Brand building – Murdoch makes the connection.

Its been a weird week for brand associations.  In the UK the revelations over The News Of The World phone hacking, its peak intriguingly coinciding with the parent, Murdoch-owned News International’s bid for control of BSkyB, has led to Rupe closing down Britain’s oldest and biggest paper.

I wouldn’t suppose for a moment that this has anything to do with right and wrong.  He’s done this purely for reasons of value not values.  Its emerging that there were already plans afoot to launch a Sunday edition of TNOTW’s sister paper The Sun, so the empire isn’t going to lose its readers, just the overhead represented by the journos, administrators and printers who produced TNOTW.  My contacts tell me that a quick audit also unsurprisingly revealed that The News Of The World brand had been irreparably damaged by hack-gate and although I’m surprised if the paper’s average reading age was such that they possessed sufficient social conscience to boycott it, the overnight disappearance of its advertisers has to be a bit of a pisser.

Like the advertisers, politicians of all hues are desperately scrambling, with varying degrees of sure-footedness, to disassociate themselves with Murdoch (Although today’s press conference suggests that Dave’s penny is still teetering), who some claim has been their puppet master for many years.  The end of an era, if not the Murdoch empire some say – I doubt it somehow.

This event however, does serve to underline the influence that the brands other brands are seen with, can have on their success.  I’ve long propounded the notion that product brand perceptions are heavily influenced by the retail brands they are sold through and the other products on the shelves alongside them.  The reverse is also true and similar associations exist between football teams (soccer to my US readers) and their players and even national brands.  It’s not uncommon to hear individuals being decried because of the company they keep and the same dynamic applies to every kind of brand.  Its why, despite their “fashion brands” claim you don’t find Hermes in TK Maxx.

Back in Prague this week Vaclav Havel, leader of the liberation of the former Czechoslovakia from Communist rule and undoubtedly the most respected man in the Czech Republic (admittedly not a difficult distinction to hold in a land of very shady political characters, but undoubtedly justified in his case) chose to endorse AAA Autos, one of the most deeply miss-trusted commercial organisations in the country.

I say chose to, but it seems he sort of slid slowly and inexorably into what I am sure he’ll come to regard as a mire, as a result of one of his charities accepting a hand-out from the company.  Tony Denny the enigmatic half-Aussie founder of what may be Europe’s biggest used car franchise has long-boasted of his political connections – I might say, far more enthusiastically than those connections have advertised their connections with him.  This week, it seems, he’s managed to leverage this connection in a stroke of genius that will undoubtedly bring him greater benefit than it will Havel.  It seems that AAA lent Havel’s wife’s foundation Vision ’97 an Audi (probably a cut-and-shut with a leaky sump) in exchange for her endorsement, but when Denny called the loan in Pani Havel was out of the country, so her husband stepped in as her understudy.  Was this Tony Denny watching the airport for Dagmar Havlova’s departure and quickly nipping round to Vaclav with a deadline he just had to meet?  Who knows, but I’m surprised Havel fell for this and disappointed to see the Havel brand devalued by its association with the Czech Arthur Daly.

Enter Vision ’97’s PR spokeswoman Sabina Tancevova to explain that there is nothing unusual in the nearest thing Czechs have to Nelson Mandela fronting a Dodgy Motors ad.  Who is she trying to kid.  But then, if I were in her shoes I’d be feeling a bit vulnerable given that it’s the role of PR to manage deals like this.  If she’s daft enought to buy into a cars-for-cred deal like this on behalf of the Havels who could blame AAA Autos for rubbing their corporate mits together in glee?

Such is Czech culture that I fear AAA, the most controversial of Czech Automotive brands, will have significantly raised its credibility, particularly among older Czechs, with this one association.  Maybe Rupert Murdoch, already one newspaper and possibly a TV franchise down this week, could get a few tips from Tony Denny?

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