Re-marque-able

In the olden days, a brand name had some sort of link to the product, its maker, manufacturer or inventor.  Today, highly paid “creatives” bolt together a few random phonemes which might suggest something vaguely cognate to the product (or not) or just choose a random word or two: hence we now have TV channels called Dave and Spike (but none that I could find with a girl’s name: yet another example of sexism?).  A limited grasp of the orthography of the English language also seems to be a boon when it comes to naming your brand.  As well as the name, you do need to choose a font, a colour scheme and some sort of symbol: what arcane arts are used here I know not, though I’m pretty sure that any official explanation given later will be a hastily cobbled-together, post-hoc justification.

As I recall, the purpose of a brand is (or was back in the day) to offer the promise of a consistent and reliable product to the customer.  Early brands were established to spare consumers from the rampant adulteration of foodstuffs that was then rife, though recent, regular public health stories suggest this aim has now rather been discarded in the name of profit or expediency.  However, I believe there is still the intention that the customer should feel some loyalty towards the brand: even if this loyalty is unrequited.

Given this background, I find myself puzzled by the regular re-branding of products that occurs in this modern world, a process which seems to run counter to the whole point of having a brand in the first place.  I strongly suspect that this is the marketing or branding department desperately trying to justify its existence – but as a strategy, it strikes me as expensive and lan effective route to a diminished customer base.  FMCG (fast-moving consumer good) companies seem the most prone to this re-branding activity. For instance, the re-naming of much loved products to match the name used elsewhere in the world: at a stroke reminding us that the item is produced by a soulless multinational corporation and weakening the bonds of nostalgic attachment for all but the youngest of consumers.  I would guess (based on my traditional sample of one) that this must negatively impact sales, which only recover as we older users are called to our internal reward and are replaced by those innocents who suffer from post-auricular moistness and never knew Opal Fruits (or the like).  Even rather more niche products, like the Somerset-grown pearled spelt I use, seem to re-brand with startling frequency: the whole design of the packaging and its colour scheme seem to be changed every couple of years.  I am quite keen on pearled spelt (part of my Cnut-lie attempt to support British agriculture and minimise food miles) and so go to the trouble of seeking out the new-look pack, but I suspect many less committed users just purchase some much-easier-to-find arborio rice instead.

Recently the gym which I use has taken the re-branding route.  The only benefit to its users that I can see is the repainting of the walls – but the costs to the shareholders must have been substantial: all new signage, uniforms, stationery and marketing materials across 100 gymnasia to name only the most obvious items of expenditure.  I can’t even guess what benefits the change of font, colour scheme and symbol are supposed to deliver, nor how these might be measured, but I’m sceptical that they will match the costs.  One likes to imagine that a modern commercial corporation would not re-brand without a very real expectation of a net gain, but I rather fear they are as subject to magical thinking as the rest of us.  Perhaps the sacrifice of the old brand is supposed to propitiate the gods of the market?  However, my classical reading suggests that Hermes would probably prefer honey, cake or livestock: perhaps the modern marketing professional looks to a different Pantheon for its theistic underpinnings?

All of which musing probably indicates that I am not cut out for a career in marketing – or could it be that I’m right and so exactly what the world of marketing needs?

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