I’ve recently been impressed by the redesign of the Dobeles Dzirnavnieks (Dobele Mill) product range. They have been grinding out their flour and associated products for many years, but in recent years their packaging has looked extremely dated, displaying a sort of florid coloration and space-filling geometrical background that was as pointless as it was unclear.
Then suddenly it all changed. DD products now come in hip little packages and boxes that look like they are the work of some Danish design school. Stack the old and the new together and it is difficult to believe they come from the same firm. Indeed I fell for the rebranding myself and currently have a cupboard full of groats, grains and flours that probably I would not have bought otherwise.
The marketing team have sharpened up their act too. DD’s new logo appears as one of the sponsors of Martins Sirmais’ Sunday morning TV show, Sirma Edienkarte which is required viewing for cool cosmopolitans with an interest in matters culinary. The lazy way to describe Sirmais is as “Latvia’s Jamie Oliver” but he suffers in the comparison being both more interesting and less cloying than the mockney British hob-botherer.
The renaissance of DD was starting to give me warm glow of pride in my adopted homeland. It showed that Latvia not only made good products but could also present them in an effective and attractive manner – an ability sometimes sadly lacking despite the hyper-abundance of “marketing specialists” in the country. It was a prime example of what PM Dombrovskis and his ministers have been talking about as “climbing up the value ladder.” What’s inside the packet is the same, but it feels like it is worth more.
Then a couple of days ago I was walking over Akmens tilts from Pardaugava, watching the latest trucks to be disgorged from the Tallink ferry making their way along the embankment. One of them caught me eye, as there on the side of it was the instantly recognizable new DD logo.
Only the accompanying text didn’t say “Dobeles Dzirnavnieks.”
It said “Tartu Mill.”
So it seems the whole DD rebranding exercise is courtesy of an Estonian parent company; a fact that was a bit disappointing but not really surprising. A little research revealed that DD and Tartu Veski “merged” in 2008 (a merger in which the Estonians took 80 per cent of shares, so effectively a takeover).
Estonians seem to have an instinctive knack when it comes to branding – or rather they seem to really view branding as a crucial element of their products from the very beginning rather than an adjunct to be attached at the end of the manufacturing process. From their tourism marketing campaigns to Tallink, Hansabuss and the whole E-stonia/Skype conspiracy, they have displayed a repeated ability to make a brand “stick”.
Latvia has managed far fewer examples, with Madara cosmetics the obvious stand-out. Even the likes of Lido, Stenders and Laci, which were strong brands, have suffered ultimately from over-extending their ambition or their product ranges and diluting the brand as a result. airBaltic, another fairly strong brand, may be in danger of similarly overeaching itself.
Conversely another of the stronger ‘Latvian’ brands, Karums, is also owned by Estonians who realised that the wrappers of the little bright orange packets of curd that were Karums only product could be taken and applied across a whole range of dairy products including milk, butter, kefirs, cream and cottage cheese.
My impression is that Latvia frequently has great products that fail to reach their full potential because they are poorly marketed and advertised or are marketed in a way that appeals only to a domestic rather than international audience.
Estonia has some rather ordinary products that look so cool you don’t notice how ordinary they are. The ‘Smuuti’ fruit drinks or Varska water brands spring to mind.
Maybe it’s time to hire some Estonians to market Latvia more effectively. That way both nations will be playing to their strengths.