Baked Beans = Trump

WMH foresaw the “Trump Factor” in 2002, but we didn’t recognise it for what it was.


Our radical, baked bean smothered, Hovis rebrand, failed dismally in research. No consumers polled would admit to feeding their family baked beans, in spite of it being one of the country’s favourite grocery products.

The research firm suggested that the design be dropped for something with more wheat on it, or perhaps a picture of a loaf. Brave management ignored this wisdom and ‘Big Food Hovis’ went on to become the fastest growing grocery brand in the country. Saving the brand and saving scores of jobs.

Unwittingly we had encountered an early case of ‘Shy respondents’.

When the Conservatives won the last election, against all odds, pollsters put it down to ‘Shy Tories’, people who wouldn’t admit to voting for Mr Cameron. The Donald’s extraordinary win is put down to the same phenomenon – a fear of admitting who you’re voting for because you’re rather, or very, ashamed.

We are in the ‘post truth’ era, where nobody trusts experts and everyone follows their emotions – think Brexit.

So what’s new? Advertising and branding has always done this. When two products are similar, we in marketing use emotion to carve out our space. Facts, in the world of pasta sauce, luxury perfumes, tinned custard and frozen ready meals don’t count for much, but the emotional pull of a great brand can be irresistible.

The conundrum lies in that no manufacturer worth their salt would ever go to market without asking consumers what they think.

‘Consumers lie’ the late Richard Murray used to cry ‘If research is infallible, why do so many products fail?”

Of the experts we no longer trust, pollsters have tumbled to the same depth as politicians, financial forecasters, priests and latterly, football coaches. For years, research has kicked the hell out of great ideas in advertising and design. We all know it, as do our clients.

Dan Izbicki, Unilever’s creative excellence director recently said that the company’s products are not high interest categories for consumers.

We need great creativity and great work to cut through that. Far too often we get scared and go back to the easier thing to do because it’s not going to be terribly damaging – but we can do something bigger and better and braver.

He is absolutely right. The problem is that research will most likely kill the brave ideas that he wants. ‘Shy’ consumers and conservative marketers looking for the next career move, will conspire to normalise everything.

It’s time for those who seek the public’s opinion to get better at what they do. They need to create measures that really work, that allow us a true picture of what’s going on. Hopefully, it’ll also allow companies the ability to break through into better, braver, more effective marketing too. It’s long overdue.


Author: Richard Williams

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