Why the Co-op’s rebrand might not be the waste of money it first looks like

May 2016

My first reaction to the news that the Co-operative Group was reverting to its original visual identity and Co-op name for its grocery chain (and funeral business) was one of near disbelief. Like most people, my usual exposure to the brand is in the shape of a local store to buy various food items during the week, but not for the main weekly shop. It’s okay, but in any event and certainly for me, there are a few other local options. So why change the name and logo back to the same as it was in the 60s?

One reason not to change it would be cost, and it was the knowledge of the scale of this which first drove my negative reaction to the news. Around 18 years ago I’d project managed a similar rebrand for Argos, and even then and with a chain of stores of about 450 – and the Co-op have around 2000 – the cost of new shop signage and changing vehicle livery alone was something in the order of £20m. I haven’t been able to find a figure online for how much the Co-operative Group is spending on the equivalent, but I did find a figure of £1.3bn which represents the total the business is investing in rebuilding the business, though that figure does include IT systems. My guess though, would be around £120m for purely the logo change element.

My personal situation which means I don’t have many choices locally, is an exceptional one within the scheme of the wider UK population, and simply because of where I live: a rural area in the Highlands of Scotland where our nearest Tesco is about 20 miles away – the smaller Co-op is just 9 miles. But for the overwhelming majority of shoppers in the UK, they do have a choice and the previous ‘The Co-operative food’ name and logo has to be, on balance, a negative – a view I only came to when I gave the matter some considered thought.

Now I’ve seen no research to backup that last statement, but the Co-operative Group will have. And they will have in order to get such a monstrous level of investment approved by their board. I imagine that the research showed that a) the old name was clumsy and didn’t resonate with consumers, b) the logo was too premium relative to the brand’s intended market positioning, and c) both name and logo ranked poorly against rivals such as Tesco, Asda, Aldi and Lidl. And it’s no coincidence that those four are all short names with just two syllables.

In many ways the question to ask is not why the logo is being changed back to something very close to its original form, but why the cumbersome ‘The Co-operative food’ was ever chosen in place of it in the first instance.

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