Categories: Crisis management

14 September 2009


By Harris you’ve got your tweed in a twist!

I read in this morning’s The Times that in the US, Harris Tweed has decided to de-Scottify its brand following the release of the Lockerbie bomber. How dumb do Harris Tweed think Americans are? 

You can’t take the Scottish out of Harris Tweed any more than you can take the Cuban out of Cuban cigars (don’t mention Castro) or the German out of Porsche (don’t mention the Nazis) or the French out of French wine (don’t mention Iraq) or the British out of British Airways (somebody once tried and they had to put it back) or the petroleum out of BP. 

People buy Harris Tweed because of its rugged Scottish Highlander and mystical far-flung isles image. Without those unique, compelling qualities this niche brand looks inauthentic (as it would for bagpipes and premium Scotch whiskies; Johnnie Walker being a global exception, but still Scotch).

Moreover, Harris Tweed’s slimy sidestep could link the Lockerbie bomber to Harris Tweed forever in the US public eye.

I had a similar experience in the 1990s every time I was interviewed as a nuclear industry spokesman. After a fire at a chimney stack at Windscale in 1957 spread radiation around Cumbria, some bright spark thought it a good idea to rename the plant Sellafield. The aim was to distance the plant from its past.

It did not work. It became instead a chronic sore. Whenever the name Sellafield was mentioned, the story of how it got its new identity was retold (ok, I’m being a little harsh on Tweed jackets by comparing them to nuclear plants, but..)

It remains to be seen if Harris Tweed survives being de-Scottified here, Scottified there, and underestimating consumer intelligence everywhere.

3 responses to “By Harris you’ve got your tweed in a twist!”

  1. Peter Walker says:

    Let’s not kid ourselves – the attitude of the French to the second Bush foray into Iraq saw sales of French products plummet in the US and plenty of French restaurants close to boot so any ‘national product’ is very vulnerable in the land of boycotts.

    But “Hoping that things might blow over” and US export sales would not be affected is not a strategy – it doesn’t sound like a well researched position does it.

    Want to deflect a possible US / International sales impact why not recast Harris Tweed as a Celtic product and draw on the Irish support in this key market.

    “Fortune is the arbiter of half our actions and she leaves the other half to us – and that means good quality marketing, management and communication management training is really important.

  2. Simon J says:

    What a gaffe. Nice rant Paul.

  3. Alan Brighty says:

    Two points: It costs hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of dollars, to solidily establish a brand name and identity. When you radically change an image you throw the initial investment down the drain. Second, it was UK Government pressure on the Scots that got the Lockerbie bomber released. Jack Straw has already admitted that and as usual oil contracts were the reason. Find a new fuel for Heaven’s sake and we won’t have to go trough all this false morality.