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British Gas price rises incur wrath
of mid-market tabloids

It was a tough week for British brands abroad, but the media saved the worst for British Gas, writes Jennifer Whitehead in this week's round-up of brand news.

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British Gas found itself the subject of mid-market tabloid fury this week, as it was accused of "blatant profiteering" when it unveiled a 5.3% hike on gas prices -- adding to a 4.7% rise in April this year.

"Fury as gas prices soar" was the headline on Tuesday's Daily Mail, which also took pains to point out that the company could face a "mass exodus" of customers taking their business to rival suppliers such as TXU Energi. Consumer groups said they feared for the elderly and the poor, and criticised the timing of the price rises -- set for January 3 -- just before the coldest months of the winter.

British Gas may have taken a drubbing at the hands of the press, but not all UK institutions were having such a tough week.

Not since John Major proclaimed it his favourite place to eat has Little Chef experienced such good media coverage. The Independent has revealed that the motorway restaurant chain's experiment in rebranding was such a success that over a third of the 400 Little Chefs will now be given a facelift.

Known as Little Chef New Choices, the rebranded restaurants are more upmarket, featuring "new chairs that are not bolted to the floor" and an expanded menu.

British Airways may not have been having a good time lately, but its London Eye has given the company something to shout about. It has been such a success that a planning application has been submitted to give the giant Ferris wheel life beyond its original five-year temporary status.

Seven million visitors have already experienced the London Eye, which is credited with raising London's tourism earnings by 1.5%.

As the wrangle over rum brands rumbles on between Diageo and Allied Domecq, a relative newcomer to the spirits market, Skyy vodka, was sold this week when Campari bought Skyy Spirits for £140m. Skyy has only been around since 1992, but has already "one of the leading brands [in] the US premium vodka market", according to Campari.

Having less success in the US is the Strongbow cider brand. Despite an ad campaign featuring Johnny Vaughan and Jerry Hall and aimed at building the brand in the US, Strongbow has failed to take off, as brand owner Bulmer's reported profits down 18% for the half year to £13.5m.

Another UK export suffering in the US is Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. As Americans switch off gameshows in the wake of September 11, the show has seen its audience figures declining, according to Avesco, which owns worldwide rights to the show. Avesco said its full-year television market revenues would fall short of expectations.

And who could resist the news that the makers of Monopoly were being investigated for creating a monopoly... not strictly true, but Hasbro, the US maker of Monopoly and other boardgames including Trivial Pursuit, is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading over allegations of price fixing.

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