Brand transfers are more than a name change

Brand transfers are too often thought of simply as name changes, though admittedly this is the most risky facet of the change. In the customers’ minds a well-known name is linked with mental associations, empathy and personal preferences. However, a brand is made up of many components, which cannot be reduced to just one, the name. In fact, when you examine the numerous examples that have occured both in Europe and the United States, the situation is far from simple. Many of them involve other changes in the marketing mix.

Some brand changes are also productchanges. What disturbed Treets fans, apart from the loss of a product they loved, was that M&Ms included two different products: peanuts covered in chocolate and a sweet similar to Smarties. It was therefore a transition from a simple and familiar situation to a totally confusing one where all references had changed, as, indeed, had the product itself.

When Shell changed the name of its oil from Puissance to Helix it also modified the characteristics of the product. However, the fact that these characteristics are ‘hidden’, hardly perceptible by the customers, meant that this was not a risky move for Shell. The change of the oil formula could be used as an alibi for the introduction of the new name.

As regards name changes, the risks associated vary immensely depending on whether we are dealing with product brands, umbrella brands, endorsing brands or source brands. Examples of the first two cases are Raider/Twix and Philips/Whirlpool respectively. The change only affects the one and only nominal indicator of the product or products. Conversely, Puissance has become Helix but still remains under the mother brand Shell. Changing a name when the product is defined by a hierarchy of brand names is far less problematic.

With self-service, visual identity has become crucial as an aid to customers to quickly pick out their brand. Distributors’ own-brands capitalise on this: their imitations, which aim at confusing the customer, rely less and less on similar names (for example Sablito against Pépito) and more and more on near identical copies of colour codes of the national brands that are targeted on the shelves (Kapferer and Thoenig, 1992).

In this way, in the UK, a fierce conflict arose between Coca-Cola and the retailer Sainsbury, whose colas totally imitated the Coca-Cola colours: red for classic cola, white for sugar-free cola and gold for sugar- and caffeine-free cola. Conversely, some brand changes are accompanied by profound modifications of the colour codes. Thus, the brown Shell Puissance 5 oilcan became the yellow Shell Helix Standard oilcan.

The long and gradual change from Pal to Pedigree was accompanied by the adoption worldwide of a new colour, bright yellow, striking and eyecatching, to reinforce the impact on the shelves. Since colour is the first thing that consumers notice in a self-service situation, how risky such modifications can be is all the more evident.

The shape of packaging is the second most important visual recognition factor. This is why, despite the savings that could have been achieved by adopting a unique European oilcan, Shell immediately refused to abandon its easily recognisable and very practical ‘spout’ can. Part of Shell oil’s added value comes from this can.

Finally, brand transitions can be accompanied by changes to the logo or trade mark as well as to visual symbols. As regards this last point, the impact of the disappearance of visual brand symbols shouldn’t be underestimated. Replacing Nesquik’s gentle giant Groquick by a rabbit in some countries for reasons of international coordination is playing with the relationship children have with Nesquik. The same applies to people associated with a brand. The disappearance of emblematic figures can have drastic consequences for a brand.

Finally, with written and musical slogans now under copyright, it has to be realised how important they are, as they are what people will remember. When Raider was changed to Twix, Mars hesitated but decided not to keep the same brand music. Music is one of the vehicles of a brand’s personality. A slogan is also, in the long run, an integral part of a brand and can now be put under copyright. The famous slogan ‘Melts in your mouth not in your hand’ was lost when Treets became M&Ms.

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