Branding: big pipes vs. little ones

coke bottle.jpg

It is a truism of marketing practice that small, “niche,” brands are smaller and more nimble than great, big ones. Someday, this may prove to be wrong.

Thanks to Piers Fawkes and Simon King at PSFK (and www.Vogue.co.uk), this news of design innovation from Coca-Cola UK.

Coke invited Matthew Williamson, Manolo Blahnik, Damon Dash, Jonathan Saunders, Wayne Rooney, Gharani Strok and Bay Garnett to redesign the Coke bottle. Some of the bottles enter limited circulation through Harvey Nichols stores, and the original is auctioned to raise money for the Terence Higgins Trust, the UK’s leading HIV charity.

We may take this as a test run for the day, in the not very distant future, when even the most pedestrian Coke bottle will feel the transforming touch of great design. There will be many Coke designs in circulation at any one time, and the turn-over will be fierce. You like the Manolo Blahnik (as above) now in the stores? Snap it up. It will be gone in a week. (We never repeat ad campaigns, however successful they were. Someday we will take the same attitude towards packaging.)

We know that the current uniformity of packages is the artifact of an economic moment that has come and gone. National brands bargained for consumer loyalty by delivering uniformity. We were as a culture mesmerized by the idea of consistency and constancy. Both these moments are disappearing like morning mist on the links of St. Andrews. Someday, consumer packaging will stream with innovation.

What happens to the competitive landscape when this is so? Big brands will stream better than small ones. We may think of them as big pipes, capable of carrying a vast amount and diversity of brand meanings. Little brands, new to the world, will “stream” at their peril. They will need constancy to stake their claim to a place in the marketplace.

Clearly, this reverses the traditional relationship. Now big brands will be the changeable ones. Little brands will be boring, stodgy, and a little predictable. They will be forced to give away the very dynamism on which new entries traditionally depend. Hmm. How then will little brands manage to come up? What will the advantage of littleness be?

It’s as if we have been occupying just to quadrants of a four-part table, the “fast but little” plus the “large but slow.” What happens when big brands take up residence in the “large and fast?”

Reference

The post from PSFK here

Post Script

This blog has been preoccupied with the dynamism of consumer taste and preference and we have from time to time wondered about the instruments with which we might improve our ability to track and predict this dynamism.

So I was impressed to hear of the work of PSFK and its founders Piers Fawkes and Simon King. Here’s how they describe themselves:

PSFK is a community of trend spotters, futurists, forward-thinking-individuals and cool hunters in Fashion, Design, Advertising, IT, Government, Art, You-Name-It around the world. Sightings of trends are fed to a group of main site editors who then may or may not publish them on the site. We email a weekly and monthly newsletter too to subscribers.

Sign up the PSFK newsletter