Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Brand Rethink Shows Smarties Have the Answer

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: Brand Rethink Shows Smarties Have the Answer

Article excerpt

It is extremely difficult to identify which companies are good at branding. One common mistake is to assume that the ownership of strong brands indicates equally strong brand management. In reality, the two very rarely go hand in hand. Take Coca-Cola. While Coke is unquestionably a power brand, the brand strategies implemented by Coca-Cola marketers have often seemed frighteningly inept.

Many marketers look at market share or, God forbid, ad campaigns to ascertain a company's brand expertise. In truth, there are a multitude of more accurate indicators of brand proficiency, and at the top of my list is a brand revitalisation strategy. On that basis, Smarties are in very safe hands at Nestle Rowntree, which announced last week that it is changing the iconic design of the chocolate brand. After 68 years, the cylindrical Smarties tube with the coloured plastic disc as a stopper is to be replaced by a 'hexatube' with a cardboard flip-top lid.

Customers are outraged by the proposed change, and the media have fanned the flames gleefully. Once again, sinister 'marketing men' have, it is claimed, struck down a much-loved part of British culture. Words such as 'scandalous', 'disgraceful' and 'immoral' are being used in online discussion groups. Yet despite this reaction, Smarties has never been better managed.

Many brands struggle to maintain their relevance in the market. This is particularly true of successful brands that become convinced the original strategies that established them should remain sacrosanct. The innovation and creativity that initially propelled the brand to the apex of the market are gradually eroded and replaced by a conservative strategic culture in which every significant branding decision is preserved in aspic.

The brand in question does not immediately lose either sales or share.

But its gradual inability to embrace change in the market renders it increasingly out of touch. The brand becomes 'dusty'. From being a vibrant part of consumer culture, it becomes that most odious of things, an icon. Icons are powerful things. They are valuable, recognised, respected, even worshipped.

But, crucially, icons are never enjoyed, shared or consumed. Iconic brands are the result of brand managers who let the gravitas of a power brand and the pressure of a large, loyal marketplace overwhelm them into inertia. …

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