30 Oct

Can a brand change its spots?

Granted, this seems like a strange question to ask, but it comes in the wake of an announcement on a change of (marketing) direction by Iceland this week.

Iceland – home to frozen gateaux, prawn rings, and chicken tikka lasagnes – have decided they want a ‘classier image’.
Central to this is the launch of their ‘Posh Grub’ range and the dumping of Kerry Katona, who has been replaced by the dolcit tones of Michael Buble, singing Jingle Bells in their Christmas ads.

Are people fooled that easily though? At the risk of sounding like a snob, can a new food range and Buble’s babbling shift Iceland from ‘cheap n frozen’ to ‘classy’ overnight?
Will Sainsbury’s customers (Waitrose might be pushing it) dip their toe in the freezers for this ‘Posh Grub’?

After years of garish red and orange signs, £1 meals, horse meat pancakes, can Iceland suddenly change tack, or have they trodden the same path for too long for this to happen?

Tesco are another chain trying to improve their image. They recently pumped £1 billion into revamping stores, changing packaging, and improving customer service.
Again though – to my mind – they went the route of  ‘cheap at all costs’ for too long to turn around their image with just one big spend.

To redress the balance though, this isn’t a ‘budget supermarket’ bashing exercise. Take a look at  Aldi. They came into the UK quite a while ago (as long ago as 1989, would you believe?) and, over the last few years, have been praised for their; champagne, lobster, beef, scotch, and gin, over and above ‘high-end’ supermarkets.

It seems that brands are suddenly cottoning on to how public perception of them may be quite important in the longer term.
King of customer service, Michael O’Leary – CEO of Ryanair – recently held a one hour #AskMOL session with customers, on Twitter, and was actually quite upbeat (with one or two sarcastic swipes here and there).
Following that, Ryanair have embarked on a series of changes to customer service; easier access to their website, cutting baggage fees, reducing fees for printing boarding passes. The problem is, all of this comes off the back of years of calling customers ‘idiots’ (O’Leary actually said this), charging £70 to print boarding passes, calling for moronic schemes like charging customers £1 a time to use the toilet on planes.
Again, have Ryanair travelled in one direction (pun unintentional) too long to suddenly be known for good customer service?

Not to be all doom and gloom though: sometimes a brand really can change its spots.
Once upon a time, Skoda – alongside Lada – was a byword for; cheap, nasty, clunky, unreliable. Skodas were the butt of many a joke.
In 1993, VW took ownership of Skoda. The cars wearing the Skoda badge gradually improved, and slowly it became less and less shameful to be seen driving one. They even started churning out great ads for their cars.
Now, a good Skoda can cost north of £30,000, there are respected high-performance/sports version of their cars, and even the police use them in high-speed pursuits.

It is possible then, for a brand to change its spots. It just depends how long they’ve been keeping the same image going, and it takes a hell of a lot of work to make that change.

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