily because they will sell a lot. Brand campaigns do work and they are important because they help brands make money."