Opinion

The Secrets of the Superbrands on BBC3

You are welcome to share your thoughts on this article written by Chris Hart, Creative Director at Blue Marlin, Bath.

Did you know that Coca-Cola or a Coke-owned drink is the market leading soft drink in every country in the world except one? I didn’t until last week, when I saw The Secrets of the Superbrands on BBC3. Scotland is the only market not to have succumbed to the American elixir. And get this: Irn Bru reigns supreme. No, really. The vividly orange pop with, by its own admission, an indescribable taste sells more than the global colossus despite the latter’s best efforts.

That wee factoid made my day, especially as Blue Marlin had the pleasure of working on Irn Bru a few years ago and it is great to know that the brand retains its sovereignty.

There were some interesting facts and figures in the Superbrands programme and a fascinating look at the affects of brands on the human brain as seen by an MRI scan, but equally there were quite a few no s#1t Sherlock moments.

I appreciate that a creative director commenting on a programme about branding is akin to a triage nurse doing a critique of ER (I know one whose husband has banned her from watching medical programmes because her constant carping spoils the show for him). But really…

Image: www.bbc.co.uk

That brands engage in a battle for hearts and minds was delivered as a revelatory notion. These days consumers are sophisticated enough to dissect the minutiae of a marketing strategy, so they don’t need to be patronised by a Plasticine-faced presenter feigning epiphany. “Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you are never very far away from the words Coca Cola”, the presenter intoned. In fact, Coca and Cola are plastered at eye level everywhere you look. No kidding? That’s called, um, promotion, isn’t it? And, hang on to your hats here comes another proclamation: the ubiquity of Coca-Cola’s branding is how it lodges itself into your psyche.

Am I being harsh? Well, maybe. To the uninitiated, the fact that branding can affect one’s taste perception is interesting. I am in the world of branding and I still get excited about this stuff. And it was fun to see a taste test of Heinz Baked Beans in its own branding and dressed in Tesco’s own label livery—of the 11 people asked only one said that they tasted identical. Several mugged and gurned almost as much as the presenter.

I think I am most irritated by the programme’s faux naivety and perhaps a little jealous of its travel budget—a passage to India for a two-minute segment and a bite of McDonald’s glocal food offering; an Italian jaunt to wind up a coffee bar owner and unearth the inspiration for Starbucks; I could go on.

A more engaging and intelligent approach might’ve been to describe why Starbucks’ ability to charge £3 for a mug of hot brown liquid is not just based on the theatre of the coffee house, but the fact that it is effectively renting space and time to people. Or to ponder what happens to the McDonalds’ model of fast, fast, fast—those deliberately unyielding, screwed down tables and chairs made it hard to linger—now that it is having to adapt to a more café comfortable ambience.

It is too easy to paint marketers as killer salesmen and ignore the strategic disciplines of marketing. Even more frustrating to touch on neuroscience and leave the science of branding relatively untroubled.

Maybe I should’ve watched a rerun of Casualty and got the Accident and Emergency nurse to watch Superbrands instead…

About the Author

Chris Hart is Creative Director at Blue Marlin, Bath. His favourite projects span global spirits brands and small-scale artisan products, from Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker to Hiho and Pukka Pies.

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