So Sanitarium is heading off to the High Court to protect its rights in a product they are currently out of stock of? You have to wonder whether any of its public affairs team had a hand in that decision, or whether it is just another example of an excess of testosterone at management level. If so, there is a lot of it around in the brand world, where commercial property is too often used as an avatar for personal success, often at the cost of public capital in an increasingly competitive consumer market.
When well handled, such aggressive branding, as in the automotive case of Holden and Ford, becomes part of the brand appeal and drives both loyalty and profit for the company. There is an element of developing blind loyalty in the big consumer brand battles such as that between Pepsi and Coke, or, indeed, between Marmite and Vegemite. It is debatable whether taking a small importer up the Queen’s Council creek over a couple of thousand specially branded jars of royal breakfast spread is likely to attract much public sympathy for Sanitarium.
True, its product, in this case Marmite, will, should it ever return to local shelves, regain its market strength on the basis that there is nothing else quite like it. Yes, I am an avowed Marmite supporter, but surely that is at the very heart of this matter. Jars of English Marmite are hardly going to compromise the appeal of the New Zealand version to its loyal followers, no matter what the intellectual property lawyers may think.
Quite simply, the market problem with Marmite right now is that the manufacturer is unable to supply, so if consumers get a taste for something else during the hiatus period, that is hardly the fault of any operator but Sanitarium. Perhaps they should take God to court for causing earthquakes in Christchurch.
While there is an imperative on brand owners to protect their assets from corruption by fraudsters seeking to gain an advantage through brand burglary, there are other creativities than fraud, and sometimes the cleverness of these is more of an enhancement to the brand in question than it is a hinderance. Underground T-shirt manipulation of mainstream brands, for example, is invariably a means by which such conservative identifiers gain an element of cool, and consequently become more appealing to another sector of the market.
Who would have considered the potential in rap music to enrich the existing aristocratic marketplace for luxury booze until Courvoisier Cognac and Louis Roederer Cristal got their bad boy boost. While that did increase the rate of theft for both products in the US, it also energised their late night European and USA hospo markets as well as giving a timely boost to duty free.
While Louis Roederer was reportedly unhappy with the rap connection to its finest champagne, it did not charge in lawyered-up to claim its total control over the brand. That would have been laughable, and pointless, just as Sanitarium’s action is. What Roederer did do was make a public statement that salved the conservative sensitivities of its establishment customers, while it continued to smile secretly all the way to the bank.
Now if only Sanitarium had made a public Jubilee year concession to Ma’amite in its English livery, this might have been a public relations coup. Instead its a joke, one that could cost the Sanitarium brand more than QC fees.