Banking brands go into the red

May 27, 2009

images¡Qué sorpresa! Spanish bank Santander is scrapping the Abbey, Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester brands. A&L will be the last to go, at the end of 2010, when Santander covers over the last rebellious traces of orange and blue with its comforting corporate red and ‘Mr Whippy’ logo.

The root-and-branch £12m rebrand seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to director of brand and communication Keith Moor  – who earlier this year made the mistake of pouring cold water on the idea – but it should not surprise the rest of us. (Does the UK right hand really know what la mano izquierda is doing back in Spain, by the way?)

Despite the fact that Abbey, B&B and A&L have a long, and largely honorable, legacy, they are in extra time as brands.

Santander already owned Abbey and had earlier put a stop to a fluffy, and largely purposeless, corporate revamp of the brand.

B&B and A&L were booty hauled out of the credit crunch. The very fact that they nearly went bust before acquisition also sealed their future as brands. In a world where credit is tight, there is less room for marketing to manoeuvre. There will be no easy money on the wholesale market for the foreseeable future to facilitate product differentiation; and every reason for bringing expensive, badly run organisations under a more efficient, and austere, banking umbrella.

Which is why Santander is having such a good recession. It managed not to overstretch itself during the seven fat years, and now it’s getting its pay-off during the seven lean ones. “Customers trust us as a global brand and they feel very safe about their savings,” says Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Santander’s UK operations. Exactly.

More intriguing is where this brand-culling activity leaves Lloyds Banking Group. As former chairman Sir Victor Blank can testify, the grand strategic union between Lloyds and HBOS is not all it appeared at the time it was consumated, there being a number of bottomless black holes in HBOS’ balance sheet. Lloyds, too, will be looking for prudent savings and we have already witnessed one of them in its decision to put Clerical Medical on the critical list. Intelligent Finance, the internet arm, could well follow. And – who knows? – Halifax itself may not be safe. There are no sacred cows these days, now that the bull market of all bull markets is over.

Freddie Forsyth will turn you into a hero

May 26, 2009

Psst! Want to achieve immortality as a character in the next Frederick Forsyth thriller?

I hear the best-selling author of The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File and The Dogs of War has come up with a novel way of raising money for his favoured charity, Leonard Cheshire Disability.

For a price, you can star in his next book, which is expected to be published in September 2010. I’m afraid there’s no hint of the subject matter, yet. But he does assure us, oh lucky one, that you will a force for the good. “The character can be male or female and will definitely ‘be a goodie rather than a baddie’, representing the forces of law and order! ”

The price is what your name achieves in auction, end date September 1 this year. The opening bid is £2,200, and it is being raised in increments of £100.

Interested? Here’s the link:

Think of the Hollywood possibilities.

A question of Judgement

May 23, 2009

Paul JudgeWe know all about politicians adapting the techniques of marketing to electioneering (see my piece on David Cameron the other day). But what happens when a natural marketer turns his hand to politics?

Last March, Sir Paul Judge – the man who famously bought out Premier Foods from Cadbury and then floated it for a good deal of money on the stock exchange – set up his own political movement, Jury Team. He’s sickened by  “the institutional corruption” of  British politics. And by what he regards as the pernicious influence of a “presidential” style of government gradually emasculating Parliament.

Now, with public outrage over the MPs’ expenses scandal at boiling point, he sees real opportunity for irreversible grass-roots reform. “The product offering from Jury Team is very good,”  he tells me, “But the problem has been getting our name out there. The European parliamentary elections on June 4 is our test market.” 

The “roll out” will be a General Election, which he predicts for the autumn. Find out more about Judge, his party and his plans in my forthcoming column.

MailOnline wants to charge

May 22, 2009

More grim tidings from the newspaper world as DMGT, the owner of the Daily Mail, reveals some pretty awful six-monthly results – a £239m loss. Most interesting was chief executive Martin Morgan’s comment: “The prudent way we are running DMGT is not to make the assumption that all the revenue will come back to previous levels.”

Just in case it does not, Morgan is actively looking into alternative revenue models. It seems the MailOnline would like to charge for its “deeper” celebrity content. Though there’s an appetite strong enough to overcome any micropayment barrier, I doubt charging for internet content will do much to repair DMGT’s wrecked financial model. But Morgan’s comment does demonstrate a growing will to get tough with freeloading internet culture in the wake of Rupert Murdoch’s recent initiative.

Why Pringles have left P&G with a bad taste in the mouth

May 20, 2009

imagesWhat are Pringles? It turns out this philosophical question is of more than academic interest. The wrong answer will cost their maker, Procter & Gamble, millions of pounds in unpaid taxes.

In my naiveté, I had always assumed that Pringles were a kind of potato crisp, interestingly sculpted and shot through with some flavour enhancer more compulsive to humans than a dose of aniseed slipped to our feline friends during a “blind test” TV cat food ad .

Not so. The potato content is less than 50% and Pringles are apparently manufactured from some kind of dough, which makes them more akin to a cake or biscuit than a crisp.

And the point I’m making is? Well, last year this helpful if perverse interpretation enabled P&G to convince a judge that Pringles are exempt from VAT. Foods are usually exempt, but for some reason potato crisps are not.

Ah, but now it transpires they’re potato crisps after all – according to three Appeal Court judges, who overturned last year’s High Court verdict. Which means that the Revenue will be relieving P&G of up to £100m in back taxes and about £20m a year “going forward” (as they say). Unless this one meanders all the way to the House of Lords…

A tax specialist at Ernst & Young praised the “simplicity and common sense” of the judges but claimed a great opportunity had been lost for providing “coherent guidance” on whether snacks were, or were not, liable for VAT. Quite. My case rests.

Webcameron’s searchlight on corruption

May 19, 2009

David CameronHere’s an interesting story (though not one of our own as it happens). Tory Central Office has had the smart idea of buying up the rights to any search tags on Google relating to ‘mps expenses’ and the like. Anyone keying in a related phrase will find themselves being offered a sponsored link to David Cameron’s Webcameron on You Tube, or the Conservative Party portal if you prefer (Demand an election now). Switch to a soulful, grave but nevertheless statesmanlike PM-in-waiting, commiserating with viewers over the appalling misconduct of some of his MPs (Willett, Duncan, Letwin, Hogg, Maude etc), and promising to make full amends the minute voters let him in. Once again, Cameron is streets ahead of the competition in deploying his cyber tactics.

While we’re on the subject of related sponsored links, try It gives a blow-by-blow account of every dastardly deed with some fun interaction thrown in.

Is Sainsbury’s King’s crowning achievement?

May 19, 2009


Justin time?

Justin time?

Another set of dreadful results from Marks & Spencer: annual pre-tax profits down nearly 40%, and the dividend sliced by a third.

Could anyone else, in the circumstances, be doing a better job than executive chairman and retail doyen Sir Stuart Rose, who must shortly retire from M&S? Headhunters are actively putting together a list of potential successors. Strongly favoured is Justin King, who has turned around the once-hopeless case of Sainsbury’s. King says he’s not for sale, at the moment. All the same, he’s beginning to look like the uncrowned monarch of British retail.

More on King’s reputation in this week’s column, out tomorrow.

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