Monday, April 27, 2009

No country for old brands

This morning we found ourselves at a Welcome Break on the M42, needing a brief respite from lorry spray, tailbacks and general greyness. In the coffee queue, I saw a sign that awarded the southbound M42 outlet of this forgettably named hot-drinks-and-panini franchise five stars, for attaining '96% brand compliance'. I thought this was about the most depressing thing imaginable - although then I sat down and opened the complimentary copy of the Daily *spit* Mail, a brand from hell if ever there was one.

Closing it with a shudder, I drank my bucket of Americano and thought about brands. They are fascinating things. Brand compliance at the Welcome Break is about replicating the Coffee Shack (or whatever) experience. I may find the Coffee Shack experience soul-destroying (because what I really want to find on the M42 is someone offering tiny espressos and spicy noodle soup in a Vietnamese roadside stylee, and that is *never* going to happen), but there are times when we all look for the comfort of the familiar. For example, there was nothing to compare to my happiness when I sourced Laughing Cow cheese and Vimto in the Hot Place. You know where you are with Laughing Cow cheese and Vimto, and I needed to know where I was. Maybe some people feel like that after they've survived the M5-M6 merge, and Coffee Shack is there to deliver.

But if that's all there was to it we'd still all be driving Austin Maestros and cleaning our bathrooms with Vim powder, and Little Chef wouldn't be in so much trouble. We must all spend more, on new things, all the time, or capitalism will FAIL! (Um...)

Enter marketing, and hate it as I do (and I've linked to Bill Hicks on the subject before, but it's worth doing again) I have my buttons and there are brands that push them.

Sometimes, there's a brand that just gets it right. You want their stuff because it feels good, it looks good, it works better than anything comparable, it makes you feel good. It also tends to cost twice as much, but you think to yourself, maybe it's worth saving up for. And maybe it is. Apple, DeWalt and Le Creuset all come to mind.

But much more often there are the brands that you want because their marketing people have done a good job. If they've done a *really* good job you think these brands somehow help you say something about yourself. In my purchasing lifetime I've fallen for JPS, Ellesse, Aveda, Stolichnaya and Billy Bag, among many others, in this way. None of them worth the money (though my Ellesse trainers are now 12 years old and serving well on the allotment).

Somewhere in the middle there are the brands that help you navigate the overwhelming choice of everything everywhere. You have to wash your hair with something. You have to put something on your toast in the morning. You place yourself somewhere on the multidimensional axes of smell, taste, cost, quality, aesthetics, ethics etc, you make your choice, and if you've got any sense you stick to it. Here I would put Lurpak, Neals Yard, Fat Face, Moleskine, and the Co-op Bank

Having said all that, my Feelgood Wine Of The Summer for 2009 is Black Tower Pinot Grigio. Go figure.




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