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Marketing Brand Strategy Tesco

The brand odyssey: What ancient Greek wisdom teaches us about ‘masterbrands’

By Ollie Ellis | Senior Content Executive

Propeller Group


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November 29, 2023 | 7 min read

Drawing on examples from EasyJet’s doomed EasyPizza to Cosmopolitan’s yogurt launch, Propeller Group’s Ollie Ellis investigates how brands can survive in a constantly changing world.

An ancient Greek statue of a winged god

What can the ancient Greeks teach us about brand survival? / Markus Winkler via Unsplash

Unless you studied classics, the name ‘Heraclitus’ might not mean much to you. But the teachings of this Greek philosopher have huge relevance for modern businesses. He scrawled on a wax tablet: “change is the only constant in life.”

It’s a simple truth, yet one that should be the mantra of any organization striving for greatness. Thriving brands are never content standing still. They continuously diversify their offering to stay ahead of the competition and cater to consumers’ shifting expectations.

But in doing this they shouldn’t abandon the original formula for success. Coca-Cola tried that once with ‘new Coke’ - never again. Your masterbrand extends beyond your products, services, logo, and messaging. It’s your personality: a unique set of principles that were the catalyst to attracting existing customers.

Entering new markets and devising new propositions can maintain relevance and increase reach among high-value audiences – some may label it as a ‘business imperative’, fundamental to long-term success. However, any future innovation needs to be balanced against staying true to the masterband that got you there in the first place.

The masterbrand Midas touch: Tesco and Patagonia

Brands need to be selective when launching alternative propositions if they want to ensure that all things that glitter are gold. Consumers aren’t blind to corporate greed; they need to see genuine value in new products and services.

Transparency and authenticity are key to winning consumers’ hearts and wallets. 70% of UK consumers acknowledge they will spend more with authentic brands. It’s all well and good branching out into new sectors, but they need to hark back to your original principles.

Supermarket Tesco, for example, had already identified the rapid delivery market as a lucrative expansion opportunity pre-pandemic. However, multiple lockdowns caused demand to surge. The retailer found itself contending with challengers old and new (Deliveroo, Uber Eats, and Waitrose to name a few).

The brand’s new proposition, same-day delivery under the name ‘Whoosh’, aimed to reassure existing customers that it would stay true to its brick-and-mortar roots, while also convincing new audiences that it could deliver a premium on-demand service. Keeping faith with Tesco’s traditional heritage and positioning was the catalyst to cutting through the noise, with sustained success leading to Whoosh being rolled out across 200 stores.

When I spoke to Mahesh Tailor and Danny Pinhas, co-founders at MR.D, an agency specializing in masterbrand propositions that worked with Tesco on Whoosh, they said that the work aims to take the brand “into new spaces and places... To stay competitive and gain – rather than lose – market share, it’s important to push, stretch and agitate the brand to reach new audiences, but also protect everything that makes them great.”

Patagonia is another brand that recognized how implementing a long-term strategy (and sticking to it) was a powerful tool to generate equity and loyalty. The clothing retailer didn’t embark on a sustainability journey overnight. Rather, it implemented a staged process, including becoming a certified B-Corp in 2011.

This paved the way for Yvon Chouinard’s decision to donate Patagonia to a charitable trust in 2022. Similarly, the launch of its ‘Worn Wear’ proposition which encourages consumers to purchase used-and-vintage products wasn’t perceived as an empty promise. Consumers saw this was a continuation of the brand’s eco-first mentality. Though the business model had evolved, the brand foundations were still set in stone.

What’s your Achilles heel? EasyJet and Cosmopolitan

Exploring new pastures may sound an enticing prospect, but the grass isn’t always greener. Brands must pay their due diligence when launching a new proposition, or risk seeing their foundations crumble to dust.

Establishing a tangible reason behind your venture should be the first port of call. Budget airline EasyJet has evolved from selling flights for the cost of a pair of jeans into a masterbrand with the ‘Easy’ prefix licensed to more than 150 propositions. While the language and color scheme have remained the same, the consistencies stop there.

For every new service that related back to the original offering (like EasyHotel and EasyCruise), there are a dozen projects that faded into obscurity (like EasyOffice and EasyPizza). It’s not just the cluttered approach that was cause for concern. The complete neglect of EasyJet’s commitment to simplicity, a core pillar of its masterbrand, caused tension between the business and consumers.

Brands should appreciate that a large existing audience doesn’t guarantee traction for your new proposition – a fact that Cosmopolitan failed to acknowledge when it launched a yogurt range in 1999. The women’s magazine had been an institution of the entertainment world for more than a century, yet there was a method behind the madness. The brand cited research showing that ‘65% of Britons used food during love making’ – data that went hand-in-hand with Cosmo’s focus on sex and relationships. However, the belief that the magazine’s significant readership would carry the proposition, coupled with the subsequent lack of bespoke advertising, caused the product to flounder.

Opening Pandora’s box

Greece’s mighty temples and monuments are now a shadow of their former selves, but Heraclitus’ wisdom still stands tall. Accepting that change is constant doesn’t mean sacrificing your brand’s identity. In a business world defined by rapid cultural shifts and evolving consumer expectations, your masterbrand should be the one constant, the anchor that defines your organization.

Forsaking your masterbrand, meanwhile, is the first step to becoming estranged from those that matter most. Keeping it at the heart of new propositions empowers you to honor the past while also looking towards a brighter, innovation-driven future.

Marketing Brand Strategy Tesco

Content by The Drum Network member:

Propeller Group

Propeller delivers a joined-up approach to PR, Content and Business Development.

Our clients all have stories to tell.

Our role is to shape and put those stories in front of the right people, and we do.

The work we do builds credibility and awareness for our clients and enhances their positioning for action and growth.

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