Don Williams, CEO of brand and design consultancy Pi Global, bewails the pressure group coercion that forces beloved brands to change
I’ve lost count of the number of times some of my ’more mature’ relatives have whinged about brands and, more specifically, about how they’ve been messed up! "Heinz Tomato Ketchup isn’t the same as it was it’s runnier!" is a typical wail. And while I could put this down in part to physiological change and selective memory, it’s obviously true that brands, or rather more precisely, the products to which brands adhere their names, change over time.
I remember when I was a lad, up north, eating a Mars bar was no mean feat! Just getting your mouth around the thing was a challenge and sinking your teeth into one, especially on a biting winter’s morning, ran the risk of a trip to the tooth butcher. But boy, were they good! There was a real sense of achievement around finishing a Mars bar. Today, they’re kind of a big daddy Milky Way more ’melt in the mouth’ than dental destroyer.
There are many reasons why brands change their signature tastes, textures and all-round ’experiences’, such as taking some cost out of biscuits by replacing butter with palm oil, reducing salt levels in bread and reformulating crisps to deliver a 99-calorie pack.
I worked on the Pot Noodle brand for many years and what I loved was the single-minded, in-your-face finger to the world positioning of it: the packaging was as brash as possible; the advertising the ’slag of all snacks’ as so visceral, yet so brilliantly on-brand: genius! Pot Noodle was a brand with a big everything: attitude, ego and taste. If you wanted an instant taste hit after a night on the beer, you just slammed on the kettle, opened the cupboard and almost instant gratification ensued. But then the health stasi reared its ugly head, and the Pot Noodle you see on the shelf today, in my opinion, appears to have been coerced into a pale shadow of its former magnificent self.
If there’s one thing I despise, it’s political correctness in all its ridiculous forms. So when I see brands, and especially brands that are based on things like ’big taste’ or indulgence, bowing to the chinless pressure groups that pollute this country, then I see red!
If I want to be healthy I can eat a carrot. If I want to treat myself, I can have a full-fat, sugar- or salt-laden, mouth-watering little beauty, because I choose to it’s my choice. And I find it extraordinary that one group of people feels it has the right to pressurise or even coerce another group of people into eating what they believe is correct.
The world is inherently not a safe place and, as grown-ups, we should have the right to choose not be treated like children. You don’t solve the obesity problem by forcing people to eat broccoli. I have no problem if brands want to produce healthier alternatives, because that provides a choice, but when iconic brands, such as Penguin, KitKat, McVitie’s and Mars, are changing recipes, then I truly despair.
One day, though, someone will produce healthier alternatives that taste and feel as good as the evil ’fat-sugar-salt’ equivalents. When that happens, they’ll become very wealthy and we’ll all become very slim.