EDITORIAL: Will the dominance of FMCG give way to lifestyle brands?

Think of an iconic brand of the past century and the chances are it's a packaged good. For previous generations of shoppers the concept of a brand was largely confined to their storeroom staples. At a push they may have considered their car, if they had one, a brand, but never their bank.

Which is why the Great British Brands pull-out supplement in this week's issue is so dominated by consumer goods. FMCGs were the super brands of the last century.

This is the sector that created the concept of brand values as we know it - and advocate it - today. These brands often began life on a very small scale, created from closely guarded recipes by one or two individuals, and whose reputation initially grew by word of mouth. Sometimes the entrepreneurs behind the brand had the foresight to build production to reach more shoppers and become a national phenomenon. But more often than not, it fell to other, more quick-witted businessmen, to snatch up the products, invest in their growth and ultimately reap the rewards.

But while packaged goods have dominated this brand list, would the same be true if it were compiled in another 50 years' time? Inevitably FMCGs would still feature, but it is unlikely they would dominate in quite the same way. Part of the reason branded packaged goods have passed their sell-by date is the rise of own-label.

In the constant battle for supermarket shelf space, retailers have watched the brand owners and realised they are more than capable of playing them at their own game. They are no longer satisfied with merely mopping up the cheap and cheerful end of the market with bargain-basement, own-label tins of produce. These days the Big Four are investing substantial budgets in creating their own brand portfolios (Analysis, page 15).

But as packaged goods fail to ignite consumer loyalty, the mantle will move to a different type of brand altogether: the service brand. Consumers have changed. In the 50s the FMCG marketers keenly targeted the stay-at-home mother, but in the future marketers will have to work even harder to reach the time-poor professional looking for a brand that will fulfil its promise across numerous sectors.

This is the era of the lifestyle brand. We may have questioned the wisdom of Sir Richard Branson stretching his precious Virgin brand into yet another market, but he could teach many a service brand marketer a thing or two about the tricky transition into lifestyle brands.

Virgin, Orange, and more recently even Wedgwood are all trying to establish themselves as lifestyle brands. Whether they and others can succeed remains to be seen, but in the future as brands of all persuasions jockey for consumer loyalty, the brand promise will have to be more relevant than ever.


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