The power of branding

The Colonel and The Mole had been having a quiet drink at The Jolly Farmer when The Colonel spotted a rather trim old biddy, sitting by herself in the corner. The Mole was planning to go home for a dinner party and so The Colonel was looking for company.

"Target Rich Environment," he muttered, as he drained his Gin & Tonic and sauntered away to say: "Aren't you Sheila Bentwhistle?" to the lady in question.

The Mole watched surrepticiously as he finished off his drink, while pretending to do the crossword.

The ruse had worked and The Mole noted that a Madeira had been ordered. He then tuned in to the conversation.

"I haven't had so much fun since Cameron Diaz was here filming last year," he heard The Colonel say.

"Cameron who?" said the old dear.

"Cameron Diaz," said The Colonel. "A film star."

"Oh yes, I think I've seen him in something," she replied graciously. "Lovely moustache."

"Well," said The Colonel, moving swiftly on. "There I was driving up the lane, just around the corner, and suddenly the whole place covered with fake snow. It reminded me of my days in Russia."

"Russia," said the old biddy. "What were you doing there?"

"Cannot talk about it, sorry," he said. "Official Secrets Act and all that."

"Oh," she replied, with rather bright eyes. "How very exciting! You must be one of those spies who retire to Surrey."

The Colonel merely smiled, as retired spooks in Surrey do when you ask them about their days at Moscow Station.

The Mole sighed. It was time to go home and leave The Colonel to his amorous tricks.

"You will drop by and show me all your medals," he said to The Colonel, as he departed. "And do give my regards to Cameron."

The Colonel looked a little sheepish.

"He's a rather dull old boy," The Colonel told the old biddy, when The Mole had departed. "He works in some Inland Revenue department and likes to hear about all my adventures."

"Gosh," said the old dear and took another slug of Madeira.

Outside it was still light and as The Mole wandered to his car he was struck by a remarkable idea.

If someone like The Colonel can brand himself as a retired secret agent and impress little old ladies,surely it would be a good idea for the Secret Intelligence Service, which is now not really a secret, to get into merchandising and thus help pay the bills for protecting the free world.

"We must fight regional instability, international terrorism, find weapons of mass destruction, illegal narcotics and keep NASCAR under control," he said to himself. "And, while we are doing it, we should sell teeshirts."

A splendid idea. It could be worth millions.

He had spent the day taking close look at the merchandising industry, having heard that Ferrari had announced that it would be setting up a new business division solely to handle the company's merchandising and licensing operations. Ferrari has around 1800 products in its product range, including clothing, leather goods, toys, gadgets, luxury goods and even old parts from the F1 cars.

"Porsche did all that about 30 years ago," said Penelope (Roedean). "Porsche Design."

"Indeed," said The Mole.

What fascinated him were the numbers. Ferrari, it was reckoned, turns over $800m in merchandising each year and when all the costs and so on are taken into account it must be worth a decent profit to the company. And there is a theme park coming in Abu Dhabi.

"A theme park," thought The Mole, in the car park of The Jolly Farmer. "SIS should have a theme park. SIS World!"

The Mole laughed out loud at that one.

"But why not?" he said to himself as he climbed into his car. "It would save taxpayers' money."

As The Colonel was in the process of proving, SIS is a sexy brand and that is all you need. Something that people aspire to be connected to. In Ferrari's case people want the association to a car that they cannot afford. Or to the racing team that wins a lot. In the case of SIS people would like to be thought of as being as cool as James Bond."

"So why are the other Formula 1 teams not doing a better job with their branding?" The Mole asked himself out loud. "Surely a team like Williams or McLaren could be generating a lot more revenue from selling glamour."

That afternoon he had talked Annabel in Charlotte, North Carolina, and had discovered some numbers from NASCAR that had left him quite speechless.

"These days NASCAR is turning over $2.6bn in merchandising," she had said. "Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jeff Gordon are responsible for at least half of that total. So let's say Earnhardt merchandise sales are about $700m a year. If you allow costs of $200m - which is way more than it would be - you can still see that young Dale is taking home a truckload of cash."

In F1 there is nothing like it, The Mole mused, as he finally started the engine. "Drivers who are national heroes and haven't given away their rights to their teams might make $5m- $10m but that's nothing. It is amazing what a little glamour can do for you!"

As the word came out The Mole caught a glimpse of The Colonel ushering the pink-cheeked old biddy to his car.

"I hope the old fellow doesn't have a heart attck," The Mole muttered.

May 9 2007

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

Print Feature