Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: One Minute Distinct, the Next Generic

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: One Minute Distinct, the Next Generic

Article excerpt

I spent last weekend visiting friends in Holland and headed home on Sunday evening from Schiphol Airport. ING has heavily branded itself throughout and the connecting 'jetbridge' that links the departure terminal to the aircraft was one long ad for the firm. 'Let's talk about your future' exclaimed the ads, as I headed for the plane.

I boarded my British Airways flight and dropped gratefully into my seat. Within seconds I was offered a drink and a steaming towel. Having foregone lunch to make the plane, I delved into my bag to find the sandwich I had hurriedly purchased in the airport. It was from a Dutch company called Sanday's Bakeries and the packaging was strangely familiar. In a tight, clean typeface it proclaimed 'All handmade naturally' and continued with the confirmation that each sandwich was 'made in our own kitchen, every day, fresh'. It ended with the handwritten signature of Sanday's boss.

The use of packaging to make clear statements of intent, the emphasis on quality and the handwritten signature of the chief executive are all hallmarks of Pret A Manger. When Pret entered the snack business 20 years ago, the standard approach to packaging was mass-produced and generic - just like the food. Pret's distinctive packaging was an effective way to signal its differentiation and communicate its brand equity. What was all this doing on a very average Dutch sandwich?

The answer is as old as marketing itself. Occasionally a great marketer consults a brand's positioning and then breaks the rules of standard marketing practice. They invent a new way of doing things. In Pret's case, its resolute focus on its core brand values of quality, freshness and being handmade led it to a very different kind of packaging. But last year's brand-specific innovation is this year's industry standard. Pret's success has meant many of its radical approaches have been copied by rivals and gradually subsumed into the standard way most sandwich chains do business. Where once there was brand-based differentiation, now there is just generic parity.

The same is true of the jetbridge ads in Amsterdam. Five years ago, HSBC practically invented this form of advertising. Peter Stringham and his team were struggling to find advertising media that was both global and local to be consistent with HSBC's latest brand positioning. …

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