May 23, 2008

I'll Tell You What You Want (What You Really, Really Want)

So what’s in a label?

Many years ago, when we lived in Hong Kong, Christine and I had German friends who worked from an office in their apartment selling products for a large European multinational. One day, the husband announced that they were leaving Hong Kong to return to Germany. “But,” he assured us, “you don’t have to be too upset, because we’ve arranged new friends for you to take our place when we’ve gone!” He went on to tell us that another German couple were to take over their business and apartment and we could just take up with these new friends where we’d left off with our old. We could be sure that they would do everything in their power to ensure that the transition would be seamless. And the clincher? “You won’t even have to change the numbers on your speed-dial!”

Now, I know their intentions were good, but neither Christine or I liked to be told to transfer our affections from one set of friends to another, regardless of how efficient the arrangement.

I’m not so sure of the intentions of marketing giant Premier Foods who seem to be tinkering with our affections in much the same way. The company recently announced their plans to retire the Campbell’s soup brand in this country and to sell all of its soup products in Ireland under the name Erin. Their marketing director tells us that this is “a welcome chance to consolidate the Erin brand as a super brand across the entire Irish soup category.”

Of course, customers just love consolidation. And, like Christine and I, they simply adore being told what to do. In order to disguise the switcheroo (or mask the sleight of brand), Premier assures us that their “most important focus is reassuring the consumer that the recipe inside the pack is exactly the same”. Next, we’ll be told that we don’t even have to change the numbers on our speed-dial.

To add to the confusion, Premier followed up the announcement with another. It’s now planning to close its Irish production plant in Thurles and will switch production of its heritage Erin brand (Erin being an archaic term for Ireland) to England. But, we can be sure that the recipe is still the same. That is, an American (albeit much-loved) recipe made in England under an Irish name. Ah, that warms the cockles of the heart alright.

Honestly, I think Premier’s sleight of brand will land them in the soup. In their case, it does exactly the opposite of what it says on the tin – and I don’t think customers will buy it.

Oh, and our new German friends? We got on famously with them, just like our old friends had planned...

1 comment:

Jason Cooke said...

So hey presto, Campbells is now Erin... it's like dropping Biddy into the cast of Sex & The City, or asking the girls to swap their Cosmos in Manhattan for a cup of milky tea down in Thurles...

I have long been a Campbells consumer when the occasion has called (their tomato soup and beef consomme are category icons, let alone the brand!) but really, how can Premier expect me to be able to switch my loyalty to Erin?

As a brand, Campbells has retained, and even in recent years, grown its market share, while good 'ol welly clad Erin has struggled to retain any identity for itself in an Irish FMCG marketplace dominated by superbrands.

As a marketing pro, I understand rebrands, but even some are too bizarre to contemplate. To ask me, as a Campbells consumer, to buy into the Erin brand (which was built on glumpy, salty dry soups and dry sauces) is just a step too far... Campbell's demise will be Baxter's gain, not Erin's - no matter how hard they try... and we certainly won't be seeing any Warhol-style pictures of Erin cans anytime soon either!!!