The bitter truth about flagging brands

It’s a debate which has been going since Drayton Bird and John Watson were in short trousers but many people still question whether direct marketing can build brands.
You might like to ask bosses at Tesco that question and I’m pretty sure I know what the answer will be.
Plenty of brands have been sacrificed on the altar of globalisation: Jif, Marathon, Opal Fruits to name but a few, and more recently Santander has axed Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley. Others, like General Motors’ rather strangely named “Oldmobile” simply don’t fit into the modern world.
Most brands have a natural lifecycle and once they hit that downward spiral it’s often best to let nature take its course rather than put them on a life-support machine.
So it does make you wonder what is going on in the marketing department at Blue Nun, which plans to relaunch its UK wines as “unpretentious” and contemporary. Apparently overseas it is still doing well, but in the UK it’s about as welcome on the dinner party circuit as Andy Gray and Richard Keys.
The wine sector has moved on massively since the brand’s 70s heyday and although it has obviously tried to change, by re-classing itself from a Liebfraumilch and launching different variants such as a French Merlot, Spanish Rosé, and even Australian Shiraz, the sad fact is that Blue Nun has got a lorry load of baggage.
And when you’ve got baggage, you have to be realistic about what your brand stands for, rather than try to rewrite history. In these days of social networking and consumer empowerment you can’t pull the wool over customers’ eyes – they will see straight through it.
This particular revamp smacks of a last desperate attempt to resuscitate a product towards the end of its lifecycle. It may be harder to swallow than Blue Nun itself but brands can’t simply ignore their DNA, and try to ascribe themselves a new set of values.
Either embrace your heritage, make a play on the fact that it was big “back in the day” or admit defeat and move on.

Ben Stephens, managing partner, Stephens Francis Whitson

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