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What did you do in the Branding War Daddy?

FEATURE BY MAX NOBLE
18/10/2017

Along with the branding foresight to artfully capture Winston's musings, and Pol Roger gabbing a priceless opportunity for celebrity endorsement, the Second World War advanced pop-art posters, science, engineering and medical capability. Now the price the world paid for each of these was nothing short of horrid, but here we are.

And now people have the freedom to worry about the Political correctness of posters, and the precise value of, well, value due in no small part to the sacrifices made in those dark days.

So, what is a brand worth? Do corporations know the price of everything and the value of nothing?

My thanks to all who post in reply to my articles, I value every reply and when I think I have something of value to add to the discussion I'll post back. I usually find it a most enjoyable flow of ideas and thinking.

So in this case my thanks to those who got me thinking about the value around the brand, marque, manufacturer, finance basket case, that is Aston Martin.

Why do we value it, or any other brand icon, so much? Many people around the planet love the Mini. The original Mini for its design purity, genius, and affordability. The new BMW reinventing-history-better-then-it-ever-was Mini because it somehow captures the spirit of the old, while making it all new. By which I mean it is now far more comfortable, crash worthy, and reliable. Oh, and remains relatively affordable. Most people in full time employment with a reliable income could afford a Mini if they so choose. So BMW have a huge potential market. And they have milked that cash cow long and hard, morning and night with special editions, "limited" editions, art paint schemes, and a list of options longer that Teresa May's Brexit wish list.

That's what in finance circles is called a good return on investment (ROI).

Desired product, affordable development and production costs, large market, good profit margins.

So despite hocking them for all they are worth on every street corner the Mini brand has survived Bavarianisation.

Aston...?

Well they have a solid history, joyful race wins, and a stable full of stunning automotive art, cars that make grown folk cry.

They also have very limited model runs, some in the mere dozens, some in the low thousands. Massive production costs, and, critically, losses per car sold rather than profits. That's a horrid return on investment.

And at their current price point only the Russian mafia and founding OPEC members are likely to order them as company cars.

And don't forget the on-going service costs that, as with Ferrari, can over a decade make the purchase cost look trifling.

For the faint hearted they are not. For the Mini loving, motoring on a budget public, they are not.

So how much stretch is there in the Aston brand before the elastic snaps and jolts the company owners awake?

No one believes Tag Heuer engineered an F1 engine the other winter, at least I hope not. We know they had some excellent badges made (probably in China) and stuck them over those naughty Renault badges that Mr Horner gets so angry about.

For reasons rather unguessable, this suited all parties. I can only ponder that cheeky Mr Horner had a brilliant set of clauses in his engine supply contract that allowed him to give Renault a hearty public kicking, and still get engines, and place a mate's sticker on them for good measure. Who knows?

Jaeger LeCoultre is the modern version of the watch making firm founded by Antoine LeCoultre in the town of Le Sentier in Switzerland back in 1833. It has a history of remarkable horological accolades both from the genius mind of its founder, and many remarkable specialists since.

It was in 1921 that LeCoultre formed a vehicle instrument company, in Britain, in partnership with Jaeger of France, creating the company name still used today. By 1937 this company was called British Jaeger Instruments limited, and continued producing remarkably elegant instruments for the most refined of cars.

One of these cars was the Aston Martin 1.5 Litre LM. A regular class winner during the pre-war years. In 2004 Aston Martin teamed with Jaeger LeCoultre to generate a limited run watch, the AMVOX1. These now change hands for many thousands second-hand. A rare example of genuine history being used to generate new brand value in a manner most would respect. Especially if one has seen the results of Bentley teaming with Breitling for a vehicle linked watch, one should be doubly thankful for the elegant restraint that both Jaeger LeCoultre and Aston managed to channel for their watch.

A fine branding link, a new product generated, profits taken, wealthy punters happy. What's not to love in this cheerful capitalist tale of success?

Both Aston and Jaeger artfully exploited a meaningful link. Certainly one can ask how many $10,000 wrist watches the world needs, but that's not the point with luxury goods. Do we respect the branding proposition put forward, does it "stay true" to the companies core values, does it generate money? Bottom line, does it "feel right" to the fans, regardless of whether they can afford it or not?

Does it fit the Aston brand to rebadge a Mercedes engine and claim it as their own?

Enzo Ferrari commenced running Alfa's, and then rebadged Alfas, that morphed into the very first track-based Ferraris. Does that humble start devalue the mighty brand celebrating 70 years as I write?

Does it give the cartoon-like super car the LaFerrari Aperta meaning at nearly $6,000,000 US? Or Ferrari cuff links, leather pen cases, $10 baseball caps...? When does a branded product become cynical?

What does it say of an Aston owner that uses Aston golf umbrellas and branded cuff links? Or, given their far greater numbers, what does it say about the man driving a five year old hot hatch that cost less than an Aston front brake caliper who wears Aston cuff links?

What is it that attracts and holds us in a state of joyful respect for some brands?

Has Tag Heuer seen watch sales swing up because of the rebranded Renault engine? Has Renault seen hot hatch sales collapse due to Mr Horner's latest high temperature vexation?

Will buyers of Aston grand tourers that cost hundreds of thousands to buy, and then an equally eye watering amount to run, buy dozens more of them because Aston is writ large down the side of a Red Bull Formula One car?

Will Aston rebadging a Mercedes F1 power unit as theirs hold any meaning, brand value, or relevance, outside of allowing Aston Martin VIP guests to ho and hum in the Red Bull hospitality areas bursting with pride as their branded cuff links glisten in the sweet race day sunshine?

I spent many years, pre-internet, lusting after Breitling watches, when they were still (somewhat) rare, and mostly unknown to much of the watch buying public. Their history and honest awesomeness inspired desire and respect within the youthful engineering me.

Then with the aid of the internet and a mammoth marketing budget, the world knew of Breitling, and the company responded with cartoon versions of its earlier watches, they became more and more style over substance as time progressed. I no longer wish for a Breitling.

Not that Breitling mind however, the sound of highly profitable sales rings around the world with each tick of a Swiss-finished second hand.

Yet we, the modestly monied public, only have so much cash, and thanks to the internet spreading brand awareness faster than an exploding Honda engine can spray oil over a crank case, the whims of the great unwashed can ebb and flow rapidly and unpredictably. This year's must have, is very much next year's garbage.

Lucio di Montezemolo once said the perfect number of Ferrari's to build each year was "...one less than the market wanted." His point being that scarcity was part of the brand attraction. Under the new management production number have been increased several thousand. It will be interesting to see how far that can be pushed.

McLaren only ended up building 106 of a planned few hundred F1 road cars. So even at the hyper-monied end of town, brand desires only go so far.

Could Aston selling 50,000 plus cars each year, while making enough money to fund their own F1 power unit? Well based on the current engine formula I seriously doubt it. Not if they wanted to actually win with a world beating power unit that is. I'm sure they could "do a Honda" for only a few hundred million.

If the post-2020 formula is seriously simplified could they do it? Possibly they could. But don't you think that Ricardo the specialist engineers, Cosworth, and all the existing players such as Mercedes and Renault, will be even more capable of building cheaper mighty power units?

Regardless of the cost-point F1 power units are about stunning engineering capability. My money would be on Mercedes dominating at any price point as long as they have the desire to compete.

So in the branding wars for biggest, brightest, most rare, most numerous... what is it that Aston wants to stand for?

I believe Aston should be a uniquely British brand that, like Ferrari, needs to remain rare to retain value. Aston should look to the simple grace of their Jaeger-LeCoultre wrist watch and consider what their brand means to them.

Jaguar have already taken the brand position of British Porsche, and the brand has, so far, survived the war as they stretch to new horizons. Aston needs a position like Ferrari, not BMW, or Mercedes. How many wars based on sales volume can the Aston brand survive? It has value now because of a remarkable history of very rare vehicles, and a certain Mr. Bond preferring them.

And we all know just how exciting the drive was the last time James took a Ford from the company car pool.

Aston only continues because each decade a sugar Daddy underwrites survival to a new dawn. One needs to ask the latest Daddy where their moral compass points them. As they strap on the armour of awesomeness that is the Valkyrie, pop Mercedes wiring looms under the hood of their road cars, and as they check the time on their Jaeger Tourbillon they should pause for a moment. As the second-hand effortlessly sweeps around the watch face, is that the sound of respectful history and old fashioned values growing strong in the boardroom and on the factory floor, or is it the rabid flogging of the brand for every last cent the punters will send? Probably leading to worthless collapse into the arms of another starry-eyed iron-willed Sugar Daddy ready for the next battle in the Brand war?

Max Noble.

Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Toado, 29/10/2017 22:03

"The problem is really just bad lazy marketing departments who just ape brand propositions they don't understand. Aston aren't alone in this."

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2. Posted by Max Noble, 27/10/2017 15:13

"@Canuck - totally agree. AM are in a far weaker position than either Renault or Tag when it comes to Horner Vexations! "

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3. Posted by Canuck, 26/10/2017 15:10

"Well said through out, but is Red Bull the right team to put your advertising efforts behind. Imagine the damage Mr Horner could do to an iconic brand by his constant criticism of that brand. I find funny the Tag Heuer branding on the Renault Power units, yet Mr Horner rarely misses a chance to refer to Renault letting them down. He would never say he is late for a meeting because his Tag Heuer failed to keep the proper time or Tag would drop him like lead weight. Renault is large enough to weather this abuse and can refer to past successes with Red Bull. But an iconic car maker such as Aston Martin could not. They can sell cars because of their history, and the James Bond connection, but could lose all this with a Red Bull connection."

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4. Posted by Max Noble, 25/10/2017 12:05

"@airman1 - my thanks for sharing a personal story! That captures the whole point of branding; the intrinsic value being fairly and proudly promoted is a fine thing. Cross-branding, Halo-effect, Celebrity-Endorsements... puffing up a brand into something it really isn’t... well where is the value in that? I’m delighted you value your watch for good reasons. :-).

@BrightonCorgi - if handled right by both parties I agree with you. Jaguar have shown a massive positive up-swing is possible. Rather amusing it took enlightened Indian ownership to show the UK how to correctly produce Modern English cars!

So, if this is not Mr Horner doing another “We have Tag Heuer Power plants”, but is indeed a deeper and stronger commitment by both, then it could have a very positive impact for A.M.

...and yes just as Enzo only sold road cars to finance racing... one could argue all those Ferrari trinkets are only sold to finance racing... :-).
"

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5. Posted by airman1, 25/10/2017 6:45

"@All: enjoying reading this article, enjoying reading clever, accurate, and well worded conversations. I will attempt to throw my 2 unworthy cents in the fray: I do own a Ferrari watch, that my wife bought me as a wedding anniversary gift. She thought that me being a Ferrari fan, this would be special for me. And it was. Because it came from her. Me, I would have bought a watch from someone that makes watches for living, rather than cars, or shoes, or perfume, or clothing. I would have bought, and I am, products, at least those that matter, from people that do this for living, not because they are using their market position to sell more things with their name on it. Buying a silly souvenir is one thing, but paying 200 dollars for boots branded by a sunglasses company, is just silly. They have no stake in it, they do not care if they fell apart, they are not in the business of selling boots for living. "

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6. Posted by BrightonCorgi, 24/10/2017 13:31

"The Aston Red Bull deal is great for Aston and I don't feel it will degrade the marque at all. Aston builds expensive cars and that's not going to change. Adding brand awareness and increasing the bottom line with merchandising only ensures that Aston can stay in business. Currently, Aston's line up is rocking (call me a fan for a while) and as they continue to introduce new models will only propel that brand further.

Ferrari makes more on licensing than they do selling passenger cars. "

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7. Posted by Max Noble, 24/10/2017 4:08

"@Spindoctor - always happy to read your feedback! You’ve grasped the direction I was coming from in this article; questioning what value is within the broader context of life, rather than (short term) cash dollars alone.

I find it fascinating the lense through which different readers see the articles, as often it is from an angle I’ve not considered, or in some cases not intended!"

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8. Posted by Spindoctor, 23/10/2017 11:16

"@Max Noble
Sorry, I do tend to ramble a bit, but thanks for the kind words.... Times like this (grey, chilly, damp Welsh rain) I envy you in Oz, though having been brought-up in NZ, I can't totally endorse your choice of location!

Having thought further about this, and read some of the other comments, I'd like to emphasize that I'm not, as has been implied, in love with any half-remembered "Golden Age", nor railing with bitterness against "Capitalism", though I'm not a big fan of the current version.

My problem with the kinds of Branding I'm denigrating lie with the banality and homogenisation such branding promotes, and (as a subsidiary point) how this process is speeded up by Corporate Interests more concerned with 'Shareholder Value' than the pursuit of excellence, or even decent Quality or Service...."

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9. Posted by Max Noble, 20/10/2017 7:53

"@Cricketpo - to be honest nothing ails me! I write these articles in the spirit of Sir David Attenborough chasing Lions across the Serengeti. A fascinated observer who has a great passion for the world so observed.

Agree the market will decide what the Aston brand is worth. My question can be reframed as “Will Aston do a Jaguar and rise to a beautiful new dawn, or an MG (to take your example) and fade away...?”

Delorean anyone...?
"

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10. Posted by cricketpo, 20/10/2017 7:05

"So what ails you Max? Are railing against thecfading of the light? Are you concerned with the loss of Aaron's prestige in your mind? I have some sympathy after what happened to MG. First abused by BL on a Metro and now by a Chinese manufacturer. If you want an example of branding gone wrong there it is. The car will most definitely a better built carcthan an old MG but in appearance and ambition it is a long way from those rusty topless death traps of my youth. However the fact that MG couldnt turn a profit has led to this adventure (leaving to oneside a conspiracy theory involving the TR7). IMO the Aston brand leans heavily on another brand from Ian Fleming perhaps an example of brand synergy?
Aston have flirted with motor racing before and since their brand is based on the fictional exploits of others why not re brand someone else's engines? In the end the market will decide which brand survives or is strengthened because we will or won't buy them"

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11. Posted by Max Noble, 20/10/2017 2:44

"*Omega. (Typo...)"

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12. Posted by Max Noble, 20/10/2017 2:43

"@Trixi - one of the Omerga Seamaster Range might suit you. :-)

@Kemawi - very good point! When does a purchased company become “the main” company? One need only look at the technology sector to see the big players (Apple, Google etc...) buying the small guys all the time. One would need to visit the former Ilmor factory and get a feel for the current culture as to was it a “real” Mercedes site, or still an Ilmor site that stuck Mercedes badges on its products...

@ZJAY - wow! My thanks for such a well reasoned follow up! You raise many good points! You are correct that living one’s own life authentically should always remain number one on the priority list each day. Your F1 illustrations of on going “Good Old Days” still happening today is a highly valid observation.

As too my articles (or other PitPass articles?) being a touch “...bitter, frustrated, highbrow...”. I can assure you that’s not the intention, so if they read that way I need to adjust my tone, grammar or word choices. I can become frustrated with how F1 management squanders a great opportunity, or how the teams can present a cynical picture, citing “level playing fields” when they want to distort the advantage of another team. But I like to think of myself as being cheerfully accepting of these situations, rather than creating them!

If I sound highbrow it is because even after many summers in Australia I still type with an English accent. :-).

I love your Swan Lake example. I hope you and your wife enjoy it for many years to come, and that the twist each year is worth the wait!

...and I hope we start generating great new “Good Old Days” commencing this weekend with qualifying!"

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13. Posted by Kemawi, 19/10/2017 19:30

"Mercedes don't and never did build their own F1 engines IMO. Ilmor designed and built engines, and they were called Ilmor engines.
When they proved to be pretty good (they were mostly ex-cosworth engineers), it was branded Mercedes.
And then Mercedes bought Ilmor.....
At least Renault, Honda and Ferrari do build their engines in-house."

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14. Posted by ZJAY, 19/10/2017 16:25

"Touché Max. Here is the Long Form of my previous post.

A great deal has been written about how things used to be, how everything is always changing for the worse and how capitalism is destroying the natural authentic simple way of life. I greatly enjoy reading your posts and others comments on them. I sincerely empathize with the point of views expressed and every so often actually agree with them. I also almost always detect a bitter, frustrated and highbrow undertone.

For context, I don’t have an Instagram account, I check Facebook once a quarter. Tinder? I have to look that up. My first desktop was before Windows [command Dos], and I don’t read the news (except F1 news) so my life is not affected nor governed by what someone tweeted and by how outraged others are by those tweets. English is my 4th language, so please excuse my grammar.

Here is a short list of The Good Old Days in the making (and going strong):

- In the rain: Schumacher Spain 1996, Button Canada 2011, Verstappen China 2017

- Senna/Prost, Schumacher/Hakkinen, Schumacher, Schumacher/Alonso, Vettle, Hamilton, Vettel/ Hamilton. Notice a pattern in over 30 years: 2,2,1,2,1,1,2

- My most favorite ones are wins from the back. Among many others: Schumacher Spa 1995, Kimi Suzika 2005, Ricciardo Baku 2017

- Slight change is made every year to the Swan Lake ballet at the American Ballet Theater in NYC. Every year my wife will say that it was better the previous year and every year I look forward for the latest twist to The Good Old Days in the making. Most probably my wife and I will continue that dance for the next 40 years. No worries though the last one will still be in my mind the better and improved Swan Lake. After all it was not the same in Moscow nor was Fantome of the opera the same in the movie, Broadway and London.

- As far as that Breitling, think hiking poles suitable in the Andes and Milford New Zealand. Yes I use my piece of junk of an Iphone which barely lasts 2 years to commemorate a lifetime of experiences. Planning on posting those pictures on Instagram while on my death bed. By the way, can I badge my hiking poles Tag Heuer? Cringing!

- Ah, I almost forgot my Aston and my 5000K used Ford. I have them both parked in my bank account as I am busy flying (coach) to savor Tapas in Barcelona, and xx other cuisines spread out over our little (changing) paradise of a planet. No Iphone at the dinner table though! Nor in bed for that matter.

This list illustrates dynamic and creative change embraced with experience rather than concern about reproducing year after year the same fixed memory of an ever distorted/embellished mind picture. Fortunately, all the above is facilitated by capitalism, including the 85 or so years of good healthy living to enjoy our Good Old Days in the making.
"

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15. Posted by Trixi, 19/10/2017 15:28

"Interesting, indeed. What irks me is all the batteries I have had to be buying and spending time to have them installed. My beautiful older Cartier tank watch that I get to wind works just fine and it is always a classic. I still spend the extra, however, to make sure it has the authentic band. Of course, if I have to go OTT, then it would have to be the Steve McQueen Monte Carlo watch by Tag. There! Why not! All the others can just wait for the nouveau riche to come along and get the watch du jour. I do need a new dive watch, however. Any ideas? lol"

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