Talking shop: Umbrella branding

As Heinz embarks on a £5m campaign to push the brand over beans, we took the case for umbrella branding to leading marketers. It is an issue that divides the industry.


When Heinz announced a £5m campaign earlier last month to promote the brand through its core range rather than individual products, it represented a shift in the company’s strategy (see case study, below). Previous messages, such as ‘Beanz mean Heinz’, have tended to focus on shifting particular products rather than promoting the corporate name.

While Heinz is moving towards an umbrella marketing strategy, others are shifting away from such an approach. Cadbury moved many of its products under the Dairy Milk umbrella in 2003, dropping bars such as Wispa, which did not fit. But recently, it has started promoting its individual products again.

Those marketers in favour of umbrella strategies claim they help convince consumers of their expertise and quality. Using a flagship brand can be a marketer’s most powerful tool in helping products stand out from the crowd.

Yet others believe that while having a common identity can help to create a “halo effect” and boost sales for a newly launched variant, inconsistent advertising messages could result in the core brand image suffering in the long term.

So who is right? Marketing Week asked both marketers and consumers to debate the issue of umbrella branding.

Pro-umbrella branding

Argument: The master brand has to be acknowledged on products because it commands trust, respect and loyalty

For large companies that sell products across an array of sectors, the master brand is the most important part of their consumer-facing marketing. These firms believe that their corporate brand name is the most recognisable thing to customers and is regarded as a mark of trust by them.

Tesco commercial director Richard Brasher claims: “Our brand is centred around the quality and service customers want and have come to expect from Tesco. We use this brand on own-label goods because it is our way of extending that trust and helping our customers have it all in an uncertain world.”

Brasher’s philosophy has recently been picked up in the electronics sector, where leading companies have taken to umbrella marketing to emphasise their credentials. Sony recently unveiled its make.believe brand strategy, which runs across the whole Sony portfolio – including electronics, mobiles, music, film and games – and will shortly be the focus of a branding push.

Sony UK general marketing manager Matt Coombe explains: “Everything we do now runs under a common identity; people know Sony and they believe the brand values of the master brand. Therefore, they feel reassured about what they are buying. The umbrella branding gives us a meaning, not just a logo.”

Rival LG also uses an umbrella message to promote its range of products, under the slogan Life’s Good.

LG head of brand marketing for the UK and Ireland Paul Meadows explains that its motto aims to be one that “resonates with consumers and helps us tap into their hearts and minds”. He adds: “The LG logo and motto are strong icons that connect everything together. Consumers take those beliefs and brand equity with them to the checkout as a source of reassurance.”

It is not just large corporates that take this view. Retailers on the high street also believe that building an empire under an umbrella brand is essential to their operations. Simon Fox, chief executive of HMV Group, says creating a strong umbrella brand for products is vital to move forward with other strategies, such as commercial partnerships.

Fox considers HMV’s brand to be “the strongest part of the group’s offering”. Rather than focusing too heavily on product marketing, he says it is essential for his marketers to “constantly remind customers of HMV’s iconic status” as it is this which will stop them choosing other retailers or entertainment options.

Sony’s Coombe adds that umbrella brands are excellent ways for multinational, multichannel businesses to make sure they keep their communication consistent. With so much potential to go “off message”, it helps keep even the largest corporations focused on one goal.

“Our company approach previously was fragmented and disparate, and this should be avoided,” admits Coombe. “Every piece of communication should be consistent and attempt to bring the values of the master brand into the company as a whole.”

Argument: When people see a common identity they will want to try other variants because they trust the umbrella brand

New brands or lesser-known variants are often marketed under the umbrella of a powerful master brand in an attempt to boost sales and generate awareness of the latest offering.

The aim is to give the variant a kick-start and reassure consumers that the new launch will be consistent with their previous experiences they have had with the master brand. Unilever has recently begun promoting its corporate brand on all of its product advertising in a bid to generate such a “halo effect” from its brands.

Paul Nevett, vice-president of marketing for foods and ice cream at Unilever UK & Ireland, explains: “The new single Unilever company structure has generated lots of internal pride and has been fundamental to keeping employees motivated.

“We wanted to replicate that with consumers to ensure they know what Unilever is and what it stands for. The Unilever logo is now a mark of quality through its greater presence, which reassures consumers. They can relate to it and look for it, creating a “halo effect” for all our portfolio of brands.”

Heinz may be hoping to emulate Unilever with its new campaign, which bears the motto “It has to be Heinz”. As the first ad campaign to feature multiple Heinz products in one execution, it aims to build on consumers’ emotional attachment to the brand.

This trend is not limited to the FMCG sector, however. Automotive firms have also been looking to the umbrella route to achieve a halo effect. Earlier this year, Nissan began to advertise its models collectively under the banner “Welcome to Simplicity”, instead of highlighting the best components of each model separately.

Nissan marketing communications general manager Jean-Pierre Diernaz says that by showing off the cars together, the brand is seen as a “mark of assurance” by consumers.

“By putting all the models together and demonstrating our strengths in each category of automotive vehicles, we create a halo effect for all our vehicles at all times,” he claims. And with so little cash available to automotive marketers, choosing the umbrella approach means paying once for pushing multiple models.

Consumer viewpoint pro-umbrella branding


Nicholas McKellow, Account executive, All for Sports


I’ve always had my favourite brands, so when I go shopping I do look for these as my first choice. I suppose that I hold these brands in high regard, so if I see they have launched something new, I am willing to try that out in the belief that it will be of the same high quality as the main brand.

When I see adverts like the Heinz one, it reminds me that I can get the same flavour that I get from ketchup in their tinned foods or salad cream. It grabs my attention and the motto then stays in my head. It also reaffirms my own personal tastes.

However, it doesn’t always work. I remember when Wispa became Dairy Milk Bubbly and lost all its clout. It took a huge Facebook campaign to get Cadbury to change its mind and bring back Wispa.

Overall, though, I think most famous brands rely on their corporate brands to build the sort of consumer trust that I have for selected brands. If you have a positive experience, you’re likely to be a repeat customer. If one corporate logo can open a consumer’s eyes to a vast array of products, then that’s great.

However, this could backfire if one of these experiences goes wrong. It’s worth remembering that most consumers think of relationships in a “once bitten, twice shy” kind of mentality so you should beware of stinging them in any way.

The Heinz moment: Heinz is tapping into people’s attachment to the brand

The Heinz moment: Heinz is tapping into people’s attachment to the brand

Case study: Heinz


Last month, Heinz unveiled its biggest umbrella brand marketing campaign under the strapline “It has to be Heinz”. The £5m campaign is its first multiproduct, multiplatform campaign and was created by AMV.BBDO to build on the emotional connection that Heinz believes its brand holds with consumers.

The marketing initiative was inspired by Heinz research which showed that British people already know subconsciously that there are certain moments in life when “It has to be Heinz”.

Heinz sauces and soup marketing director Giles Jepson explains: “The Heinz brand is greatly cherished by the British people; it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have significant personal connections with it. We wanted to remind them of our core products and maintain that relationship through this umbrella branding approach.”

The initial campaign focuses on five core products: Heinz Tomato Ketchup, Heinz Beanz, Heinz Salad Cream, Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup and Heinz Spaghetti Hoops. However, the overarching aim is to provide a “halo effect” to all the Heinz products.

Jepson says: “It’s really us leveraging on the brand equity of Heinz, and tapping into it to find new ways of connecting with our audiences. We can then exploit this new relationship for future brand development work, enabling this halo effect that we hope to achieve.”


Heinz has identified eight key “platforms” which capture those life experiences where people recognise that a particular food experience “has to be Heinz”.

Jepson says the company’s brand heritage helps to make the platforms and multiproduct approach something that consumers want to relate to. He says: “Heinz’s relationship with customers is built on the trust of over 100 years of service.”

He argues that no other food brand in the country can claim such a personal connection with the British people or such a wide range of products. Jepson adds that the benefit of such an approach is it goes beyond the traditional trade promotion work that some of its rivals rely on.


He says the multibrand push is set to continue for quite some time, as it not only serves the brand strategy but also helps the business set its own terms for marketing campaigns rather than relying on retailers to push individual brands.

Jepson sums up: “By focusing on our umbrella brand, we are able to give all of our products central focus on advertising and not rely on trade promotions in stores. It allows us to demonstrate the credentials of all our core brands.”

Anti-umbrella branding


Argument: Umbrella branding is a case of corporate egos getting too big


Not everyone agrees that umbrella branding is the way to go. Some suggest that new brands need to take their time to break into the market rather than simply rely on their parent brand’s name to justify their existence. They claim that umbrella branding means weak variants limp on for longer than necessary; they might be poor ideas but they are artificially supported by the brand “halo”.

This could be seen when Cadbury introduced an umbrella branding strategy for its Dairy Milk range, taking existing brands such as Caramel and Whole Nut under the main name as sub-brands in 2003. While the sub-brands grew to 15 by 2006, the majority, such as Mint Chips and Orange Chips, were eventually discontinued, while Wispa, which had been phased out, has returned to the market.

Simon Myers, chief executive of brand consultancy Figtree, goes as far as to argue that while umbrella branding can influence consumer behaviour, it can also confuse them. He says the way that umbrella marketing is presented can leave the consumer feeling uncertain over what is being sold to them, leading them to commit “brand adultery”.

He says: “Corporations often want their logo very visible, getting in consumers’ faces to massage their egos. Sometimes this can be a benefit. However, the majority of times, marketers are having to fight over whether a campaign should focus on the product or the brand credentials, and by the end both are in front of consumers’ eyes.

“This creates a situation where consumers are then faced with a conundrum over where their affinity should lie – with the master brand, the sub-brand or just the product. The result becomes brand adultery; the consumer has too much to love with all the messages grappling for their attention. In the worst case scenario, they’ll end up avoiding the brand all together.”

This is something that some marketers are more conscious of than others. Despite having large parent companies behind them, these brands desire an identity of their own. Microsoft’s Xbox console, for example, faces tough competition. However, the company prefers to focus on the Xbox 360 brand than put heavy emphasis on owner Microsoft.

Microsoft’s UK Xbox marketing director, Stephen McGill, says: “Just being part of Microsoft isn’t sufficient for us. We want the Xbox brand to stand out in its own right. What we emphasise in ads is not that we are a Microsoft games console, but a console that can be relied on for innovation and solid research and development.”

Coca-Cola takes a similar approach to its marketing. It does not adopt one consistent strategy but picks and chooses the correct approach for each marketing initiative. It prefers to run umbrella campaigns on specific brand extensions and let its other brands be promoted alone.

Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland marketing director Cathryn Sleight explains: “Our non-alcoholic drinks cater for every occasion and taste, which means we have a wide range of drinks for different markets, which don’t necessarily have much in common. There is not much natural cross-over. So it makes commercial sense for us to focus our efforts largely on our individual brands and leverage our assets where there are opportunities to do so.”

A source from Central Office of Information (COI), the UK’s biggest advertiser, agrees that umbrella branding does not always work in the public sector. He reveals: “From past experience, I’ve seen multiple brands on materials confuse audiences and leave them uncertain over who the contact should be with. It’s something everyone needs to challenge and it’s why we’ve launched our brand and brand identity framework.”

In order to avoid this, some brands have taken an altogether different approach. In the broadcasting world, UKTV has relaunched all nine of its channels and introduced an additional one, scrapping its UKTV prefix and giving each a new identity instead (see case study, below).

Figtree’s Myers cautions: “You have to weigh up if umbrella marketing will meet your brand ambitions and the customer needs. You shouldn’t make customers choose who to forge a relationship with – after all two’s company but three’s a crowd.”

Packing a punch: The Unilever logo appears on brand communications

Packing a punch: The Unilever logo appears on brand communications

Argument: People care more about products that meet their specific needs than a brand name when

they make choices

Another issue with umbrella branding is that some brands treat it as a blunt instrument to push a general agenda, rather than segmenting audiences in a way that would suit their consumers. Broadcaster UKTV says it carried out extensive research both pre- and post-launch of its new channel names, which resulted in it abandoning the UKTV prefix following an 18-month rebrand process.

UKTV director of marketing and communications Tom Lucas says the company used audience research to scrutinise all its plans before and after each new channel launched.

“We wanted to ensure that each channel reflected consumer culture and served a real need for them. That wouldn’t have worked with a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead we worked with consumers to find out what they wanted and then ran through the individual brands to see if they would become brand advocates for them,” he says.

He says that letting the consumer take the lead in defining whether to use an umbrella brand or promote individual products means that companies can be confident they have made the right decision for their customers.

“Without letting our audience have involvement like that, it could well have backfired on us,” Lucas warns.


Overall, Lucas points out, it’s the customer who makes the decision; brands can find success in targeting a wide audience so long as they research this before they choose the path to take.

Lousie Noronhiaz, a communications manager at the Harley Medical Group, agrees that brands should associate more with their audiences to achieve sales conversions in the long run (see consumer viewpoint, below).

Heinz’s sauces and soups marketing director, Giles Jepson, agrees: “If we did umbrella campaigns blindly and just pushed the products, it would be counterintuitive to what we are trying to achieve. We have to show we are listening.”

Unilever’s Nevett adds: “It’s impossible to leverage corporate branding without first knowing what consumers know of you. When we first asked consumers to spontaneously mention parent

brands of FMCG products, we were fourth on the list; now when we ask, we are top. It shows how that mark of reassurance goes a long way with consumers and was the right move for us.”

Whether umbrella marketing is the right strategy or not for a brand, companies need to consider carefully if it is an effective way of generating consumer attention for multiple brands or a waste of time because consumers simply remember the brand and not the products.

With consumers seeing an average of 1,700 brands a day around them, it is possible that shoppers may find an umbrella campaign a convenient way to cut through the clutter and point them in the direction of the right products. But for others, it may only make the process of choice more confusing. Marketers now face the challenge of working out which mentality appeals most to their own customers.

Consumer viewpoint anti-umbrella branding

Lousie Noronhiaz, sales and communications manager, Harley Medical Group

I definitely don’t just buy a brand that happens to be part of one particular company. It’s too easy to claim that one positive brand experience will mean that same joy with another product or variant.

For me, brands have to win favour and earn a relationship. Each product has a different stance or it wouldn’t be competitive, so a simple badge of honour is not enough to justify me thinking it will replicate the experience I’ve had before with its parent company.

In order to appeal to me as a consumer, I need to understand how a brand fits into my life and why I would want to associate with it. Just because a brand has come up with a motto to put everything under one theme doesn’t mean I’ll be instantly impressed.

I need to be spoken to about something I want to hear. If the brands associate with something that’s important to me, then I am likely to purchase their offering. If they are simply relying on me to think the parent company is a symbol of trust and respect, I’m not so sure that I would want to try that product.

When I think of something I like, I remember the product name and what I like about it – I don’t think of who manufactures it and what else it makes. I think what’s more important is ensuring that the product appeals to me and makes me want to go out or online and buy it immediately.

Cutting the family ties: UKTV has ditched the umbrella strategy, rebranding its channels to bring out their individual qualities

Cutting the family ties: UKTV has ditched the umbrella strategy, rebranding its channels to bring out their individual qualities

Case study: UKTV


Like most commercial broadcasters, UKTV has traditionally used umbrella branding to name all of its digital channels. But in October 2007, the company abandoned this policy, ditching the company name from its channels altogether.

Starting with the rebrand of men’s lifestyle channel UKTV G2 to Dave, it went on to rebrand all nine of its main channels over an 18-month period and created one new channel.

UKTV director of marketing and communications Tom Lucas says: “We wanted to ‘futureproof’ our portfolio of brands and thought the best way to do this was to provide specific channels for specific demographics.

“The repositioning of UKTV G2 to Dave as a ‘channel for the ordinary man’ showed us that consumers care more about something they can relate to than the overarching master brand.”

The aim of the rebrand was to abandon the UKTV umbrella name – owned by BBC Worldwide and Virgin Media Television – and instead create what Lucas calls “trusted editor brands that have clear identities, are emotionally resonant and are visually striking.” In practice, this meant repositioning most of the channels and bringing clearer identities for the different pay-TV categories.

Lucas says it has proved worthwhile and claims that rivals have followed suit, with such initiatives as Discovery’s Freeview channel Quest and MTV’s new offering Viva.

He says: “It was an ambitious rebrand and involved the whole organisation coming together and working out how best to meet our audience’s needs. We knew that consumers think of programming first and channels second, so we were prepared to forego our umbrella brand in favour of channel names that grab the attention of the viewer backed by content that serves a real need for audiences. The critical acclaim, advertiser and viewer feedback we’ve had has been fantastic and shows we are really hitting a nerve.”


Undertaking such a large-scale rebrand required significant investment in research and strategy. The broadcaster spoke to almost 4,000 people and tested about 100 different concepts that were developed in-house before choosing its final ten new brand names. Red Bee Media then helped to build the strategies for these new brands, with UKTV Food completing the process when it became Good Food in June.

Lucas claims that moving away from umbrella branding has been a success for UKTV, taking its share of the total broadcast market to the same as terrestrial TV channel Five’s (4.69%). Its ten channels are now watched by up to 36.5 million viewers every month. Similar efforts have now been made online, where the channels have separate websites from the main UKTV site and are portals for the specific content the TV channels are aimed at.

Lucas summarises: “Consumers know that if they want a dose of a certain type of programming, our channels are right for them. This was harder to be aware of under the UKTV umbrella, but we are now on people’s radars unprompted, which can only help us as we look to sell more inventory.”

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