Buy n Large: Your Friend, and Your Leader

BnL is a company that sells everything and anything

…but it’s not just any company, it’s also the leader of world government.

(or at least it is in the Wall-e (Pixar) universe)

This is quite an interesting scenario, and something that actually seems relatively familiar to us in our world of consumerism and multinational supermarket chains, in which everything one needs can be purchased/ordered/delivered/ to anywhere on the planet

How many times have we implicitly been told this?

The reality is, that we have many ‘BnL’s in the marketplace, offering us everything we could ever need, under many different names, brands, and companies.

One of the obvious examples of this are the big players such as Unilever, Mars, P&G, Pepsico, and Coco Cola. These companies own vast swathes of the products we all know and repeatedly buy, and we often don’t consider the ‘bigger picture’ of who owns the companies that own the products.

The web of companies that make up the consumer universe.

Often these mega companies don’t significantly advertise their involvement in the brands they own, for fear of backlashes for owning brands with conflicting ideologies (such as the Lynx/Axe – Dove relationship). Or perhaps they’re worried people won’t like the idea of superbrands owning everything…

However, when they do acknowledge themselves as owners of their products, it’s known as umbrella branding.

Umbrella branding allows companies to extend product and brand lines, whilst still being able to use their name in order to allow consumers to make inferences about the new products based on their views of the larger ‘umbrella’ brand (Hakenes & Peitz, 2008). For companies, this reduces the overal costs of bringing out new products.

Take a company such as Virgin, if you had gained experience of the Virgin voyager train service, would that influence your perception of their Virgin atlantic service if you had never used it?

Hakenes and Peitz, (2008) further investigated how product quality is influenced by umbrella branding. They found that umbrella branding did demonstrate an effect on how novel products were perceived when put under the umbrella of another brand. It was even found that products that were viewed positively under the umbrella, could be viewed negatively without it.

The USA in association with Exxonmobil perhaps?

Arguably, even supermarkets are setting themselves up as mega brands, offering everything one needs as well as their standard groceries. If I pop to Tesco online, not only can I pick up a pint of milk, but also: insure my cat, purchase a DSLR camera, set up a mobile phone contract, buy a t-shirt, and even take out a mortgage for my house. Laforet (2007) further investigated how customers perceived supermarket brand extensions in relation to finance. It was found that within three different retailers, the financial services were seen as trusted, in relation to the overal brand of the retailer. This could further demonstrate that if the overal brand of a company can appear trustworthy (this includes the risk of purchasing for the consumer), then they can extend their brand to nearly any other product or service.

This suggests that the mega brands, could only grow bigger, either through umbrella branding, or under the guise of other companies the mega brands own.

So when the world has run out of resources, the sky has been scarred from pollution, and humanity has finished it’s final stand, will it be a Unilever spacecraft that we board to take us away and save us? A P&G teleportation device to deliver us to safety?  Or perhaps we will pop over to the planet Mars brought to you by Mars©. All of them still brimming with all the consumerism we could ever need to entertain and nourish us.

I think I’ve just managed to frighten myself.


4 thoughts on “Buy n Large: Your Friend, and Your Leader

  1. Declan McClelland

    I enjoyed this blog Will! I was actually trying to figure out a way of discussing corporate consolidation in a blog, but I couldn’t figure out how! So kudos to you sir!

    You paint a worrying picture of the future, and I share your concerns.

    It’s hard to see which way all this is going. Larger umbrella companies continually buying out smaller businesses/brands, and even big players in their field are having to merge to stay competitive (e.g. merger of penguin and random house in the publishing world).

    I think there will always be competition in the marketplace….surely it would be impossible for one company to take over everything(?) – and you’d like to think that as a society we would take action if it ever got to that stage.

    But the more brands that each company owns, the more money that we generate for them, and the more money they can afford to spend on getting us to purchase their products.

    Another worrying example of how corporate consolidation & cooperation threatens our collective futures is the consolidation of seed companies.

    I don’t know huge amounts about this, but basically it appears as thought the genetically modified seed company Monsanto is on a quest to control the food supply of the world, and they are doing this through patenting as many different GM modifications of seeds as possible. It’s worrying to think that you can own a patent on a biological organism. If you can own a patent for a seed, surely you can own a patent on a human? Currently, Monsanto own 90% of the world’s patents for genetically modified seed, including patents for cotton, soybeans, corn, canola, and many more.

    Where will it all end?

  2. venividivulgo

    Interesting blog! The video actually reminded me of Brave New World by Huxley (the described control of everything did at least).

    Talks about umbrella brands always remind me of the current book market, a current corporate power; others describe it as a cartel: Few weeks ago Penguin and Random house merged to create the biggest book publisher of all times.
    But what is scary about it is owned by Bertelsmann, a media conglomerate. It is actually the biggest European Media company that owns almost all privately owned TV-Channels, printed magazines and the music industry . Random House is 100% owns by Bertelsmann and is therefore now also to a certain extent in control of Penguin.
    This basically means that news, not only in Germany, but also for example in the USA or the UK, are controlled by one company. This also makes Bertelsmann have immense political power which could be seen at their 175 year party with Angela Merkel and thousands of celebrities from commerce and politics – not only an international acting company, but also a political power.

    I find it frightening to see how much power these companies, such as Bertelsmann or Unilever have. It certainly lets you wonder how much influence they have and how much pressure is put on the legislative authorities and production controls.

  3. theconsumerinthewindow

    Umbrella brands such as unilver and P&G are something which I find fairly mind boggling, but also fairly strange that in practice they actually work. Especially now that they have started making a point of having their logo in TV and Print adverts just to remind you who owns them. As by owning so many products it in inevitable that some of them will clash on what they are, the most notable example being Lynx vs Dove both being owned by Unilever. Yet no one seems to care that these brands have such different campaigns with regards to the female body. Although maybe people are happy to ignore that for the benefits of a brand being under an umbrella brand, after all it does give us a guarantee of higher quality to a degree as you highlighted above. Or maybe it is simply ok to have a conflict as the products are advertised to grab the attention of the target market. So women may not pay any real attention to lynx adverts and vice versa. Joe out.

  4. jamesuh

    Sticking to the emergent theme of publications, what about that Rupert fella over at NewsInternational. Rupert ‘blood-sucking, poison-spreading, merchant of all that is unholy’ Murdoch. Yeah, that’s his name. This guy owns more papers that Will uses in the dunny. B’n’L is already realised in R-dawg’s slimey, reptilian incarnation. So if this merchant of lies is still profiteering, are we really powerful as consumer’s? Probably, yes. It’s just that few of us want to admit to one another, and ouselves for that matter, that there is a majority out there willing to be spoon-fed caustic fabrications about the world we live in, peddled through the lad’s less than readable offerings. This guys not only owns two of the biggest daily’s in the UK, but countless other companies – including a huge stake in BSkyB. Mercifully, however, the government, for whatever reason (I’m sure it isn’t of merciful origin) prohibited ol’Murdey from taking a dominant share of what we read and watch in the UK. Flippin’ phew.
    Perhaps, though, these large organistions can be of some good? Google (probably as evil as the next guy) has introduced Google Fibre, providing ‘free’ internet, TV and SUPERFAST internet. This development and enhancement of infrastructure that would otherwise go untouched for another 20-30 years is a relatively good thing, right?!


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