“Brandfather” John Murphy tells the story of the rise and rise of branding

John Murphy at St Peter's Brewery

John Murphy at St Peter's Brewery - Credit: Archant

Businessman John Murphy, who has a home in Suffolk and owns St Peter’s Brewery, near Bungay, has just published a book telling his story as the man who invented branding – revealing the story behind names such as Hobnobs, Homebase, Viagra and the Ford Mondeo.

St Peter's Hall.

St Peter's Hall.

Three key moments can be said to have shaped the development of Interbrand, the business through which Mr Murphy introduced clients around the world to the benefits of branding.

The first came in his early days at tyre company Dunlop when, leafing through the company’s annual report and accounts, he came across an unidentified item of income which appeared to show a £1m windfall.

A chance conversation with one of his senior bosses revealed that the sum had been paid by the oil giant Esso for an obscure and little-used trade mark, Extron, which was owned by Dunlop.

Although it only emerged later that this was part of Esso’s plans to rename itself as Exxon, the Dunlop executive involved recognised the strength of the oil company’s interest and so, when asked to name a price, came up with the figure of £1m. Esso accepted on the spot.

Chocolate Hobnobs

Chocolate Hobnobs - Credit: Archant � 2006


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Later in his time at Dunlop Mr Murphy became involved in the creation of a trade mark for a new tyre. Advertising agencies, says Mr Murphy, could only offer slogans, rather than names which could be protected as a trade mark, and an in-house competition demonstrated only that the task was no job for amateurs (one suggestion being “Jack the Gripper”).

A solution was eventually provided a French company called Novomark which, as the name suggests, had been set up specifically to develop new names. Mr Murphy stayed in touch and when, after brief post-Dunlop career in financial services, he decided the time had come to launch a business of his own, he secured a deal to set up in the UK under the Novomark name.

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The second key moment was when Novomark was commissioned by McVitie’s to develop a name for a new biscuit. “They wanted a name which was fairly banal, boring even, but just on the right side of being protectable, so that supermarkets could not easily bring out own-brand imitations,” says Mr Murphy.

However, Novomark decided that something more creative was called for and the result was “Hobnobs” - a name the client initially accepted only with a degree of reluctance.

A Ford Mondeo

A Ford Mondeo

In fact, Novomark came up with more than the name. Besides conducting the legal searches and trade mark registration, it also commissioned graphic design and a developed a “positioning statement” for advertising agencies to work from.

“I realised that we had done more than just name a product,” says Mr Murphy. “We had created an entire identity with the different services being connected like beads on a string.”

This concept, of creating not just a product identity but a persona with which customers can connect, Mr Murphy decided to call branding, a term he then introduced to the public in the title of a book he was editing, which appeared as “Branding: A Key Marketing Tool”.

The concept, he says, ruffled a few feathers among marketeers but the term slowly caught on, Novomark began to style itself as a “branding consultant” and, eventually, it became Interbrand.

A Homebase store.

A Homebase store. - Credit: PA

The third key moment came when Australia milling and foods group Goodman Fieldman Wattle (GFW) launched a hostile takeover bid for its (larger) UK equivalent, Rank Hovis McDougal (RHM).

Sensing an opportunity, Mr Murphy immediately sent a fax (emails were the still very much in the future) to the chairman of RHM and, within a week, had secured a commission to value the UK group’s entire portfolio of brands and so help to demonstrate that the Australian bid undervalued the business.

GFW duly retreated and, within 12 months, Interbrand had a new global strand to its business, in valuing brands as well as creating them.

The pharmaceutical and motor industries have been rich veins for Interbrand, with its creations over the years including the names for Zeneca (a demerger from ICI), Viagra, the Ford Mondeo and, for British Leyland, the Metro. In retail, it came up with the name for DIY chain Homebase.

The anti-impotence drug Viagra

The anti-impotence drug Viagra - Credit: PA

In 1994, however, Mr Murphy decided the time had come to move overs for others to take the business forward and, after considering a flotation, Interbrand was sold.

However, he was by no means finished with branding and a major element of his post-Interbrand career has been St Peter’s Brewery, which he launched in 1996.

St Peter’s was created by Mr Murphy as an international brand for English-style ales. “In the mid-1990s hardly any English ale was being exported and what little was going overseas was mostly only going as far as Calais, for sale to British booze-cruisers,” he says.

The name St Peter’s was inspired by St Peter’s Hall at South Elmham, which came onto the market and was identified by Mr Murphy as a suitable base for the business.

Inside St Peter's Brewery.

Inside St Peter's Brewery. - Credit: Archant

He decided that St Peter’s would work as an international brand, being recognisably English but also familiar through local versions of the name such as Pierre and Pedro.

The brand identity was completed with a distinctive oval bottle, based on one Mr Murphy found at an antiques fair, and a device featuring a raven (linked to the Vikings, whose raiding probably led to the creation of the moated site now occupied by St Peter’s Hall) and a key (representing St Peter).

• Brandfather by John Murphy is published by The Book Guild, priced £11.99.

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