Don’t be ashamed of your brand values

by Tom Albrighton 8 March 2011 Copywriting reviews, Tone of voice

Have you seen the latest branding for Sellotape? The TV spots and website feature the slogan ‘Every roll… inspired by you’ (see picture).

As you’ve probably already guessed, this isn’t going to be a five-star review. First off, I’m having trouble just parsing the sense. What are they on about?

I guess the slogan could mean that the product comes to life in the hands of consumers, driven by their inspiration. But in that case, it seems to me that it’s the people who should be inspired, not the sticky tape.

Love and money

Another possible sense is that Sellotape is inspired to make its products by its wonderful customers – every single roll of Sellotape is a labour of love. If so, it wouldn’t be a million miles from the sort of statement that plenty of other consumer brands (and B2B brands, for their sins) try and make us believe. But that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. Firms make things for money, not love. To claim otherwise is to stretch credibility to breaking point. Consumers aren’t stupid.

Of course, consumers may still buy for love. That’s the essence of the Lovemarks approach, pioneered by Saatchi & Saatchi and now (it seems) the standard approach for pretty much every aspiring consumer brand. The idea is to drive positive emotion into the customer’s experience, so your brand has something to offer more than just, well, branding, which has become a devalued currency.

Steeped in emotion

But what if your brand is already steeped in positive emotion? That’s the problem faced by brands like Marmite. How can the enormous equity in the brand be mobilised to drive sales without (a) seeming tired and traditional or (b) alienating devoted customers?

The answer Marmite found was to play up the division between those who loved Marmite and those who hated it, culminating in brilliantly over-the-top fashion with the creation of a Marmite shrine. (Positioning consumers’ love for a product as quasi-religious is surely taking the Lovemarks philosophy as far as it can go.) The campaign reinforced brand loyalty and positive perceptions in a memorable, genuinely funny way, without damaging any of the goodwill vested in the brand.

Nostalgic appeal

Sellotape is in a similar position. It’s a long-established brand with a host of positive, nostalgic connotations – making things in childhood, wrapping presents, mending treasured books. Its name, like ‘Hoover’, has become synonymous with the product, whoever makes it – a fact that this Sellotape ad from 2009 played on. By any token, the branding battle is there to be lost rather than won.

I myself am a prime target for Sellotape. I used miles of it as a child, and buy it today because I perceive it to be a higher-quality product. Recently I invested in a ‘proper’ heavy tape dispenser, which my daughter has used so much that we have to put it on a high shelf to manage her addiction. Insofar as someone can love a sticky-tape brand, I love Sellotape. And yet this latest campaign leaves me cold.

Why? I think it’s because of a mismatch between the tone of the copy and my feelings about the brand. The campaign seems to big up the ‘creativity’ aspect of using Sellotape. I buy that to an extent, but for me it’s the context of that creativity that’s more important – being at home, with family, sharing ‘warm’ experiences. ‘Inspiration’ may be a factor in that, but when you make things with Sellotape it’s usually about a slightly bodged, Heath Robinson-esque creation rather than an inspired masterwork.

Cosy corner

In other words, Sellotape is a reliable, cosy brand. It’s about group activity as much as individual achievement. Look again at the ad I linked to earlier – the 2009 tagline was ‘thanks for sticking with Sellotape’, which nicely emphasises the ‘heritage’, ‘loyalty’ and ‘togetherness’ aspects of the brand.

Perhaps thrusting young marketers without kids don’t rate ‘family’, ‘stability’ and ‘cosiness’ as worthwhile brand values. But emotionally speaking, these are the advantages that the brand has got over competitors (superior physical quality being a rational benefit).

My daughter will use any kind of sticky tape. If it’s cheap and keeps splitting, she just perseveres until she’s made her rocket. Brands mean little to her – but they’re hugely powerful for me. It’s important to think about who’s actually buying your product, as opposed to using it.

To sum up, I think this slogan is an attempt to foist unwanted, superfluous values on a brand that’s already got plenty of positive equity, possibly in the name of ‘updating’ or ‘refreshing’ it. But brands are like people – they can only look good in clothes that really suit them.

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