Boots, Thomas Cook and Piggly Wiggly: brands as agents of change

Brand change markets, attitudes, behavior. Some brands can even change society and the way we live our lives.

Brands are many things. They are a shorthand “label” to whole bundles of associations, both good and bad. They are both a promise (the offer they make) and a responsibility (the requirement to deliver on that promise). They are units of social currency as they mean something to so many people, so as well as demographics and psychographics there are brandographics.

In the UK phrases like “bl**dy BMW driver” or “typical Daily Mail reader” have clear connotations that the majority of people understand. Brands are also value generators, as people will pay more for products and services where physical and performance differences are minimal.

But brands are also agents of change, and not just of their own performance. They have driven changes to the law, they have shifted perceptions and actions regarding health, they are increasingly playing a role in addressing some of the biggest societal issues of our time — from sustainability to gender and racial prejudice. In short, brands can change the world in which we live.

Changing the law of the land

Boots, the chemist, drove change in the retail pharmacy market, but to do so needed to see the law change. It was their pioneering and lobbying that led to the first in-store dispensing service, established in 1888 and then the First Day & Night Store which they launched in Piccadilly Circus in 1925.

More recently, BrewDog lobbied and got the law on beer glass sizing changed. It conducted what it called “the world’s smallest protest”, when it hired a 4’5 tall dwarf to lobby parliament to change the law and allow a 2/3 pint measure of beer to be served. The new size was approved by parliament and introduced in 2011.

Changing the health market

Kotex is a brand originally developed by Kimberley Clark to use up excess Cellucotton, which had been used in the army in WW1. For pads and bandages, it transformed women’s sanitary hygiene. It proved to be a success, partly because it was sold off counter displays, avoiding any need for both the retailer or customer to talk about what was being sold.

Diet Pepsi helped drive the diet drinks habit. It took the idea of a cola for diabetics which had been launched as ‘no cal’, and broadened out the targeting of the calorie conscious.

Changing the way we holiday

Thomas Cook was a Baptist Minister who became a cabinet maker, and though he never planned it, he became a true travel revolutionary. What started out as arranging train trips for fellow temperance supporters was to evolve after a visit to an International Exhibition in Paris in 1855. He identified the route between Harwich and Antwerp as a gateway to northern Europe and started running tours in northern Europe. Things took off after he ran the first trip to Switzerland, and package tours were born.

One of the early Thomas Cook travel shops – at Clumber Street, Nottingham

Changing the way we shop

Clarence Saunders was travelling on a train through Indiana in 1916 when he looked out of the window and saw a pig farm. A litter of hungry pigs were pushing and shoving all trying to get fed. It made him think of all the general stores he had been in, and how everyone crowded round the counter trying to be served.

He decided there must be a better way and came up with the idea of customers serving themselves and paying on the way out. Piggly Wiggly, as he named his store, was born and so, too, was the supermarket.


Changing society’s attitude to women

Brands are also increasingly driving societal change. Ariel’s Share the Load campaign in India has encouraged men to help out with the washing and Always’ groundbreaking #LikeAGirl campaign are great examples.

And there are many more

These are just a few of the ways that brands have driven change, there are lots more from the past and probably even more to come in the future. Ann Summers drove change in the lingerie and adult toy market. Motorola transformed the way we communicate with the first mobile phone. Microsoft helped put a computer on everyone’s desk. Nintendo’s Wii changed the market for gaming and TikTok are changing the way we use social media…

What change is your brand driving?

Featured image: BrewDog

Giles Lury

Giles would describe himself as a VW Beetle driving, Lego watch-wearing, Disney-loving, Chelsea-supporting father of five who also happens to be a senior director of leading strategic brand consultancy - The Value Engineers. He has over thirty years’ experience in the business and is known both for his creative spark and his ability to constructively challenge conventional thinking which has led to him being given another title - Director of Deviancy.

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