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Cheap may not be a valuable virtue

Brand values and value brands have been front of my mind for many this week. There has been much talk of the former in the business pages and how they become increasingly important during recession; customers, we are told, seek security in the brands they choose to spend money on in downturns.

Inevitably those brands with some heritage behind them (it need not be hundreds of years) tend to find favour, especially when coupled with other appealing traits which can centre on things as diverse as service, humour, glamour or ethics.

One interesting brand that has seen its brand stock rise in recent weeks, somewhat improbably given that flying that is no longer fashionable and foreign travel increasingly unaffordable, is Virgin Atlantic. Its new ad, which features high-gloss scarlet-suited 80s airhostesses stalking through an airport terminal and concludes with the endline “still red hot after 25 years”, has sent its image soaring as high as a Boeing 747.

It’s not just the humour and nostalgia the ad evokes with its breeze-block mobile phones and bad hair, but the fact it also features once-loved brands of that era, such as Our Price records and Wimpy that have since disappeared. Underlying message, Virgin Atlantic has endured while others have gone.

Of course sometimes your core brand value can simply be value, which has increasingly come to mean cheap in fashion. Industry analysts Verdict’s latest customer satisfaction awards (see Analysis pxx) were dominated by the so-called value brands whose key proposition is low prices. The one notable exception? John Lewis. This business has traded on the core brand values of fairness and trust for 145 years, and it’s pleasing to know that’s still worth more than cheap even in these cash-strapped times.

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