Brand Stories: Can good storytelling increase Ribena’s sales?

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Dr Finola Kerrigan
Reader in Marketing and Consumption


Consumer tastes change over time, and trends in marketing influence this. This creates an ongoing challenge for brands that have been in the marketplace for a long time. With increasing levels of choice, consumers can easily be seduced away from familiar brands by the lure of the fashionable. This creates a challenge for classic brands to retain their relevance and continue to connect with the consumer.

Our recent research has found that brands can attain longevity through carefully balancing continuity and change. In knowing what to continue and what to change, we found that looking inwards to the brand’s history and heritage is important and change is influenced by looking to the wider world. It seems that Ribena are doing just this by developing a campaign which is linked to their heritage. They have also looked outward at what is going on in the wider marketplace.

Brand identity

By looking outward, Ribena have understood the need to develop and diversify their products, but that this is not enough to sustain the brand.  Brand longevity requires the development of great stories. Recognising the trend for authenticity and craft in the food and drinks sector, but accepting their position as a mass market brand, Ribena have used humour in telling this story of their brand.

The power of stories, particularly those tapping into feelings of nostalgia and familiarity is an important part of branding. Recently, Anthony Tattum, Founder and Chair of Big Cat spoke to my final year Brand Marketing students about how brands are using stories to connect to consumers. Drawing on campaigns developed by Big Cat Group as well as others from across a range of sectors, Anthony highlighted the power of good storytelling to engage or re-engage consumers with brands. According to Chip and Dan Heath in Made to Stick, 63% of people remember stories they are told. But, do we care about the authenticity of these stories?

The tricks of storytelling

Dr Scott Taylor has written about how marketing has applied a craft label to products made by large companies as a marketing ploy, suggesting that consumers can be sceptical about such labelling. It seems that Ribena has found a way around this through the use of humour. This ties in with research by Stephen Brown, Lorna Stevens and Pauline Maclaran, which found that retail firm Hollister’s brand origins story was totally fabricated to appeal to the market, but that this is not a problem for the brand in terms of popularity.

While an entirely ‘accurate’ account of the brand may not be required for the making of a good story, our research on the James Bond franchise found that connecting to a brand’s origins is important for brands with a strong heritage.

This seems to resonate with Ribena’s new owners, Japanese company, Suntory. They highlight the origins story on their website reminding people that Dr Vernon Charley, a University of Bristol Scientist, developed Ribena and it was distributed to children during World War II as a vitamin C supplement. Following this, ownership of the brand moved to Beecham, a British Pharmaceutical Company in the 1950s, and then to GlaxoSmithKline following their merger in 2000. During this time, the health benefits of Ribena were often central to the brand positioning. However, the introduction of the ‘sugar tax’ in 2018 saw Ribena halve its sugar content, a move not always appreciated by consumers.

Ribena continues to be produced in Coleford, in the Forest of Dean. This provides a link to the current craft positioning, offering a sliver of authenticity to Ribena’s new story arc. It will be interesting to see if this new storytelling will reverse the downward trend in sales.

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