It’s amazing how easy, and dangerous, it can be to forget who you are in the rush to mitigate against perceived threats or seize potential opportunities. It’s similarly amazing how well you can do simply by embracing and effectively expressing yourself.
In the late nineties, Lego decided to branch out from the building blocks it is known and loved for. It developed the action figure range Galidor, which was almost as unloved as the cartoon series that went with it. It went crazy with the complexity of its kits- the number of components had almost doubled – and supply costs skyrocketed. What’s worse, the kids weren’t interested.
As Paal Smith-Meyer, who runs Lego’s new business group, put it: “We almost did innovation suicide. We didn’t do a lot of clever components. We did a lot of stylised pieces. We wanted to be Philippe Starck.”
Or to put it simply – the company forgot what it was. Luckily, it woke up and put the block back at the heart of its brand, and recently overtook Hasbro to become the world’s second biggest toymaker.
Not terribly exciting, I hear you cry. But that, to a certain extent, is entirely the point. Lego took aim at style and innovation – excitement, if you will – and very nearly took a fall. Ronseal, however, managed to do something actually rather extraordinary by simply making a virtue of what it was – very ordinary.
Around the same time Lego was toying with the idea of making cartoons, Ronseal was just another brand on the shelf next to lots of other brands doing the same thing with no discernible differentiator in a wall of vague USPs. So it parked the impulse to think of something clever and made the conscious decision to demystify – to simply tell it like it is.
No puns, no art, no nonsense. Its ads said things like: “If you’ve got wood to stain and you want it to dry quickly, you need Ronseal Quick Drying Woodstain.”
Fast forward 20 years and the phrase “does exactly what it says on the tin” has its own Wikipedia entry and is referenced by both Katie Melua (make of that what you will) and the Oxford dictionary. Furthermore, the word Ronseal has become an adjective in its own right, meaning straight/honest, with even the Prime Minister using it: “People are crying out for a kind of Ronseal politics.” Most importantly, however, after the initial campaign, sales shot up and Ronseal quickly became the brand leader because it remembered what it was and got its story straight.