Named: Britain's most powerful brands... but can you spot the big cheese?

A label from the supermarket chiller is giving marketing superpowers something to chew over
  • @martin_hickman

From Falkirk to Falmouth and Runcorn to Ripon, "Britain's favourite cheese" tops the toast of clocking-off cabbies and crackers of nattering women, according to the alliterative TV ads voiced by the late Pete Postlethwaite.

Now Cathedral City – a mature West Country cheddar sold in a zip-able burgundy bag – is beginning to vie with John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and the BBC in the nation's affections, pollsters have found.

A ranking of Britain's favourite brands by YouGov unsurprisingly found that the US technology giants Amazon and Google were most popular, followed by the BBC's iPlayer – which lets internet users catch up on the broadcaster's programmes – and Marks & Spencer, BBC and Heinz. But nestling between Channel 4 and Samsung, in 13th place, was Cathedral City – ahead of the bookseller Waterstones (18th) and vacuum-cleaning innovators Dyson (19th).

In just 10 years, the cheddar – made by Dairy Crest in the Cornish village of Davidstow, which does not have a cathedral – has become the country's most popular cheese, accounting for 10 per cent of the cheese market.

Sales leapt by 12.8 per cent last year to £232.2m, almost five times as much as its closest competitor. YouGov's BrandIndex was based on a survey of 2,000 people's views on six brand attributes (quality, value, customer satisfaction, corporate reputation, general impression and recommendation). Part of Cathedral City's success – it is advancing, lying 15th in the biennial ranking in January – is taste.

Despite being produced by a dairy giant with an annual turnover of £1.6bn, Cathedral City's milk comes from 400 local farms in the West Country. Made at a creamery in Davidstow, near Bodmin Moor, it is matured, cut and wrapped in a purpose-built facility in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

More important is marketing. Cathedral City has been heavily backed by tens of millions of pounds worth of TV and radio ads, including the ode to the nation's cheese-eating habits read by Postlethwaite, first broadcast in 2009. It has also exploited social media: Cathedral City has its own Facebook page, with 14,000 followers. Dairy Crest has developed variants such as lighter, mild and extra mature – and a children's brand Chedds. Ruth Mortimer, editor of Marketing Week, said the spending and message had carved out a distinctive identity within Britain's £2.4bn-a-year cheese market.

"Cathedral City ranks highly in YouGov's BrandIndex ratings because it has managed to create character for itself in the cheese sector – which is not known for distinctive brands," she said. She went on: "It reminds me a little of how Hovis achieved a similar impact a number of years ago … In cheese or bread, where choices are made in seconds based on habit, a brand backed up with advertising sticks in the mind."