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
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
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
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