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Dr Nick: in the brand surgery

Dear Dr Nick,
I love cider, but am trying desperately to keep it out of my teenage kid’s hands. Why has it got such a bad name and what can be done to improve it?

Cider was always my drink of choice when growing up, whether it was the bottle of Strongbow we took to parties or the six-pint Merrydown Challenge when I got to university. So, how did something with such a rich heritage manage to get such a bad reputation?

Cider has always been popular, especially with the young, and it’s easy to see why. Bottom line is it’s easy to drink and tastes sweet. The fact that it gets you totally hammered in next to no time is simply a bonus. Not many people though, realise that conventional apple cider can be good for you as it has a relatively high concentration of phenolics and antioxidants which help prevent heart disease, cancer and other ailments. But the truth is, cider in the UK is currently cast as the bête noire. It is up their with alcopops as the reason our children get absolutely rat-arsed. As a brand, cider has lost its way and the suggestion of super taxation is just another symptom of how far it has fallen.

What it needs to do is re-position itself away from the session drink of choice and get back to its artisan roots. Highlight the variety and craft and appeal to the more sophisticated. And make the most of the fantastic choice of ciders out there to show people that cider doesn’t necessarily equal Diamond White.  

Finally, let people know that ciders can taste great with an ABV of 3.5/4%, so it’s more about the taste than the hit. Overall sales might fall in the short term, but this approach will be much more sustainable for those in it for the long term.  

Dear Dr Nick,
How can AOL justify paying $850m for Bebo and then shut it down two years later?

Unlike cider, social networking (on websites at least), is not one of my strong points, so I had to do a bit of research on this one. Bebo, named after 'blog early, blog often' is a phenomenon I have managed to live my life without, and there in lies the point. The online brands that have become an essential part of life, like Google and Amazon, are the ones that have blossomed. The ones that were more of a gimmick, interesting for a time, but then dull, like Friends Reunited, have fallen away.

I suspect that Bebo has become one of the latter. Social networking sites rely on the community taking part, so there will never really be enough room in the market once the dominant brand has got its act into gear. The rise and rise of Facebook has seen off Bebo because it is easier to use, more useful and more popular. Just ask my wife how essential it is for her to keep in touch with her friends?  

AOL probably thought it had the ideas and innovation to make Bebo dominant, but have failed dismally. So the only thing to do is to squeeze as much value out of the brand as they can and hope to find someone who thinks it’s worth paying some decent money for it. Let them have a go, and we’ll see who really has the ideas to make it a hit again.
 
Dear Dr Nick,
I’m already sick of this election. Can't they do something to make it more interesting?

Election weary? I’m totally bored by the whole thing. The posturing, the attempts to get the public interested, the back-stabbing and just the overall dullness of it all. Every night the first 15 minutes of the news is all about it, even though nothing has actually happened. My attention hasn’t been taken, let alone grabbed, by a single individual, sound bite or policy. They all sound so similar. So conservative. No-one seems to have any vision or originality in their thinking, so is it really a surprise?

The bummer is that this is really important. It’s our one chance every five years to have our say, so someone has to take a hard look at the election system, and give it a makeover. I have been thinking about some of the great brands and what they might do if we asked them to get involved?

Firstly, what about everyone’s favourite, Apple? Well they would make it very easy and very cool. Everyone would want to have a piece of it, so they would definitely build the levels of interest. They would issue everyone with a device to follow the debates and then vote, and it would be the must-have gadget. It might not work that well at first, but it would be improved and ultimately change the way we think about elections, which sounds great. They would also encourage everyone to contribute content to make the experience more real and part of everyday life.

What about Innocent? Well there’s a thought! Could they make politics squeaky clean? No more greedy expenses? No more dodgy spin? No more similarity of flavour, I mean policy? Well, they would try very hard. They would go back to the root of the current system, strip away anything bad, pump in bags of purity and then shout loud about its cleanliness. It would certainly be refreshing, but one little white lie and the whole thing would come crashing down.

For me, I think they should start by making it compulsory to vote. That way, everyone needs to get involved. Then make sure the parties simplify their manifestos into a one pager (minimum 11 point type) using plain English so it is understandable to all. Then insist on distinctive positionings for each party and a really simple voting system like proportionate representation, but with local candidates, so your votes clearly do count. And finally, agree a clear set of KPIs which every MP and party needs to publish progress against every month. Five or six measures should do it. Just make sure they are objective and honestly measured, and then we’ll get a clear idea of what has been achieved - if anything.

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