Why most brand promises are purest waffle

Why most brand promises are purest waffle

Our car insurance renewal arrived last week from Aviva. Like many people’s, it was slightly higher than last year’s quote – despite the fact that we’d made no changes to the cover required, nor made a claim in the last year.


Indeed, as my wife and I both work from home – and given the lockdown that everyone has been suffering – we’ve hardly driven the car at all since March 2020.


So in frustration, my wife took it on herself to shop around for a better quote, and immediately found one – a good £200 cheaper – from a brand called General Accident.


Now I have worked in financial services since what feels like the dawn of time (well, 1986 to be exact) and have some distant dusty memory from those days of General Accident as an independent insurance brand, that was subsequently merged with Commercial Union, who were eventually bought by Norwich Union, who eventually rebranded as…Aviva.


So I find all this a little impecunious. It would seem that Aviva’s underwriters consider my wife and I an increasingly risky bet despite our parsimonious driving – yet their departmental cousins across the corridor at General Accident think we are definitely worth taking a punt on, and are happy to charge us £200 less for taking on the risk.


So what does this have to do with brand promises?


Well…I thought it would be interesting to mosey over to the Aviva website and have a peek at what they claim their brand values are.


You can find them here: It takes Aviva – Aviva plc


Surprise, surprise, they don’t include “Opportunistic” or “Disingenuous”.


Instead – far less surprisingly – they include such blandishments as “Care, commitment, community and confidence”.


If you click the Aviva link, you’ll see that old financial services cliché “trust” isn’t far behind.


Which brings me to why most brand promises are pretty worthless.


Many years ago, a wiser marketer than me stated that a brand has three pillars:


  1. How you act
  2. How you say you act, and
  3. How people think you act


If the above three are positive and all align, then potentially you have a strong brand.


So why are most brand promises purest waffle?


Most Brand Managers I have worked with will use (2) to try to influence (3), but crucially most brand managers have absolutely no actual say in what (1) is.


That’s because defining how a company actually behaves in practice is the role of the Board, and in particular the Chief Exec.


And that’s the real reason why I’m having a little rant at Aviva.


Because what makes Aviva worse than most in the brand promise stakes is that their brand statement is publicly endorsed by their Chief Exec – who presumably has some pretty significant influence on pricing policy.


It’s really no good claiming, as Group CEO Amanda Blanc does on the website:


“Aviva is the only insurer in the UK that can serve all customers’ needs, at every stage of their lives. I want out brand to reflect this, building trust and confidence with our customers” (my italics)


when on Amanda’s watch she promises one thing of how her brand will behave, and then watches whilst it does the opposite.


Of course, Amanda isn’t the only Chief Exec in the insurance world making brand promises that are little more than platitudinous waffle. There are plenty more in the wider world similarly trying to convince their customers that they are “Leading the world in environmental responsibility”; “Putting the customer at the heart of all that we do” or <add your own company’s Brand Purpose statement here>.


I’m pretty sure Aviva’s Head of Brand isn’t the only one bashing their head against a wall in frustration whilst clutching a sheaf of research telling them that “trust” is the one key value to which insurance customers would like to be able to hold their insurer.


So please big companies: either live up to your brand promises, or have a really good think about what your brand values actually are.


It’s no good making grand brand promises about being one thing, then doing the opposite.


Anything else is as convincing as putting lipstick on a gorilla.



Simon Hayhurst

Hayhurst Consultancy

May 2021



Picture credit: Red Apple Lipstick Review: Does Red Apple Live Up To The Hype? (mapleholistics.com)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *