As I quietly fume over the demise of the free carrier bag from retailers I am furious with all those other consumers out there who did not re-use or re-cycle them, forcing the government to take such a drastic step! Shoppers in England now have to pay at least 5p for every plastic bag given out at supermarkets and large stores, a levy introduced to reduce the 7.6bn bags given out every year – the equivalent of 140 per person or 61,000 tonnes of plastic – and retailers are expected to spend the proceeds on good causes. England is the last part of the UK to impose these charges for plastic bags, and there are many exceptions to the new rule (e.g. you will still get a free bag if you’re buying raw meat or fish, prescription medicines, fresh flowers, and other things like potatoes and unwrapped ready-to-eat food such as chips; and, the rule currently does not apply to the smaller retailers). It’s been the law in Wales since 2011, Northern Ireland since 2013 and Scotland since 2014.
Apart from providing you with a useful and convenient (and up till 5 October 2015 in England, free) sack for your purchases, carrier bags have been a marketers favourite piece of merchandise for branding and promotion for….wait for it…over a century! Apparently M&S introduced its branded carrier bag as early as the 1900s. It was made of paper and featured an illustration of the Head Office building in Manchester, and a list of all the stores in the country. Like many other household names M&S has used lots of different designs, slogans and materials ever since, and today’s array of carrier bags come in all shapes, sizes and qualities. Pens, baseball caps and T-shirts have also been constant favourites for branding and according to the British Promotional Merchandise Association nearly £1bn was spent last year in the UK on branded merchandise alone!
And we marketers know all too well that promotional merchandise is just the tip of the iceberg of what we actually spend on branding every year. Logo design is another. According to ‘The 10 Most Expensive Logo Designs and Rebranding Campaigns of All Times’ article by logo designers Simplio Web Studio, in 2008 the new logo for the City of Belfast cost £184,000; the logo for the 2012 London Olympics £410,000; the rebranding campaign of The BBC in 1997 £1.2m and the rebranding of BP in 2000 £140m.
So why do we marketers pump so much into branding? My response is that because it works! It is the creation of a specific perception in customers’ minds concerning the qualities and attributes of a generic product or service. It brings that product or service to life and distinguishes it from the competition. This ultimately drives sales directly, or indirectly via loyalty, and the return of investment can be immense. According to the Brand Evaluation Methodology by Interbrand, a global brand consultancy and publisher of the annual Best Global Brands ranking, branding is central to influencing customer choice, commanding premium pricing, and, creating passionate customer loyalty, The success of a brand can be measured by financial performance, the degree of influence in customer choice, and the strength of the brand relative to the competition, delivering a ‘brand value’ – a single measure of a brand’s contribution to results / the bottom line.
Simply but effectively, for more than 100 years marketers have used the type, design, shape, size and quality of their free carrier bag to shape the perceptions of their products and services. As the freebie version bows out of circulation, I’m going to applaud it for the bags of branding it has delivered for so long, for marketers across the globe.