Why we’re suckers for personalisation from big brands – Coke, Starbucks and now Nutella

Should you feel the need to mark your territory on the universally-loved Nutella, Selfridges have come up with a solution: the option to personalise the label with your own name. No more cases of mistaken ownership, then (thieving housemates, I’m looking at you).

Priced at £3.99 and available only when ordered online, the designated name or word – up to nine characters – is sure to stir some interest. Nutella is the number one selling branded hazelnut spread in UK and the USA. But why do brands which already monopolise their corner of the food and drink sector, or indeed beyond, feel the need to connect more personally?

Since 2012, Starbucks has had its staff ask for customers’ first names when they order and then scrawl a hasty signature of whatever they think they heard onto the cup. It’s another question whether we actually want to be on a first-name basis with our baristas – perhaps this is the Brit in me, but it feels like a bizarre, slightly unnecessary invasion of privacy. It’s just awkward.

The following year, Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, which replaced the brand name on the label with a selection of popular teen and millennial names, reached British shores. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that, after a 10-year slump, sales are up by more than 2% as a result of the campaign (never mind about combating obesity, then).

Perhaps it’s a way of making a global brand seem more amiable. By creating a ‘tailored’ service, these big players can attempt to shed the domineering image they have garnered with their über-success worldwide: they’re there to serve you, and only you. Each customer is special. But I like to think that people don’t swallow that kind of marketing; it’s too superficial.

No, what really makes people buy into it is the idea of getting a personalised gift for somebody we cherish. While we may not set out to buy a Coke, for instance, seeing one with our buddy’s name on taps into our natural urge to please and triggers an emotive response. ‘Hey, I’m seeing Julie later. I’ll get her this to show I was thinking about her!’ Or just: ‘I’m getting a Coke. I might as well get one for Dad, too.’ And of course, you are more inclined to choose when it’s pre-personalised. A Coke with ‘BFF’ is somehow more sentimental than just a Coke because it was chosen by someone who was thinking about you – despite the fact that it’s just the factory and marketing team of a billion-pound transnational corporation that’s behind it.

There’s also the social media angle. Ingeniously, both mistakes and successes make extremely shareable material. Whether it’s the hilarity of a misheard name in Starbucks or the unbearable cuteness of your dog cradling a Coke can with his name on, our ever-connected world loves a laugh. And what’s more motivating than the possibility of multiple retweets?

So whether it’s pleasing our loved ones or looking for Likes, something within us clearly can’t resist a ‘bespoke’ item. While the nature of its online exclusivity may make the new Nutella jars a bit too niche to boost sales dramatically, the popularity of the spread undoubtedly makes a personalised jar an excellent Christmas present.


Images via Selfridges, Terry Johnston and Mike Mozart at Flickrcc.

Sadie Hale