Posh nosh and French polish – giving brands a makeover

February 25, 2010

So Greggs the bakers is getting the Eliza Doolittle treatment. The high street snackerie famous for its pies, pasties and pastries has announced that it’s going posh to broaden its appeal. The bakers, which began life in the North East in the 1960s, is giving its London stores a makeover – wooden floors and moody lighting – to tempt its target white-collar customers into tucking into this week’s flavoursome star buy sticky toffee muffin or lunching on a steak-filled pasty and yum yum combo.

The firm’s chief executive, Ken McMeikan, says the changes will enhance the buying experience of all customers from “barristers to builders” as the company competes against the likes of Starbucks and Pret A Manger.

Of course, Greggs is not the first brand to attempt to refashion itself. Skoda, once the object of mirth among car drivers, was taken over by Volkswagen in the 1990s and, while cleverly satirising its own image for nerdiness, carefully built a reputation for reliability and affordability. Skoda now tags itself “the manufacturer of happy drivers” and boasts that 98 per cent of Skoda owners would probably recommend them to a friend. We are presumably expected to skim over the word ‘probably’, but you get the drift.


A still from the visitBlackpool campaign.

It is not just cars and shops that can get the sort of facelift that would make Mickey Rourke envious. Blackpool, once the go to destination for hen parties, is now billing itself as a cultural hub, must-see visitor attraction and conference host for the working classes. It has done so in a very imaginative and witty promotional video that applies some French polish to a destination which now attracts 13 million visitors a year.

According to Natalie Wyatt, Head of visitBlackpool, the aim of the video, which shows a young French woman waiting listlessly in a restaurant, was to encourage visitors to take a fresh look at Blackpool and highlight the resort’s attractions.

She said: “We have received many positive comments from journalists, visitors and locals and I am certain that our increased visitor numbers are thanks, in part, to new visitors coming to try a spot of ‘otpot and a glass of champagne after viewing the ad!”

Champagne and ‘otpot – sounds like a new menu option for Greggs.


Will ‘Toyota Man’ decide the election?

February 18, 2010

Remember Mondeo Man? Much derided and a feature now of our urban dictionary, he has been credited with helping to swing the 1997 election in favour of Labour’s Tony Blair. A Conservative voter by instinct, Mondeo bloke was a 30-something, middle-income family man, who identified with the new-world aspirational vision articulated by New Labour.

Psephologists searching for the successor to Mondeo Man believe that Motorway Man could hold the key to this year’s general election. Typically living in new homes in corridors close to the major motorways, these voters are young, probably a childless couple, and drive extensively for their middle manager sales jobs. With many of these voters living in marginal seats and encumbered by traditional party loyalties, they are being wooed vigorously by the Labour and Conservative political machines.

But I wonder whether there is not another voter constituency that is being completely overlooked? To maintain the vehicular theme, I will call him Toyota Man. Of course, it doesn’t have the alliteratively pleasing quality of those other voter groups, but I believe it successfully suggests a person who feels that the whole system has failed and let them down, who believes they are owed an apology which is only grudgingly offered and given the choice again would probably have chosen something completely different – the colour of which is immaterial.

I expect the local party activists are zeroing in on Toyota showrooms as I write.

Responsibility has dropped out of fashion

February 3, 2010

After telling his famous lie to Parliament, Jack Profumo devoted the last 40 years of his life to helping at a hostel for the homeless in the East End of London. It was his way of seeking to take responsibility for a lapse of judgment and personal failings.

How different things are today. Dr Rajendra Pachhauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change says he will not apologise for a fallacious claim made in a report by his organisation that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035“You cannot expect me to be personally responsible for every word in a 3,000 page report,” he tells the Guardian. True enough if the mistake was of molehill proportions, but we are talking about an XL cock up here. According to the panel’s own description, the glaciers form the largest body of ice outside the polar caps and act as a reservoir serving the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems that support millions of people living in South Asian countries. A statement issued by the IPCC says the wider conclusion of the report is robust but it “regrets the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance.” Were these people not told by their mathematics teachers to show their working out?

Last week at the Chilcot Inquiry, Sir Michael Wood who was the chief legal adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office when the decision was taken to go to war with Iraq explained to the panel why he did not resign over his doubts about the legality of invasion. His colleague Elizabeth Wilmshurst did resign as a matter of conscience because the proposed course of military action amounted in her view to “a crime of aggression”.

Sir Michael said he had been expecting that question and argued that resignation was a matter of personal conscience and, besides, he didn’t actually have to defend the decision to go to war personally. The logical consequence of this argument is that you can do what you want if you think you will never need to answer for it. Sir Michael retired in 2006.

And today Toyota has been embarrassed into making an apology over the recall of millions of its vehicles over an apparent fault with the accelerator pedal on certain models. And the best Miguel Fonseca, managing director of Toyota GB can come up with is to say he is sorry for the concern felt by his customers. As grudging apologies go this is a corker.

Still we live in hope that the Chelsea and England player John Terry will make a full mea culpa, forsake his £170,000 weekly wage and start slopping out at a soup kitchen near Cobham. Watch this space.