Focus: Marketing Comms - The faces behind the brand names

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 Rogers reports.

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

Rogers reports.

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

McDonald’s name.’

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

sales process.

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

product launch.

’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,’

says Lancaster.

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

and Perrier.

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

Mitsubishi Corporation.

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

trade PR.

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,’

says Williams.

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

premium positioning.

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.’

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