Fame at last:Â I appear briefly in Marketing today, complete with photo taken back in the days when I almost had hair, pontificating on the future of the Northern Rock brand.Â
Basically, I say it hasn’t got one.Â Refloating it would be a bit like refloating the Titanic:Â theoretically possible, but ridiculously difficult and dreadful value for money compared to the cost of building another from scratch.
But am I actually right about this?Â True, if we look for other brands struck in bow, amidships and stern by torpedoes, the first we’re likely to find is Arthur Andersen, which fell to the bottom of the ocean so fast that it practically bounced.Â But the damage that the Enron saga did to the Andersen brand was, clearly, catastrophic:Â in clients’ eyes, the whole point of the brand was toÂ act asÂ a mark of truthfulness and trustworthiness on the financial statements it was attached to, and becoming a mark of untruthfulness and untrustworthiness made it, literally, valueless.
There’s a long list of other brands which have run into pretty choppy waters – BA with the recent anti-trust fine, M&S when we all thought it was going bust, Perrier when it was found to have the benzene in it, lots of financial institutions mixed up in mis-selling scandals of one sort or another – without suffering terminal or indeed long-lasting effects.Â And recent research by the reinsurer Swiss Re, looking at the brands consumers would feel happiestÂ to trust with their retirement savings, found thatÂ in the top ten names on their list, the brand in the No. 4 slot was none other than Equitable Life – the same Equitable Life which, of course, went spectacularly tits up some years ago and did in fact cost a great many people a big slice of their pensions.
Bear in mind that in fact no-one’s actualy lost any money at Northern Rock at all, andÂ one’s temptedÂ to take a Jim Callaghan “Crisis?Â What crisis?” line.Â It’s a little local difficulty.Â Six months from now, all will be forgotten.
But actually, I don’t buy that argument.Â Maybe the brand isn’t unrefloatable, but why risk it?Â We’ve seen how quickly new brands can be built from scratch in financial services:Â not so long ago it was First Direct, then ING, more recently Icebank.Â You probably could do something with Northern Rock (perhaps in a few years it’ll be a candidate for my brand brokerage, as described on 9th September).Â But as the punchline of the old Irish joke has it, if I were you I wouldn’t start from here.