As the rising cost of launching global brands becomes restrictive, companies are rejuvenating old consumer favourites. Alasdair Reid reports

As the rising cost of launching global brands becomes restrictive,

companies are rejuvenating old consumer favourites. Alasdair Reid


All brands need rejuvenating from time to time. It’s never an easy task,

but where pan-European brands are concerned it can be a very painful

process. Perhaps the hardest step is acknowledging there is a problem in

the first place. After all, pan-European brands are - almost by

definition - big properties. They are often household names that seem to

have developed a momentum of their own. This means the danger signs

don’t often come - not initially, at least - in the form of plummeting


But spotting potential problems is only half of the battle. Big

multinational marketing organisations are often built like ocean-going

liners: majestic, perhaps, but not designed to take tight corners.

Vincent O’Brien, the director of international research at the Decision

Shop, a strategic brand planning consultancy, says proactive companies

tend to be rare. ‘The day eventually dawns when the brand team walk into

their offices and decide that something really does need doing,’ he

says. ‘In a large number of cases, the stimulus is the activity of a


Once minds have been focused, the first step is to start a research

programme to establish brand awareness among consumers, across as many

countries as possible. This can involve asking more radical questions

such as trying to redefine the boundaries of the market itself and

assessing the potential of targeting different demographic groups. Most

importantly, it is a process of rediscovering the brand’s core values.

‘Brands that have fallen by the wayside, for whatever reason, usually

have a large amount of latent power,’ O’Brien points out. ‘Their

packaging may be extremely familiar to everyone and they might be used

almost habitually. You have to take that on board and then focus on

where you want to go. Once you have taken account of the brand’s

residual strength and understood the way in which consumers in your

market make their choices, you can then begin to increase your franchise

without alienating the brand’s current users.’

One successful project that the Decision Shop has worked on recently was

for Smirnoff - hardly a struggling brand, but one that had been kept

going by the activities of its various distributors across Europe. The

challenge presented by the growth in popularity of Absolut prompted the

Pierre Smirnoff Company to undertake a ‘brand essence’ research project

in 1992. As a result, it embarked on a programme to re-establish the

brand’s market-leading credentials.

The research carried out confirmed that the health of the brand relied

on attracting 18- to 24-year-olds. The core attribute that the company

decided to focus on was the inherent paradox of vodka: it’s a pure drink

with no taste, smell or colour, yet its effects are less than innocent.

It is a mischievous, slightly deceptive beverage.

The proposition was summed up in the concept of ‘pure thrill’, which has

become the theme of Smirnoff’s continuing global advertising campaign

through the Lowe network. Each execution highlights the drink’s

deceptive nature by suggesting that nothing is quite what it seems when

viewed through a vodka bottle.

Yet there is still scope for more tactical work in individual markets.

That’s important, given the complex distribution agreements that are the

norm in the drinks market.

The success of the whole exercise stemmed from identifying the right

core values and conveying them in a manner that would strike a chord

with consumers globally.

Often, though, more fundamental issues need to be addressed. A brand’s

packaging may need updating or marketing structures might require a

fundamental overhaul.

When BP began to take stock of its brand positioning several years ago,

it found that it needed to do more to convince consumers that it was a

dynamic, innovative and world-class company.

The petrol giant embarked on a branding programme that began by ‘re-

imaging’ its petrol stations around Europe - the livery was not entirely

uniform across the Continent - and eventually led to the company’s first

pan-European campaign through Doner International.

The BP brand had, until this point, been largely supported by work

developed in individual markets. That first pan-European campaign -

based around the ‘elevator’ commercial - was followed up by the ‘flying

engine’ ads.

Dominic O’Meara, an account director at Doner International, says BP now

has a far more co-ordinated and cohesive brand image.

‘We produce executions that can be tailored to suit the market

conditions in different countries, while still conveying the same basic

message,’ he explains. ‘It has had a positive effect on sales but, just

as importantly, we’ve been able to shift attitudes and improve awareness

of the brand. We’re continuing to make people reappraise BP as a choice

of venue for fuel.’

Carl Shuck, an account director at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, says that

the knack is to play on what people already know about a product but to

retell this in a surprising way. It’s the very approach the agency

decided to take in the new Woolmark campaign.

‘People are still turned on by the basic truths about wool,’ Shuck says.

‘The way you get them to take note is to use a different tone of voice

than the one they might have grown to expect. We are showing wool as a

young, vibrant and fashionable material. Once you have surprised people,

you can then go on to give them more detail about the inherent qualities

of the material and they will pick up on that as well.’

Woolmark suffered for many years because the company did not have a

properly focused marketing strategy. Most of its advertising was done on

a purely tactical basis and concentrated merely on the cute and soft

aspects of the material - the ‘wool as a warm overcoat’ approach. Within

the clothing industry, it started losing out to other fabrics in a big


‘They came to us and asked if we could come up with a global strategy to

adjust people’s perceptions. Fashion is a delicate area, but we believed

it was possible. Consumers are very different. The Italians are very

fabric literate. The British aren’t - they buy a high proportion of

clothing from catalogues and street markets, where the quality of the

fabric isn’t always the issue. But when it comes down to it, consumers

everywhere share a lot of attitudes,’ Shuck says.

That was certainly what Birds Eye discovered when it started to try to

rejuvenate its fish fingers brand. Caroline Whitfield, the general

marketing manager of Unilever UK and chairman of the company’s Kid’s

Fish International Brand Group [sic], says that the situation facing the

brand was remarkably similar across all its European markets.

‘I don’t know if we were lucky, or if we stumbled on a fundamental

truth, but I believe that to find complexity you often have to go

looking for it,’ Whitfield comments.

Over the past few years, Birds Eye has faced static sales volumes in a

growing market. Last year it began a major European review, which

highlighted the fact that there were a lot of new products on the

market, including cheaper own-label versions produced for retailers.

Because some of these products were at the highly processed, ‘junk food’

end of the market, the perception of fish fingers as a quality,

nutritional product was being damaged. The company began to ask itself

some fundamental questions. It reassessed the whole children’s food

market and examined the possibility of targeting a wider age group.

Birds Eye looked at the effectiveness of its advertising. It even

contemplated dropping Captain Birds Eye - one of advertising’s most

enduring icons, which has served the brand for a quarter of a century.

Research showed that the brand’s basic proposition and targeting were

right. However, it became apparent that its consumer benefits, and the

reasons for its premium pricing, weren’t coming across strongly enough.

The company realised that, although the Captain was still popular, he

needed a more modern image.

The new commercials through Ammirati and Puris/Lintas, the first of

which broke in October this year, take the Captain and the Birds Eye

kids to the Arctic Circle - a good setting for adventures but important

too to enable the company to develop the brand’s core values.

The commercial’s setting underlines the fact that the fish used are of

the best quality and that they are caught in unpolluted waters. The

Captain was updated by making him a less domineering figure - more of a

‘caring facilitator’, who allows the kids more independence.

The TV campaign, currently rolling out across the world, will be

supported by ads in women’s magazines, which target mums and focus on

the issue of quality and the nutritional reasons for choosing Birds Eye

produce. The campaign is obviously in its early stages, but Whitfield

says that the feedback is already excellent.

She believes that companies will become increasingly proactive where

brand rejuvenation is concerned. ‘That’s the case here,’ states

Whitfield. ‘We’ve done something pretty radical with a brand that was

going along pretty nicely. But the terms of the business have changed.

These days, with such tight margins, if a brand is merely stable, that

just isn’t good enough.’

She’s not alone in thinking this. When they consider rejuvenating

brands, companies seem prepared to grasp the nettle at a far earlier

stage than was the case in the past. The basic message is that companies

are going to put more effort into brand stewardship on a pan-European or

international basis. No longer can they afford to wait until things go

seriously wrong.

Vincent O’Brien at the Decision Shop agrees wholeheartedly: ‘The cost of

developing a new pan-European brand is so huge these days that companies

have to concentrate on what they’ve got. That’s why we see so much

activity in the area of brand extensions. It doesn’t matter if a brand

is tired or not - you’ve got to keep trying to make something more of



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