19 July, 2016 - 14:50 By Richard Taylor, Managing Director, Simpsons Creative

Branding that does what it says on the tin

Which do you prefer: pilchards or sardines? It rather depends on whether you’re having a scratch meal in your bedsit, in which case tinned pilchards smothered in tomato ketchup might fit the bill, or an elegant tête-à-tête at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, where you might opt for fresh caught sardines, netted earlier that day at Newlyn.

Either way, you’ll be tucking into exactly the same kettle of fish, albeit differently prepared and presented. In the ocean a pilchard is a sardine and a sardine is a pilchard. The only difference, bar a couple of inches, is branding. Although ‘only’ is a bit of an understatement for an image makeover that has magically transformed the Cornish fishing industry.

The name ‘pilchard’ probably conjures up British cuisine at its worst: the dark days of spam and bully beef before the boom in overseas travel introduced us to the culinary delights of the Continent.

‘Sardine’, by contrast, has all the warm overtones of the Mediterranean, evoking a vision of al fresco dining at a village trattoria in Sardinia, the island after which they are named.

Until about 12 years ago, the Cornish pilchard industry was in near terminal decline. The fish was salted and sold in vast quantities during the 19th century but salmon imports from Canada and the arrival of Pacific tuna all but killed the trade by the 1990s.

But since pilchards were rebranded as ‘Cornish Sardines’ sales have soared.  They’re catch of the day at Waitrose and high end restaurants from Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen to Duck and Waffle in the City of London and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant have put them back on the menu.

And the name of the marketing genius who brought about this amazing turnaround? Not, as you might have expected, a professional ad man, but an old Cornish cove by the name of Nutty Noah.

“It was a piece of marketing pure and simple,” says Peter Bullock, another Cornish fisherman who has followed in Nutty Noah’s wake and trawls for sardines out of Newlyn every night.

A few years ago there were no sardine boats at Newlyn. Now there are six which bring home about 20 tonnes of sardines every night.

“It’s the rebranding that’s made pilchards really popular,” he says. “You just have to think of the romance of a sardine on the barbeque and think of the Mediterranean.”

And the moral of this heartening tale? Well the benefits of having an image audit and brand makeover speak for themselves. But equally important is the fact that there’s more to marketing than throwing money at the problem.

Sometimes all it takes is for an outsider to bring a fresh perspective to your business, a tweak that could transform the way your customers see you – and change your fortunes into the bargain!

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