Marketers love to dream about changing perceptions of their brand in a big way. This could be turning a dusty old brand into something hot and trendy. Or stretching a brand from its core business into a new market. This is the brand extension trick Twinings is trying to pull off. They want to break free of their product category associations and becoming an "umbrella brand" that can cross categories. Having spent 301 years being famous for tea, they have launched…. coffee.
My first reaction to this was to think it was a bit of kamikaze brand extension, doomed to fail. After all, Twinings themselves say on their website:
"For many people, Twinings simply is tea. Since we first started business in 1706, we've been using our blending expertise to create high quality teas"
Twinings = coffee just doesn't compute; Twinings = tea. These sort of brand associations are incredibly hard to change. Brain experts working on this issue have shown that these associations are "hard wired" into our brains. The Twinings coffee idea worked well in extensive consumer research. But in reality, a mountain of money will be needed to get the brand into the consideration set for coffee.
It's brand associations associations that allow us to make quick decisions in an over-crowded world. I posted before on how design agency JKR found that an average shopping basket contains 30 items, chosen from the 30 000 SKUs stocked by an average supermarket. In other words, we have to choose 1 in 1000 products 30 times over. You can only do this because you have strongly engrained images of brands, linked to their visual (or sonic) iconography. For example, when you go to cereal, you see a cockerel and grab the Kellogg's cornflakes. You move on to ketchup and zoom in on the iconic Heinz bottle.
However, having actually bought some of the Twinings coffee, I'm warming up to the idea. Here's why:
1. There is a functional link
This extension is not just relying on the dreaded emotional values, or sizzle, to make it work. Twinings are telling a story about blending. This has been established in tea, but is now being applied in coffee. Sort of works.
2. The pack jumped into my trolley
The pack is lovely. In contrast to many ground coffee brand offerings, it used a nice tin instead of a bag. This looks more premium and elegant, and also has the functional benefit of being more easy to re-seal.
3. It tasted great!
More sausage. We tried it out at the weekend, and it tasted really good. Smooth but rich.
So, the net effect of all this is that it might actually make it back on to the shopping list. However, the question is whether I would have considered it in the first place if I had not read about the launch and wanted to write a blog post on it. Or would I have simply filtered it out of my shopping trip? And if I had seen it, would I have got past the first hurdle of "Twinings = tea, not coffee. Wierd."
Time will tell if Twinings have managed to re-wire perceptions of its brand. Or whether it will have to squeeze its way into the over-crowded extension graveyard along with the other extensions that died trying to help brands break their category linkage, such as Lynx shavers and Cosmopolitan yoghurts.