There’s plenty of people around who still call a Snickers bar a Marathon and who can’t bring themselves to say “Starburst” instead of “Opal Fruits”. Such is the strength of brand recognition that even decades of retail marketing won’t wipe away those long-established names.
It’s Trinity Mirror’s rebrand as Reach earlier this week that got me thinking about this.
Now, the media giant doesn’t have a product it sells using its corporate name, so commercial concerns aren’t as big an issue as they were during the Marathon makeover.
Instead, it is stepping away from that total association with the Mirror brand following their purchase of the Daily Express, Sunday Express and the Star.
I can see the logic in this – if Reach is selling papers which don’t back the Mirror’s Labour-supporting stance, it’s problematic to have the word “Mirror”, even in small print, on the back page of them.
Perhaps choosing a name that’s not associated with a toothbrush company would have given the business more of a minty-fresh makeover, however.
But just a couple of weeks ago, we saw an example of the harm a rebrand can do to a business.
Homebase was bought over by the Australian firm Wesfarmers in 2016. The Aussies immediately set about a “rapid repositioning” – and began rebranding the stores as Bunnings, a popular chain in its home market.
But the cost of the overhaul hit Wesfarmer’s bottom line, with profits down 86.6 per cent, the company said last month. It blamed its A$900 million drop on the rebrand and write-down of the value of Homebase.
And that came on the back of an announcement that 40 Homebase stores would close, putting 2,000 jobs at risk.
On the other hand, some chains have used a rebrand to entirely refresh their position and boost their retail marketing.
Think about High Street fashion giants River Island. How many of us actually remember it used to be called Chelsea Girl? Or that Chelsea Girl merged with Concept Man – Concept Man, anyone? – to create the chain.
That move, back in 1988, distanced the chain from its increasingly dated link to the King’s Road in the 1960s. It was a triumph for fashion marketing, swiftly updating outmoded retail concepts. Thirty years on, there’s no obvious need for River Island to update its image.
Then there’s the communications behemoth EE, which was Orange and T-Mobile in the UK. And before T-Mobile was T-Mobile, it was Mercury One2One. That evolution has been fluid.
EE slipped easily into the public consciousness on the back of blanket advertising coverage that laid to rest memories of the outstanding “The future’s bright, the future’s Orange” campaign that fuelled early success.
Or how about Safeway? It disappeared when Morrisons bought it over in 2004. When’s the last time you even thought about that brand, or its “everything you want from a store” jingle?
In all of these instances, change was necessary – it was about uniting brands, finding a common purpose and forging a new future. It was about modernising and rejuvenating, and customers were carefully sold on the concept, given time to adjust.
It seems like the decision to ditch the Homebase brand, one with a loyal following and a remarkable record of TV advertising excellence, may have been taken for vanity reasons.
Replacing a well-known brand with a foreign newcomer’s name with no links to the UK was expensive and perhaps ill thought out.
And that’s also the reason why I still eat Marathons and Opal Fruits.
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