Two born-again brands: one yells, one whispers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
One went from blue to red, the other cut back on red to concentrate on blue. And the differences between the corporate image make-overs by Xerox and Pepsi don't stop there.

The soft drink company launched its new look in April amid much fanfare and a specially painted (blue, of course) Air France Concorde.

The photocopier firm, by contrast, quietly tacked its revamped identity, The Document Company, on to press releases announcing a new printer. It was two years before a red X was introduced as the new logo. Three years later few members of the general public have even noticed.

There are similarities, though. For example, the two New York based companies hired the same image consultant, Landor Associates. Both were inspired by pep talks from top executives at management retreats. And both, though they wouldn't want to admit it, are undertaking a process made fashionable with lots of business school jargon.

The biggest similarity is that the two companies are totally committed to their new identities. Millions have been spent promoting them, and executive careers are on the line. If the practice catches on, others could follow. Barclays Bank might switch from turquoise to shocking pink, and Hoover could advertise itself as The Domestic Implements Company. The question is: which route, if either, should they follow?

Pepsi began its "Project Blue" with a call from chairman and chief executive Chris Sinclair for a "revolutionary transformation" to counter the pressure from own-label brands.

But executives at the company were acutely aware of the potential hazards of messing with a profitable formula. Coca-Cola had taken a beating a decade earlier when it tried to replace its flagship brand with a new recipe. The lesson was that Pepsi's unlikely product - essentially a fizzy brown sugar water - would stay unchanged.

John Swanhaus, a senior vice president, was assigned to lead a team looking at the way Pepsi was displayed around the world. One boardroom in the marketing department became a gallery holding thousands of snapshots of vending machines and shop shelves. They were impressed by the success of Pepsi Max, in a blue can, and of cool blue displays from the Middle East. The team began to think of expanding its remit from displays to product packaging. "We had a meeting with Sinclair and I presented the idea of owning a colour," says Swanhaus. "I told them what we needed was a gut check to see whether we had the stomach to go ahead."

They did, and 3,000 rough sketches were made, discussed, discarded. A few made it through to customer focus groups. One, the winner, made it all the way to a trial in Bahrain last year, prompting industry rumours.

The new look is supposed to create a feeling that Pepsi is youthful and refreshing. Youth, at least, is a tactic that has worked for the company in the past. The Pepsi Generation, much trumpeted in the early 1970s, is well into middle age.

The Xerox story started in much the same way, with a project led by now-chairman Paul Allaire looking at the future direction of the company. It could have been just the latest in a long series of grandiose false starts. The company is best known for inventing brilliant devices - fax machines, personal computers, mice and computer networks - only to see their rivals commercialise them.

While the new image did not involve a radical technological invention, it did represent a change in direction. The company had already started to expand its line of products so that it could handle digital documents at all stages, including creation, storage and transmission. The new name was supposed to focus staff attention on how customers would use the system, rather than on the hardware and software.

If Xerox was cautious in creating its new image, it had the advantage of being able to make substantive changes under the new banner. And as new products roll out, including planned desktop printers aimed more at the domestic market, the company's profile should be raised.

Xerox insists its change was not one of branding, but of corporate culture, while Pepsi freely admits it was trying to create a younger image for a company that is almost a century old. Typically, Pepsi is already claiming a gain of two percentage points of market share in the UK since the relaunch. And typically, Xerox is more modest, admitting it can't quantify how much of its sales are due to the new focus.