Bags, the Co-op, and why if it isn’t broke don’t fix it

On my unexpected trip out to Cleethorpes yesterday, I saw many people carrying a particular kind of bag. No, not the latest trendy-at-no-cost offering from Primark or even the new Gucci, but bags for life emblazoned with the “new” Co-op logo. I put “new” in quotes because the logo was introduced in 1968 and was revived in the past month as part of a rebranding exercise.

You see, in 2007 the Co-op started going by its full name in order to appeal to a more upscale demographic. They also ditched the iconic cloverleaf, then in its second incarnation, causing an outcry from both the media and the common shopper. “If it’s not broke”, we all said, “why bother fixing it?” This put me in mind of the Lincolnshire branch’s rebrand of around 1998, in which the cloverleaf was dropped for an abstract, very 90s logo with “the Co-operative” written under it. This went down as well as you’d expect, and the clover and common name were reinstated less than two years later.

Not learning from this lesson, the Co-op held fast for almost ten years. Shoppers thought the name change pretentious, the lack of a known branding device discomfiting. Profits dipped and kept on falling until they finally realised it was the marketing that was failing. People wanted a supermarket that was friendly and welcoming, and the generic brand did not give off that impression. So they just went back to the 1968 version of the cloverleaf and their official name to what everyone still called it. The rebrand was extremely well recieved and suddenly the new Co-op bags began springing up everywhere, signs of a renaissance for the beloved British brand.

It has been just over a month since the rebrand was announced, and we are still in a transitional period. Most shops still have the green “Co-operative Food” frontage, with the logo sometimes plastered on (as I saw yesterday evening at the Intake branch) until more permanent signage in the “new” corporate colour of light blue can be brought in. The Co-op story should be taught in all marketing classes to illustrate the pitfalls of changing something people know and love.

As we said back in 2007- if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it!

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