Wednesday 6 April 2011

A Brand from the Burning

maybe Marmite Motors!

A "brand from the burning" was a phrase used by John Wesley to describe his miraculous (and Divinely inspired, as he profoundly believed) childhood escape from a disastrous fire at the Wesley family home in Epworth.
[Isle Coaches Bus 291 from Doncaster to Owston Ferry]
Historically, a red-hot "brand" was used to burn a farmer's initials into the skin of cattle.  Modern product brands are almost always well-known, usually memorable and often very long lasting.  The Coca Cola brand has its origins in 1886, and the logo was certainly in use, more-or-less in its present form, in 1888.
Branded bus services probably began with Green Line in London; once a substantial network of long distance limited stop cross-London routes linking the main towns in the home counties.
Green Line started in 1930 and the brand (now owned by Arriva, sorry, Deutsche Bundesbahn) still applies today although the network is much smaller.
Some may even remember British Coachways [BC], an attempt by independent operators to match the growing success of National Express, a newly-created brand within the state-owned National Bus Company.  
BC fizzled out remarkably quickly.   The huge Midland Red Company introduced a whole range of local brands in the 70s, of which Reddibus (for Redditch) was probably the most distinctive.
The problem with bus brands is that it can be hard to preserve their identity.  And if that identity is compromised, what use is the brand? In older bolder bread van days these three minibuses were photographed by fbb ON THE SAME DAY all operating the service 6 from Ryde to Tesco. Only the blue livery was correct!
Today in Plymouth, First runs the "Tavy>Linx" with buses in a non-standard purple livery tagged "up to every 15 minutes". (Photo courtesy of Plymothian Transit blog.) 
That may be so in Plymouth itself but on arrival at Tavistock half the journeys arrive at the same time as (or even a few minutes later than) the following departure.  Between Yelverton and Tavistock there are two buses running together every half hour.  Down to every 30 mins! 

This is because Plymouth City Bus withdrew its service 7 to Woolwell (School Drive) and First replaced it with double runs off the main road for half of their Tavistock buses.  Similar problems existed in 1996 when the service was only every 20 minutes ...
... and the 30 mins past from Plymouth arrived at the same time as the previous 10 mins past (etc.).

It makes "up to every 15 minutes" about as meaningful as adverts for broadband speed.   So fbb has a question.  Whilst, undoubtedly, passenger numbers can grow with a quality service, an attractive fares "package" and improved frequencies, is there any statistical evidence that weird and wacky brands have any measurable effect?

Do passengers respond by rushing on board to get their five healthy trips a day from fruity companies with names like Flying Banana, Big Lemon, Strawberry and Kumfy Kumquat?*   Would they travel just as much if the buses were labelled "Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Transport and Electricity Board"** or something really, really silly like that?
*One of these is an fbb invention - click to find out which!

**SHMD (illustrated above) became part of SELNEC, ...
... the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive, in 1969.   Now that WAS a distinctive brand. Oddly, the new name was just as unwieldy as the full version of SHMD; the later renaming to Greater Manchester PTE was a much better!

Next blog : due on Friday April 8th  

1 comment:

  1. Surely, any business name can be considered to be a 'brand'? I don't disagree that Green Line is a brand, but then so were 'General', Chocolate Express' or even 'Pirate' that operated in London in an earlier era.

    The curious aspect of the current trend in route-branding is that it suggests some lack of direction on the part of the large conglomerate groups, which seem to want on the one hand their national (and international) identities to come to the forefront, in place of the old (often regional) operator names; but, on the other hand, use individual routes as a basis for what might be termed 'micro-branding'. I would have thought that route-branding could easily go wrong - buses having to be substituted with other-branded or unbranded vehicles - or even the rather strange instance of artics that carried branding for different routes on the front and rear sections in Southampton! However, according to what I have read, the route branding seems to work for operators such as Trent Barton and Go North East - presumably the use of distinctive names is considered helpful in marketing the service (i.e. making the public aware of it). As you mentioned yourself, in your post on the information available at York station, presenting information about what is available to the public is very important, and something that the industry has sometimes (maybe, often) failed to do adequately.

    On the other hand, the old style names, or brands, can cause problems. Roger Davies, in his article about Maidstone and District in the current issue of 'Buses', mentions that the M&D name did not go down so well in Hastings, some way from Maidstone, and in a different county. Or in cases such as SHMD, which was a mix of businesses, so that poor performance in one sector may bring down the reputation of the brand as a whole. Long after the days of SHMD, I lived in Mannheim where the local transport operator also supplied electricity and internet services. There was logic in the combination - the backbone of the transport system is an electric tramway, while their internet offering was supposed to come through the mains electric supply. The trams and buses provided a good service, but the internet never worked at all in about a year while I tried to use it, and communication with their billing department was an utterly frustrating experience with virtually all of my letters and emails simply being ignored. As far as your other example is concerned - SELNEC - I was told that this stood for 'Seldom Early, Likely Never Even Come'!

    Incidentally, a minor correction - Arriva's owner is the Deutsche Bahn. The 'Bundesbahn' title was dropped when the old (western) DB merged with the Deutsche Reichsbahn from the old East Germany.