Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The problem with good branding

Good branding is obvious and stands out in its environment to get your company’s messages out there in the open.

A well sited poster can direct those messages at thousands of people, creating an easily identifiable product or service.

Despite what people say, they do align themselves with brands even if it is an unconscious action. We all have our favourite snack or preferred clothes shop even if we don’t want their logos emblazoned across the backs.

But what happens when the branding is placed in the wrong environment? Or in the wrong context? How does that message appear?

During a short walk I carry out most days, I’m exposed to branding messages despite the journey taking me next to open fields. Whatever the intention, my personal reaction to the companies is negative.

I’m talking rubbish. The litter left at the side of the road and blown across open fields is something I’ve never been able to understand – far better to have a clean car than an unspoilt countryside?

It isn’t the firm’s fault that their logos are left as an eyesore, but they do have a responsibility. They also have an interest to ensure their brightly coloured logos don’t send the wrong message. It also says a lot about a company’s customers.

Creating Market segmentation through a litter survey

So just who are these litter louts? One technique is to look at trying to create a profile based on the information available. This is hardly a precise way of looking at things, but it does create interesting results.

So what did I find? Cigarette butts everywhere; left, right and centre. The brands are too indistinct to be noticed.

Discarded smoking packets were brand specific. Richmond, B&H and Lambert & Butler seemed to make up virtually all of the packets found. I could name a number of brands, but I didn’t see any of their packets.

The most noticeable was McDonalds. Cups, meal boxes and bags seemed to be everywhere. Interestingly, I didn’t notice any KFC litter despite having the same number of restaurants in the locality.

Snacks made up the majority of the litter. Coca-Cola, Tango, Fanta, Robinson’s flavoured water seem to be the drinks of choice with takeaway coffee cups also prevalent.

Walker’s crisps packets and multi-pack bag wrappers making up a sizeable portion of the snack rubbish. There was surprisingly few chocolate bar wrappers, and some litter from Jellybeans.
Larger cans made a few appearances through the undergrowth with Fosters seemingly the brand of choice.

From this we can create a profile of a thirst, larger drinking McDonald’s fan who likes Walkers crisps and smokes one of the two brands mentioned. You can imply age, sex and demography to a certain extent. The danger is to create a single profile, where there might be two or three.
One question I have is whether this profile could be replicated or whether it is particular to the route. Having lived in the countryside I’d suspect more the former.

Equally, although the litter is everywhere, it’s not a huge amount suggesting that the problem is caused by relatively few individuals.

So what are the solutions?

Packaging is far from straightforward. It’s quite interesting to look at the McDonald’s coffee cup which is much less obvious than many other items of its packaging. Its muted green still does stand out in the correct environment, but is a little more hidden in the long grass. Clever design can be invaluable.

Degradability is a red herring. Products can take around a year to degrade even if it’s degradable. It can help, but is far from being an answer. Litter bins? I doubt they’d help. Some research shows a badly placed bin can create litter problems by attracting too much rubbish for the level of collection available.

Education is the best solution. I remember my father challenged some youths dropping litter, and they politely suggested it was keeping someone in a job. Litter pickers don’t work in the countryside and even community service projects cover an insignificant portion of our roads and pathways.

It is somehow easier to drop, even when it’s not, because it’s ingrained. I’ve not really seen any campaign by leading companies to tackle the issue or fund it. Possibly they think the halo effect of litter is too bad to go near in case it admits liability.

The alternative is to shame the companies into helping educate the public, particularly the young, through surveying the brands that leave the litter. The survey could even be linked to school projects clearing an area near them.

Or even better, could the local McDonalds create this sort of campaign to reduce their share of the litter and educate the kids at the same time.

Too often litter education is untargeted and by looking at the rubbish dropped we can start to identify where to target education. Equally punitive measures like a rubbish tax affects all companies. The most interesting thing in my small scale survey was the brand specific nature of the rubbish.

And finally, if it is you who has dropped the litter, carry it a little bit further and drop it in a bin.

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