Last week’s The Secrets of Superbrands (BBC3) highlighted an interesting point about our attitude towards food brands. There are certain store cupboard staples that we are quite happy to buy the supermarket own brand of – rice, perhaps, vegetables, probably and flour, almost certainly. However, there exists an army of supermarket shelf celebrities that defeat the own brands in the popularity stakes every time. I would predict that if you have written cornflakes and baked beans on your shopping list you will reach for Kellogg’s and Heinz in the supermarket aisle. And in a demonstration of brands achieving top of mind awareness and synonymity with a particular product, you are most likely to add brand names, not product types, to your list when you need to stock up on Marmite and Coca-Cola.
Looking at Coca-Cola and Heinz in particular, the programme explored the psychological impact of these highly recognizable brands, and found that they have something surprising in common – war. Coca-Cola was the official drink of the US army during World War 2; mobile bottling plants followed the troupes through the conflict, leaving the brand scattered across every continent at the end of the war. Heinz baked beans, also, have military connections – they became a staple food item of every US military ration pack. A strong psychological connection was created between brand and soldier – when ensconced in the horrors of war the familiar brands reminded the homesick men of home and when they returned to their families after the conflict, the link was with victory.
The psychological impact of a brand that carries connotations of home and comfort can be seen in the way our brains react to certain branded items – the same part of the brain that becomes active when you see a friend or loved one and recognize their face also lights up when our favourite branded food items are placed in front of us.
You only have to look at the number of South African food stores springing up in London feeding the Blighty-based Springboks’ hunger for Biltong to understand the importance attached to having our favourite brands in our life. An Australian friend I lived with in the UK longed for Tim Tams and would request packets to be sent over from her relatives to quell her homesickness – Penguins just didn’t cut it for her. I, for one, would find it hard to live abroad without ready access to Marmite. Whilst on holiday in Crete last week, surrounded by jams of every flavour at the breakfast buffet, I craved the tar-like yeast extract to spread on my toast…it perhaps had something to do with the rain falling outside that reminded me of England and that there’s no place like home.