If you’ve got a minute, let me tell you a story…

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Image a Burt's Bees Tin
Recognise this beard? It’s the famous Burt Shavitz

As a savvy marketer I’m sure you already know that brands have been using the art of storytelling for years.

Marketing teams have become experts at using stories – and the characters within them – to build their brands and create emotional connections with their audiences.

Some famous faces

Some of the most successful character stories are in the food sector, where Ben & Jerry’s, Papa John’s Pizza and good old Colonel Sanders rely heavily on their stories to wrestle our hard earned money from us.

And the stories don’t even have to be true. For instance, do you remember Levi Roots? He’s the now millionaire food entrepreneur who secured £50k on the TV show Dragons Den. The money he secured was to build his ‘secret’ Reggae Reggae BBQ Sauce brand which, according to Roots, had been handed down to him from his Jamaican Grandmother. To add to the authenticity of his story, Roots also explained how he had been selling it at London’s Notting Hill Carnival for 15 years.

But later during a legal battle with his ex-business partner, Roots admitted his brand story was simply “a marketing ploy”. Nonetheless his ‘ploy’ worked brilliantly. In its first week on national sale, Roots shifted over 50,000 bottles. Since then Reggae Reggae Sauce has had tie-ins with brands such as JD Wetherspoon, Birds Eye, Morrisons, Domino’s Pizza and KFC to name just a few.

Anyway, if you like stories about interesting people that sometimes develop interest brands, have a read of this. It’s about Burt Shavitz, co-founder of Burt’s Bees, who died on July 5th, aged 80.

It is the fascinating story about how one very humble guy, with help from his girlfriend, built a business valued at almost $1 billion. And who’s face and story are at the heart of the brand.



This is a good example of one of the things advertising does.

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I was walking through Bristol Temple Meads train station recently where I saw a real life example of how advertising works. I don’t mean direct response advertising.

I mean advertising that is developed to change our perception of a product. And to usually add some kind of perceived value so we pay more for it and want more of it.

But, and this is the killer, this is achieved without really changing the product itself. Or making it significantly better than its competitors either.

The product I’m talking about is coffee. And the brand benefiting from its advertising was Starbucks. It was illustrated like this:

There is a Starbucks coffee shop positioned only about 5 meters away from an AMT coffee booth in Temple Meads train station. I’m no retail expert but I think the AMT booth is actually better placed to catch your attention.

Anyway, both sell very similar products. And to my knowledge neither product has any meaningful differentiation or competitive advantage.

However, Starbucks was packed with people buying their overpriced coffee. But the AMT booth was empty. Yet they charge less for coffee.


Because the Starbucks brand and the advertising that support it communicates a perceived value. It tells you their coffee is premium (whatever that means), that they source their ingredients from Fairtrade suppliers and that they generally love the planet.

This is very emotional. Starbucks understand that emotion plays a massive part in peoples buying decisions. If it didn’t, and it was practicality that drove purchasing decisions, most people would buy from the AMT booth.

After all, you have the same product, at a lower price and available in a more visible / convenient location. In fact, you have to walk around the AMT booth to get to Starbucks!

And there you have it. Starbucks’ advertising communicates a perceived added value which means they can charge you more money for an undifferentiated product.

There are 1000s of other examples of this of course. For example, the Stella Artois lager brand used to use the positioning line “Reassuringly Expensive” in its advertising. Yet Stella Artois is not much different to most other lager that contains similar alcohol content. And just how different, apart from being lower in price, is Red Rooster compared to Red Bull?

Rory Sutherland explains how advertising changes perception of value far better than I could dare to even dream of. To watch him doing this with hilarious examples just click here:

Will Olympic sausages from the butcher really harm Goliath sponsors?

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Last week Oliver Astley, a friend of mine and the Business Correspondent at Derby Evening Telegraph, asked me to give my opinion on the Olympic marketing debacle.
So I did.
And he kindly printed my garbled thoughts in his well read and respected Business Weekly supplement

And if you’re interested in reading my thoughts, here they are:

TRADERS offering flaming torch baguettes or Olympic sausages are unlikely to take market share from Samsung, Lloyds Bank or Proctor and Gamble.

But that has not stopped the organising committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games from getting its knickers in a twist.

Lord Coe, holding an Olympic torch, who has come under fire for saying that people wearing logos of non-Olympic sponsors might be turned away from the Games.

The London Olympics will cost an estimated £9.3 billion to host and raising money through sponsorship is obviously crucial.

And protecting the branding rights of the 53 official sponsors, who contribute an estimated £1 billion between them, is clearly a high priority for Locog.

But there is a growing feeling that the organisers have gone too far with their heavy-handed protection of the sponsors.

Lord Coe has come in for particular criticism, having said that people wearing logos of non-Olympic sponsors might be turned away.

Putting the legal aspects aside, this is an unwelcome own goal for sponsors as it is creating a wave of negative PR – which is, ironically, the exact opposite of what sponsorship is designed to achieve.

And this comes at an uncertain time for sponsorship in general.

Major brands are evaluating the effectiveness of such large deals.

In fact, in a recent survey by Brand Republic, many people reported that they had no idea who was sponsoring the Olympics.

And 16% of people surveyed thought Tesco was a sponsor. It is not.

Similarly, Canon, Carlsberg, Sky and Orange, none of whom have anything to do with the Games, were all named as sponsors by those surveyed.

But Locog’s policing of the Games is not just to give sponsors maximum value for their investment. It is to stave off the threat of ambush marketing.

This is a controversial tactic whereby a brand tries to make it appear that it is associated with an event for which it has purchased no rights, usually drawing attention away from the official sponsor.

And to be fair to Lord Coe and Locog, ambush marketing is a genuine concern as there have been numerous examples of this tactic at major sporting events.

These include a construction of a heavily-branded Nike village next to the athletes’ village at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, at which Reebok was the official footwear sponsor.

And who could forget the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the Bavaria brewing company outfitted 30 Dutch women in mini-dresses in its trademark orange for the Netherlands’ opening game against Denmark – much to the annoyance of official beer sponsor Budweiser?

What makes this even more frustrating for sponsors is the David and Goliath effect.

This is because, if the brand doing the ambushing is significantly smaller than the official sponsor, as it often is, the public tend to side with the little guy.

Particularly if the big guy stops the little guy giving away freebies. After all, we all like getting free stuff.

People involved in ambush marketing think it’s clever and often funny but, for me, it’s nothing more than theft that damages the value of sponsorship.

And ultimately, if the sponsors do not get the return-on-investment they need, they will simply stop investing their marketing money, which could be disastrous for many sporting events.

It will be interesting to see what unofficial sponsors hungry for Olympic publicity will come up with – but let’s hope common sense prevails and Usain Bolt is not turned away for wearing trainers made by Puma.