Mrs AdTurds bought me some Starburst the other day. I’d had one of those moments a few days earlier when I’d had a sudden craving for the fruity chews – and realised at the same time it was probably a decade since I’d had one. Since we’re all utterly addicted to sugar these days it was inevitable that I’d end of scoffing a handful of them as a prelude to feeling sick and ashamed of myself. So when they turned up it wasn’t unexpected, but I was pleasantly surprised. Because the wife had scribbled out Starburst on the front and written Opal Fruits instead, as is only right and proper.
I found myself pondering this name change, which must be about 20 years old by now. It was met with howls of dismay, much as Marathon’s demise at the hands of the meaningless Snickers was (you could argue that Opal Fruits is similarly meaningless; however it’s a reference to the multi-coloured semi-precious stone Opal – admittedly that’s quite an oblique reference to expect toddlers to comprehend).
The reason we’re annoyed at this sort of stuff is fairly straightforward. We like things that are familiar, nostalgic and unchanging. This notion is wonderfully explained by Alexei Sayle in a monologue from the early 80s -around the time Ford Cortina drove off into the sunset to be replaced by the Ford Sierra:
“You know what they’re going to call the replacement for the Cortina? They’re going to call it the bloody Sierra. Sierra don’t mean nothing to a working man like me, does it? Not like Cortina…”.
In other words the only reason these names have any value is because we attribute it to them. On the face of it there’s nothing notionally superior to either Starbust or Snickers – or Cif, Oil Of Olay or Santander. But there are subtle reasons why there’s more to this than meets the eye.
In the case of Starburst it also seems to be an unnecessarily shit-eating Yankified branding (much like Snickers) and there’s probably a latent annoyance that it’s our brand that has to give way, rather than theirs. That banks have not cottoned on to the fact that trust is an enormous – and precious – commodity in this day and age is bizarre to my mind. So Santander is bemusing. But not so bemusing as one of the worst rebrands in the history of everything – the decision to rebrand The Post Office as Consignia.
Opal Fruits v Starburst – you decide
— AdTurds (@adturds) February 10, 2016
That no-one apparently spotted what a horrendously bad idea this was makes you wonder whether branding that works is simply down to pot-luck – or apathy. That brands occasionally go back on their regeneration – usually to the gratitude of consumers and a lot of resultant publicity – demonstrates that even multinationals are sensitive to the important of trust and recognition in a brand. What about New Coke and the palaver over Wispa being dropped?
In all fairness the reasoning behind Starburst is straightforward and reasonable. Why spend money on branding two products that are exactly the same in an increasingly convergent global market? On the other hand, how hard can it be? General Motors sells its cars under a dozen different brand names across the world, depending on the market. Buy a Volkswagen Jetta elsewhere in the world and you may end up with a Bora, Fox, Vento, Clasico or Atlantic. Same car, different name. Why? because they completely different meanings to a variety of markets.
I was pondering this while seeing the flood of Likes and Retweets on my social networks as the Opal Fruits packets zinged around the web. Everyone loves Opal Fruits – and everyone hates Starburst fully two decades later (and wonders where the yellow ones got to).
FUCK OFF STARBURST pic.twitter.com/mOvnM7KUlU
— AdTurds (@adturds) February 9, 2016
I did a spot of idle research, only to find the following, a hilariously brittle, defensive and passive-aggressive rebuttal on some forgotten part of the web. It’s written by a marketing high-up at Mars (Angus Porter, now Chair of the Professional Cricketer’s Association, where that streak of pomposity has probably served him well), apparently in light of the nuclear-level fallout of the recent rebrand.
And it goes some way to explaining why people hate anything to do with advertising or marketing: a one-eyed, high-handed, pretentious and supercilious explanation of why on God’s Green Earth some boring little man decided that his legacy to the world would be to change the name of some fruit chews from Opal Fruits to Starburst.
See if you can read it without laughing or shaking your head at Angus’ appalled bemusement and the general reek of humourlessness of it all. I’ve bolded my favourite bits.
Opal Fruits > Starburst
The debate over the change of name from Opal Fruits to Starburst has revealed once again the strength of emotion certain brands, especially in confectionery, seem able to stir up in us.
It was a marketing director’s dream when the previously unannounced change to Starburst attracted so much attention. To be the subject not only of comment on the front page of The Times, but also of a leader, was a great boost.
The dream, though, was rudely interrupted by the leader-writer expressing Luddite views on rebranding. It is surprising that objections should be voiced purely on the basis of a historical attachment to a well-established UK brand name.
Since we are not alone at Mars in rebranding some well-known brands, we and the marketing profession have clearly failed to explain the benefits of these changes to consumers.
We know that changes of brand name do not happen on the whim of a brand manager without reference to the people who really matter, in this case Opal Fruits consumers. Presented with the rationale for the name change, and the reassurance that it is only the name that is changing, research shows (as one would expect) opinions ranging from the very positive to the very neutral.
Consumers recognise, however, that in an increasingly global marketplace, this sort of name change is increasingly common. They understand that the advantage for them is that they will be able to find brands they recognise and trust wherever they travel.
Of course, there will always be those who regret losing the old brand name but, for us, the position is very clear. Out of every 100 packs of fruit chews Mars sells worldwide, over 80 are branded Starburst.
Only in the UK does Opal Fruits exist, and it was inevitable that we should rationalise the two brands into one sooner or later. The fact that it is happening now is a reflection of an increase in the focus we have chosen to put on our sugar business.
It would make little sense to increase our marketing investment behind a brand name with limited geographical distribution in a global marketplace.
The memories of our youth and childhood sweet-shop recollections are very important to us all, but we must not allow this to prevent change where consumers will benefit.
We have found that a new generation of young consumers has come to regard Snickers as its own brand. We are confident that a new generation of consumers will say the same about Starburst in the years ahead.
In the meantime, we should all try to continue to extend more widely an understanding of the benefits to consumers of changes to our brands.
first world problem: trying to unwrap Opal Fruits when you just cut your nails short. (I refuse to call them Starbusts)
— Lord Woolamaloo (@LordWoolamaloo) January 31, 2016
If we leave the EU can we call Starburst "Opal Fruits" again? That might swing it for me. #bbcqt
— Keir Shiels (@keirshiels) February 4, 2016
Starburst (Opal Fruits, I'm still old school) must sell by the millions in middle east and to desert dwellers.
— Stephen Djönes (@welshbigguy) February 5, 2016
Life was way more simple when Starburst were still called Opal Fruits. pic.twitter.com/A9XhoZ0ufg
— Gemma Tomlinson (@OMGgemma) February 5, 2016
They will always be Opal Fruits to me tbh. Sometimes I whisper that to them tenderly before I eat them. We go way back.
— Gemma Tomlinson (@OMGgemma) February 5, 2016
I'm from the generation that lived through Marathon and Opal Fruits becoming Snickers and Starburst. It'll all be okay. #riptwitter
— Barry Pigeon Web (@barrypigeon) February 6, 2016
@captain_parsnip No love for Opal Fruits? (I refuse to call them Starburst – they’ll always be Opal Fruits. Se also Marathon/Snickers)
— Marc C. (@BHLC) February 6, 2016
Starbursts are Opal Fruits.
— Nathan (@cricketcelt) February 10, 2016
I will never call them by any other name – #OpalFruits
— John G (@johngilbo2008) January 24, 2016