Look after the whole and the parts take care of themselves is the
latest marketing philosophy as businesses learn that a sound corporate
reputation is more likely to lead to individual product success. Danny
Branding, in terms of products, has been a commonly used term for
decades, but ’corporate branding’ is a relatively new phenomenon.
’The marketing of a company’s products and services have traditionally
been kept separate from the marketing of its corporate image or
reputation,’ says MaryLee Sachs, chief executive of Hill and Knowlton’s
marketing communications division.
She gives the example of marketing stalwart Procter and Gamble, an
almost unknown name to the average consumer despite the widespread
recognition of its products such as Fairy or Bold, which have their own
very distinct brand characters. Sachs contrasts this with McDonald’s
which she refers to as an ’omnipresent corporate brand’ that overrides
and unites all of its products in the mind of the consumer.
’Whether you want a Big Mac and fries or a Filet O’Fish, you still say
’I’m going for a McDonald’s’,’ she explains. ’The quality, taste and
experience of eating in one of the outlets is guaranteed by the
Sachs is not alone in believing that the dynamics between the product
brand and corporate brand are changing and that companies are
appreciating the added value of making the relationship between the two
work to their mutual advantage. She says: ’If the two are used together,
PR can emerge as a flexible and powerful element of corporate
Quentin Bell, chairman of the Quentin Bell Organisation agrees. He
believes it’s no longer sufficient just to market ’good’ products or
The increasingly canny consumer is concerned with how an organisation
acts and reacts to the wider world. ’As products and services
increasingly become the same, consumers and marketers alike will seek
differentiation in other ways,’ said Bell at the IPR Marketing
Communication Group conference in April.
He added: ’Truly successful organisations will be those that take an
holistic approach to their communications. They will communicate their
values and ethics to those groups upon whom success depends.’
One could say that such ’holistic’ communication naturally falls within
the PR sphere. It is widely accepted that PR has an advantage over
advertising when communicating a complex message or cost-effectively
communicating with a diverse range of audiences. The editorial
credibility that can be achieved through PR is also an asset when
communicating wider corporate ’responsibility’.
Simon Mottram, director of marketing consultancy Interbrand, says the
debate about the rise of the corporate brand has been going on for years
without anyone being much the wiser. But he believes stock market
listings provide evidence of its significance.
’Eighty-six per cent of the FT top 50 companies now have prominent
corporate brands,’ he says, pointing out that this includes areas that
form the bulk of consumer spending: cars, financial services,
telecommunications and utilities. And, according to Mottram’s own
research, 75 per cent of Interbrand’s clients have corporate brands that
are ’active’, by which he means prominent in the product or service
While he believes the main advantage of an alternative ’free-standing
product brand’ is simplicity in an increasingly confusing market, he
believes that corporations are mistaken if they think they are actually
shielded by keeping corporate and product brands separate.
After all, he argues, journalists will soon discover the links between
product and company should a crisis occur and the consumer effect will
be the same. A corporate reputation that has been built through
investment in PR can certainly limit damage when product and corporate
issues are forced to collide.
Sachs argues that in the case of product withdrawal, if consumers feel a
company is essentially an ethical organisation then sales will return
more quickly - something she calls the ’halo effect’. But a strong
corporate brand can also influence product success in a more positive
sense. For example, it can create a favourable environment for a new
’Most new products fail,’ says Graham Lancaster, chairman of Biss
Lancaster, ’but our research with MORI has shown an interesting link
between familiarity with the corporate brand and favourability for a new
product.’ He says it is a virtuous circle: ’If it is Heinz producing a
new food product, consumers are more likely to choose it.’
This new product boost can also work at a retail trade level. ’The
consumer may not know that Procter and Gamble produces Bold, but you can
be damn sure that the supermarket that stocks it does and getting
products listed by the retailer is becoming more and more important,’
So, if the perceived barriers between corporate and product brands are
coming down, what are the implications for the PR profession?
According to Peter Crowe, planning director at Marshall Tanous, when
people continue to talk about ’consumer PR’ there is a problem in
defining where it ends. ’The product or services are very much the face
of the company. And from the opposite direction, corporate identity can
actually be the brand. For example Virgin has extended the corporate
brand further than anyone thought possible,’ he says.
All PR practitioners need a greater degree of marketing literacy to
understand the links between product marketing issues and companies as a
whole,’ says Crowe.
Marketers such as Interbrand now talk of different brand strategies - or
’architectures’ - that organisations can adopt to achieve the
appropriate corporate/product brand balance.
While Procter and Gamble’s strategy is described as free-standing,
McDonald’s or Virgin’s are ’monolithic’. Interbrand also refers to an
endorsed brand architecture where a company aims to add the higher
values of the corporate brand to the specific values of product and
service brands in its portfolio.
This, it says, can take the form of a strong ’umbrella’ brand such as
Ford or Apple, or can involve more distance such as 3M and its Post-It
brand. Interbrand’s Mottram refers to food giant Nestle as having a
’hybrid’ architecture, using 10 global ’pillar’ brands such as Carnation
Both Mottram and Lancaster argue that there is no ’right way’ to
structure a brand in a portfolio but the challenge is to use a process
that maintains customer goodwill across that portfolio.
A factor increasingly affecting the corporate/product brand balance has
been the growing power of the big retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s
or Asda and their introduction of more own-label products.
Here the retailer’s corporate brand, and all the values that it
communicates, often competes head-to-head with more established
proprietary brands on sale in its stores.
Christine Watts, head of PR at Asda, says: ’We tend to focus our PR on
the corporate entity - the whole shopping experience - but you can’t
divorce this from product PR. We are striving to increase the proportion
of Asda-branded products and I am responsible for consumer PR and
promotions for our innovative products.’
The Asda brand now appears prominently on many of its own products and
it has even begun to build sub-brands. ’We have developed a huge 1,200
gram bread loaf called Jaws which communicates the corporate belief in
value. And because of its popularity we are introducing sub-brands such
as Le Jaws - a double baguette,’ says Watts.
In such an environment the suppliers of competing proprietary products
will need strong corporate brands to get listed at all. They may also
need to fight tooth and nail to protect their brand assets. This was the
case in March when United Biscuits took Asda to court over the
similarity of the retailer’s Puffin bars to its own McVitie’s Penguin
biscuits. It won.
A more recent twist in the tale was Tesco’s decision in March to sell
Levi’s 501 jeans at discounted prices.
Levi’s was unhappy to have its product sold in the supermarket
environment, presumably because the jeans could be seen as taking on
’commodity’ rather than the ’premium brand’ status that Levi’s wishes to
’In terms of PR for Tesco this works wonderfully well,’ says Crowe, ’The
retailer comes across as the consumer champion against the big bad
But he adds: ’Despite the strength of the retail corporate brands, there
is still huge power in stand-alone brands as they benefit from the huge
amount of marketing invested in them and they are more able to charge a
premium price. And it is in neither side’s interest for this built up
brand equity to be undermined.’
Case study: Mitsubishi accelerates Afreeka launch
Despite the more frequent appearance, and growing prominence, of the
corporate brand alongside the product brand there are examples which
buck this trend.
One such case is the drink called Afreeka which was launched last
Afreeka, a lightly sparkling alcoholic beverage, is made from the South
African berry called Marula and is positioned as an alternative to wine,
cider, beer or spritzers for a young audience, the core of which is
But Afreeka is not made by a youth specialist like Britvic or a
well-known innovative brewer such as Whitbread. It is imported by the
As the world’s second largest company, Mitsubishi has its corporate
finger in many pies but is perhaps best known for manufacturing cars and
electronic equipment. And although the Mitsubishi name appears in very
small type on the bottle, its marketing team saw little value in raising
awareness of Mitsubishi’s corporate name among Afreeka’s target
Hilary Sutcliffe, managing director of Addition PR, which was
responsible for the PR launch, says: ’Mitsubishi’s reputation is
traditionally for products associated with male values and not the sexy,
female values we were trying to communicate.’ Mitsubishi eschewed
advertising for a PR-led campaign based on the theme of ’The Summer of
South Africa’ to tie in with Nelson Mandela’s visit last July. Addition
also focused on club and bar promotions and the sponsorship of beach
volleyball. The Afreeka branding was used throughout these
Similarly the consumer press materials make no mention of
Sutcliffe explains: ’Usually we find it’s a big plus to have the
corporate brand behind a new product but sometimes, and particularly
with a youth brand, you wouldn’t want to associate it with the
Interestingly however, a different approach was taken when it came to
Addition PR’s objective here was to get Afreeka stocked in key
supermarkets and off licences.
’The messages for this audience were that as the second largest company
in the world, Mitsubishi is safe to work with and does things in a
routine and trustworthy manner,’ says Addition’s Miles Pearce. Indeed
his trade press release quotes Mitsubishi brand manager Evelyn Boyle in
the second paragraph, explaining why she believes it will be a
Although Afreeka is a relatively low profile campaign, Mitsubishi was
successful in getting the product stocked in Sainsbury’s, Greenalls,
Morrisons and an assortment of off licences. It also demonstrates the
flexibility of public relations in dually achieving corporate and
consumer brand objectives.
Case study: Doing the Akzo Nobel thing
The Crown brand of paints and coatings is strong in the UK. Previously
owned by Swedish company Nobel, it is now parented by Akzo Nobel, a
merger of Nobel with the Dutch Akzo Corporation.
The new company hired design agency Wolff Olins to deliver a corporate
identity that represented the size and diversity of the
Wolff Olins came up with a human figure with outstretched arms which,
according to its corporate brochure, expressed ’the ideal of human
aspiration and the importance Akzo Nobel places on the individual’.
PR agency Charles Barker, which has handled Crown Paints’ PR for 15
years, was also called in a year ago to work on Akzo Nobel’s corporate
PR in an attempt to pull the different strands of the business
Akzo Nobel’s company statement describes itself as a ’multicultural
company, market-driven and technology-based, serving customers through
the world with chemicals, coatings, healthcare products and fibres.’
’The challenge was to bring Akzo and Nobel together while retaining the
traditional values of the individual brands,’ explains Nan Williams,
managing director of corporate and public affairs at Charles Barker.
She says Akzo Nobel had to decide whether the brands such as Crown
should stay as they were, whether they should be more strongly
’endorsed’ by the corporate parent or whether they should wither away to
be replaced by a ’monolithic’ Akzo Nobel brand.
’It was decided that the right thing to do was to keep the product
brands’ heritage but build up extra value through the corporate name,’
Richard Kok, Akzo Nobel’s head of corporate communications in a paper
entitled ’Corporate Branding in Diversified Markets - a Balancing Act’,
says: ’In many cases our business units need to promote our product
brands, but we must never forget that our most valuable brand is the
corporate name which stands for our very existence now and in the long
term.’ In terms of corporate values Charles Barker concentrated on
environmental, employee and innovative themes that could be used to
build a common link over and above the products themselves.
It has raised awareness of the environmental audit Akzo Nobel now
produces each autumn; the works council it runs as a European employer;
and sponsorship of youth initiatives, such as the support of young
musicians. ’The product PR is kept separate in execution, but we make
sure that the messages are harmonised with our corporate work and we can
pick the brains of our colleagues in that area,’ says Williams.
Case study: Breaking down the border barriers
For international marketers the corporate brand/product brand balance is
only part of story. There is also the significant challenge of
communicating brand values across geographical borders.
Seagram International is one of the world’s largest distillers and
A diverse business, both in terms of product and geography, it places
great emphasis on building the character and heritage of its individual
global product brands. One such brand is Chivas Regal, a premium Scotch
whisky and one of the few genuinely global spirits brands, with sales in
more than 150 countries.
Along with its Scottish heritage and authenticity, Seagram’s key brand
message for Chivas Regal is ’success and achievement’ in line with its
Last year it used the ’Spirit of the ’90s: A Chivas Regal Report’ to
concentrate on positioning the brand as the ’most prestigious and
highest quality premium spirits brand and thus the right choice for the
aspiring consumer.’ In conjunction with Countrywide Porter Novelli,
Seagram developed an international PR campaign to run alongside its
global advertising campaign called ’You either have it or you don’t’ by
’We use an integrated - or ’360 degree’ - approach to our global
marketing,’ says Sophie Daranyi, media and brand manager at Seagram UK.
’I provide PR expertise alongside brand directors and brand managers as
part of our Global Marketing initiative.’ Countrywide commissioned
research among 2,400 18- to 45-year-olds across 12 countries to find out
what motivated them in their careers.
The report was then used as the basis for a media relations campaign in
these countries where Seagram also launched the Chivas Regal Career
Toolbox - a CD-ROM anthology covering everything from finding a job to
managing money and boosting your career.
This central idea had inbuilt flexibility explains Pauline Kent,
creative director of Countrywide Porter Novelli London: ’It’s possible
to have a single international programme but at the same time take into
account different market needs.’ ’We provided the PR companies in each
country with details of the research, sample press releases and a menu
of ideas. They were then encouraged to implement the campaign using
their knowledge of the local market.’ Kent says the different
consultancies took the report in different directions: ’For example in
Spain Burson-Marsteller did its own regionalised report and the Spanish
media loved it.’
Jim Horsley, newly appointed managing director of Leedex PR is in accord
with this approach to European PR: ’You need to separate out corporate
messages and product messages. Corporate PR is about protection of the
corporate brand and product PR is about ideas and reacting quickly.
People want a neat solution but you need to build from bottom up and
find out what works in each country.’