It's an oft-repeated truism that half of art is knowing when to stop. The same could be said of marketing. For every successful launch, there are three times as many brands that have failed to achieve longevity despite multimillion-pound marketing budgets. From NestlŽ's aborted attempt to enter the premium chocolate market with Heaven, to Bauer's women's weekly flop, First, the list of brands that simply never took off is lengthy. Then, of course, there are the 'indulgent' rebrands such as PwC's shortlived reincarnation as 'Monday' - the most hated day of the week.
However, that is not to say that acting decisively - either by rebranding or ditching a brand altogether - cannot be hugely beneficial. In times of economic uncertainty, introducing a fresh brand or comprehensively rebranding an established entity gives companies the chance to exude confidence and positivity - something bound to appeal to worried consumers.
John Kitson, head of sales and marketing at Aviva, is among those who should know. It is currently running a multimillion-pound marketing campaign to support its rebrand from Norwich Union. 'In this economic turmoil, we are one organisation with our heads above the parapet talking about being a successful global brand, and that gives us an advantage,' he says.
There is no doubt that new product and brand development is a tricky business at the best of times. One ex-marketer from a major international brand describes the process as 'treading water'. 'What you have to remember is that any major product or brand hitting the shelves often has years of research and testing behind it, so pulling the plug is a major decision.'
Put simply, for many marketers the safest option is to halt new product development altogether or postpone that multimillion-pound rebrand for yet another year.
However, Gareth Helm, a former marketer at Innocent and now director at online research firm and brand development consultancy Brand Chat, argues that innovation is the lifeblood of any business. 'Any brand inevitably has a life cycle. A healthy business has half its growth from new products and brand revitalisation. Ultimately, it's a balance between evolution and new product development,' he says.
According to marketing consultant Andrew Marsden, the commercial reality is that if a brand is not performing from a business perspective, it may be necessary to remove marketing support. 'It's about brand management and this support can be removed over time - it could be a two-year or 10-year period, because essentially these brands are still a business asset.'
James Osmond, founding director at brand consultancy Clear, says deciding whether to wield the axe is one of the toughest marketing challenges. He says that it is vital to rule out first whether there is any way of revitalising the brand. 'Identifying the latent equity in the brand that can be tapped into is key,' he says. One example is Linda McCartney Foods. Originally known for its vegetarian focus, the brand has repositioned with an identity centred on its ethical food sourcing.
Marsden says the key to deciding the future potential of a brand is separating it from the product. 'If a brand has been around for a long time and has a great deal of heritage, you need to see if it is the product that is out of step, rather than the brand itself, which is an asset to be leveraged in new areas,' he says. On the flipside, innovative brands with limited shelf-lives should be axed as soon as profitability dwindles. This is a tactic often used by food and drink manufacturers which use limited-edition variants to drive sales.
For many FMCG brands, the biggest challenge is gaining listings in super-markets, which is one of the reasons many brands dislike terminating ailing brands. As one leading soft-drinks buyer puts it: 'Companies simply don't pull brands from the shelves. If a product is under-performing, we will pull it. Many companies will not pull the plug on the brand until they have an alternative variant to replace it, but if they leave it too long they will lose the listing altogether.'
Retailing is a cut-throat business with fierce competition, and brands wavering over which products to support risk losing the confidence of their most important customer, namely, supermarket buyers. This view is echoed by Helm. 'Ultimately, if you have a portfolio of brands, some of them become cash cows,' he says. 'The reality is you hold onto listings tactically until you have something to replace them. It is much easier to replace your own brand, than try to gain space from a competitor when you have none.'
As the recession continues, some agencies believe a greater number of smaller brands will be axed or lose marketing support to make way for their global parent brands or a 'masterbrand' strategy. Clearly there are cost efficiencies to be had and, in the current climate, marketers' focus on trimming costs has grown. Many brands from NestlŽ, which has its NestlŽ Wholegrain Cereal masterbrand, to Coca-Cola, have run 'masterbrand' campaigns designed to boost the entire portfolio and provide support to smaller brands.
However, many brand managers who work on smaller brands before tackling major brands say working on a property that has only limited support is difficult. While some turn around ailing brands, others are simply 'waiting to be put out of their misery'. This view is echoed by Marsden, who warns that using a masterbrand strategy in lieu of providing real marketing support to smaller brands is misguided.
Ultimately, managing a declining brand is just as important as nurturing a growing one. While ad agencies are queuing up to tell marketers that spend is essential for survival, many marketers are re-evaluating their strategy. This may well mean a return to masterbrands and a more stringent approach toward struggling brands, spelling the end for some.
The brands they would rather forget
In 2001 Royal Mail was rebranded as Consignia as part of an effort to become an international brand. The name went down like a lead balloon with the public and was soon dumped in favour of the more traditional Royal Mail Group.
PwC Consulting, the business consulting unit run and operated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, infamously rebranded itself as Monday. At the time, a PwC spokeswoman said: 'Monday represents a fresh start, a new beginning, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.' The rebrand, seen by many commentators as a line in the sand for branding absurdity, was quickly scrapped after PwC was acquired by IBM.
Abbey goes pastel
In 2003 when Abbey National shortened its name to Abbey, complete with a lower-case logo in pastel shades, there were many raised eyebrows. Just 17 months after the rebrand, Abbey's new owner, Banco Santander Central Hispano, changed the look again.
This was a temporary rebrand of Pizza Hut intended to secure the brand reams of free column inches in the press, but critics say it was received poorly and simply confused consumers.
Mitsubishi introduced a range of vehicles named Pajero (known as Shogun in the UK). However, no one had told the company's bigwigs that in Spanish the word pajero roughly translates as 'wanker'.
Case Study: From Norwich Union to Aviva
The Norwich Union brand will be dropped this June in favour of the Aviva moniker. In the meantime, the company has rolled out a transitional logo to get consumers used to the move. John Kitson, head of sales and marketing at the group, says: 'We have been planning this since 2002. No time is absolutely perfect and there's always a reason not to change, a reason to postpone, a trap lurking behind a corner. When you know, and you're confident that your strategy is right, you must go with it.'
Kitson's five-point plan for carrying out a successful rebrand
- The chief executive must lead it from the top - it is essential to have co-operation across the organisation.
- Planning and timing - take your time, do it properly and don't rush it.
- Engage all the brand's stakeholders.
- Be clear about the decision and stick to it.
- Add value to the brand - it has to be more than just a name.