Fair Exchange: Unilever, P&G and the Rise of the Corporate Brand

20 Nov 2013|Erna George

Over the past few months, I have noticed that corporate brands are increasingly being featured in campaigns marketing the product or ‘consumed’ brand. Whether a surreptitious inclusion or blaring endorsement, this phenomenon is an interesting addition to the branding landscape.

Gains and wins
But what does the consumer gain from this? What do the product and corporate brands win in this equation?

Back in my Unilever days, the use of corporate brands was usually limited to activities such as corporate social responsibility, the annual report or for recruitment advertising, especially when the company owned strong product brands and especially for FMCG brand owners.

An exception to the rule were vehicles; here, the corporate brand was also the motherbrand and always linked with the sub-brands: Toyota Corolla, Ford Cortina and Fiat Uno, for example.

Oft-cited reasons
Some reasons most often cited for the separation were:

  • The individual product brands were strong and no-one wanted to split resources (budget)
  • Consumers didn’t know (or possibly wanted to know) of the existence of the corporate brand, what it stood for and that it made so many products
  • Marketers were concerned that integrated or dual branding could confuse consumers
  • If something happened to damage either the corporate or the individual brand, the other brands in the stable could be negatively impacted.
  • In that last-mentioned point is, for me, a clue as to why corporate brands are playing more active roles today. Consumers now want the whole story. They demand more transparency. And, given that when things go wrong they go wrong publically, a strong corporate brand with integrity can provide a level of comfort, reliability and simplicity that was needed less in the relatively uncluttered and more trusted days of old.

Let’s examine two FMCG giants activating the corporate brand above-the-line and integrating it into the individual product branding in different ways: Unilever and P&G.

Unilever: the whisper
Unilever started the journey a while ago, and has integrated its corporate brand with its product brands using what I term ‘a whisper’ approach. There is no loud voiceover or big cut-away on screen; just a simple little dropdown white tab on the top right of the screen that surreptitiously but clearly appears. It’s like a seal of approval endorsing the product brand and story as one of its own.

As each of these brands represents quality and a clear proposition, Unilever has become associated with trusted brands and has been given a voice and connection with the consumer beyond the CSI projects. In turn, it will become the seal of approval signifying trustworthiness, especially for new brands it would like to introduce.

This is critically important on the African continent, where we see so many counterfeit goods and many broken promises. A clear parent brand offering this security blanket is what consumers yearn for and will help differentiate Unilever brands.

P&G: the yell
Maybe I do not watch enough TV, but only recently have I seen the P&G activity. It is what I would describe as a YELL!

At the end of the usual ad (to be honest, I can’t remember the brand I was so distracted by the end shot) appeared a white screen with a large P&G blue logo and a booming voiceover, “Brought to you by P&G”. The contrast between the tone of the product ad and this yell was disconcerting, and over-shadowed the product.

The crazy thing is that P&G was one of the early adopters of driving integration of the corporate umbrella brand with its powerhouse of consumer brands — think the 2010 Olympics campaign ‘Proud Sponsor of Moms’.

Benefits
The benefits of linking the corporate and product brands include:

  • Facilitating product acceptance and making choices easier for consumers
  • Potential cost-efficiencies with more bang-for-buck on each rand spent across the stable
  • Rallying employees behind a common purpose
  • Moving marketing firmly into the boardroom and on the agenda of senior management.
  • Whether you choose to whisper the association or yell the connection will depend on both brands’ personalities. Being true to both is critical, while other key points are that the relationship is made clear, each brand builds and borrows positively on the other, and together they deliver a clear and unique experience for all stakeholders. Then the move will make business sense and sense to the market.

Think about:

  • What does the corporate brand stand for? What is its personality and how does it link to the product brands?
  • How well-known is the corporate brand to each stakeholder group (especially if you select TV as the medium to convey the link)? This will impact upon how you introduce it. Does it need a brand promise payoff line or is it known so a simple logo will do the trick?
  • What is the approach to introduce the link and does it fit the parent and product brand personae and strategies? Is it about yelling or whispering your way into the integration?
  • Consumers want this conversation to happen and, if you don’t do it, it will happen anyway. The way it is executed will have an impact on the product image and the corporate. Get it right.

Post originally written for MarkLives.

Erna George is the business director heading up quality research at brand development and marketing insight consultancy Added Value. She works with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column about business relationships and partnerships in adland to MarkLives.

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