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Selfridges ‘No Noise’ is No Way Forward

In an interesting move Selfridges is launching a ‘No Noise‘ campaign, which they describe on the website: “As we become increasingly bombarded with information and stimulation, the world is becoming a noisier place. In an initiative that goes beyond retail, we invite you to celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds.” Part of this effort sees some of the world’s most recognisable brands, including Heinz Ketchup and Baked Beans, Marmite and Levi’s, taking the symbolic step of removing their logos. This aims to focus consumer attention on a product’s quality and function rather than its packaging or advertising image.

But whilst the the world could do with being a little less ‘noisy’, this also misses the point about good branding. A good brand doesn’t just create noise or shout louder than the competition and it is not just “information and stimulation”. A good brand is actually an integral part a product’s quality and function.

After all an experience is not a factual reality, everyone’s experience is unique and individual, concocted in their own head, weaving together a wide range of different elements from both the product itself, the consumer’s own situation (eg. mood, occasion etc) and the local environment.

As behavioural economics teaches us, context is all. If we gave you a Michelin starred meal in a smart London restaurant, and the exact same meal in a shabby motorway services station, the first meal would truly seem to ‘taste’ better (which is why restaurants spend so much on smart cutlery and white linen tablecloths). It’s the same with brands. For example, Riedel produces a range of high quality glasses with characteristics designed to enhance specific types of wines. The leading wine critic Robert Parker said, “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.” Yet, as Seth Godin describes in ‘All Marketers are Liars‘, and as Gourmet Magazine reported “Studies at major research centers in Europe and the U.S. suggest that Riedel’s claims are, scientifically, nonsense.”

Except that once wine professionals and consumers alike choose to buy into the Riedel brand, the wine actually does taste better out of a Riedel glass – even if ‘factually’ it made no difference. Perception is reality. In the classic book ‘The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing‘, the authors make the point that “Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perceptions.” Sometimes the best product does not win – so rather than spend all your time worrying about the ‘facts’ of creating a better product, it’s also important to spend time creating the right perception of reality in consumer’s minds.

And ignoring the brand can lead to significant misjudgements: the legendary failure that was New Coke was driven by the company ignoring the power of context. The ‘Pepsi Challenge’ seemed to prove that – in a blind taste test – consumers preferred the taste of Pepsi to (classic) Coke; cue the development of a new recipe. But what Coke hadn’t factored in was when taste tests included the brands, consumers preferred Coca Cola to Pepsi and, as few of us ever drink cola unbranded, this was the test that really mattered. All this means much of the difference in a consumer’s preference for Pepsi or Coca-Cola is accounted for by the brand and not the taste…

So by removing logos ‘No Noise’ is in fact removing a key component of the quality and functionality consumers perceive in these products and, in theory, their experience will be reduced. As it happens, however, in this case the ‘no logo’ products on sale in Selfridges are going to quickly become collectors items (Heinz are only producing 557 of each product), raising their value and thereby – more than likely – actually enhancing the lucky owner’s enjoyment of the product itself.

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