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Branding: stick or twist?

September 21, 2011

One of the most interesting things I’ve seen this week is the difference in approach from two brands.

On the one hand we’ve got John Lewis, who reported this week an 18% drop in profits (despite the fact that like-for-like sales are up 1%)

The interview linked above appears to be talking about the fact that they are refusing to budge on their ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ strapline as part of their investment for the future; taking the long-term view and protecting people’s perception of them as a company.

Never Knowingly Undersold has been their promise to customers for over 80 years now, and they are prepared to spend over £10 million, from their own profits, to make sure that they deliver this wherever people come into contact with the brand.

And on the other hand we’ve got Sainsbury’s who have changed their strapline this week from ‘Try Something New Today’ to ‘Live Well For Less’.

There’s two things here that puzzle me.

Firstly, with ‘Try Something New Today’ I felt I understood how Sainsbury’s were differentiating themselves in the market.  They were the supermarket for people who wanted to be a bit more adventurous and experimental.

But how is ‘Live Well For Less’ carving them out a niche against brand positionings like ‘Saving You Money Every Day’ and ‘Every Little Helps’?

Secondly, John Lewis defended their position to protect their brand position and equity against a short-term drop in profits by talking about the value that this brand promise holds in the long-term.

Now, I hope that I’m not being unrealistic here, but we will come out of the recession at some point in the future. Things are looking bleak now, but this cannot last forever (I’m no economist, but you have to hope, right?).

This move from Sainsbury’s feels a little short-term.  Yes, it might protect market share now, but will it still hold true when things are back on track? Don’t forget that ‘Try Something New Today’ has been one of the best commercial decisions Sainsbury’s has ever made when they introduced it.

That said I do love the new work by BBDO supporting the new positioning and strapline…

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2011 9:19 am

    I agree. It does feel short term. You can see why they might have felt uncomfortable about the positioning given the current economic climate but I think you’re right, they are no longer talking about themselves in a distinctive way and that could be very risky. Byron Sharp has lots of interesting things to say about the importance of distinctiveness and building mental availability over time – the exact sort of thing that short-termism works against. It would be very interesting to have been a fly on the wall during the client convos and see where the impetus came from

    • September 23, 2011 9:01 am

      Ooh, thank you for the tip off about Byron Sharp – there looks to be some really interesting thoughts on that on his blog

      I can’t work it out – the reports in May showed that profits had risen under the old approach, despite the fact that it wasn’t overtly focusing on value (although all the ‘feed your family for a fiver’ stuff will have helped there – and maybe that’s what was working). Without being that fly on the wall it does feel a little like change for change’s sake…

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