UK: HOW DOES A HIGH PROFILE HELP HANSON?

UK: HOW DOES A HIGH PROFILE HELP HANSON? - In the mid-'80s it was George Segal and Glenda Jackson boasting over breakfast. Last year it was the dying words of Charles Forsyth King, a fictitious '40s tycoon, in an 80-second Citizen Kane. Earlier this year

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In the mid-'80s it was George Segal and Glenda Jackson boasting over breakfast. Last year it was the dying words of Charles Forsyth King, a fictitious '40s tycoon, in an 80-second Citizen Kane. Earlier this year, in a witty reprise of a scene from The Graduate, Britain's leading diversified industrial took a further step into small-screen movie pastiche. 'Ken, I've got one word for you,' it begins, as a middle-aged boor presses the virtues of plastics on a bewildered young man. Sixty seconds later it closes with a lookalike Mrs Robinson - who now combines the allure of Anne Bancroft with a shrewd head for business - giving the graduate a final one-word tip. 'Hanson'.

As a means of selling an £11 billion business that spans chemicals, coal and cod liver oil it's undoubtedly neat. But, equally, why bother? Here is a company with seven major divisions but no primary brand - and, hence, a name that never gets near a high street. And who - consumer, investor, employee, analyst or fund manager - is Hanson trying to reach?

The group's own explanation is its desire to raise awareness among the broad investment community. Behind this, in turn, is a bid to restyle itself as a solid business based on a handful of key anti-cyclical industries - a step away from its popular image as the rapacious '80s asset trader. Hence, while previous work drew attention to performance - the 1988 commercial, for example, used a rising green line to chart unfaltering EPS growth - recent campaigns have stressed the logic of grouping together 'seven core industries essential to a country's economic infrastructure'.

The campaign's timing raises other questions. Like most corporate advertisers, Hanson stayed off air in recession. Significantly, it was during its absence - from 1988 to 1994 - that its reputation took its heaviest blows. Abortive moves on ICI and RHM led even its most ardent City admirers to question its touch. And, after several years of inactivity, a high-profile TV campaign prompted talk of a massive bid - speculation fuelled by the strengthening of Hanson's balance sheet following February's proposed demerger of its non-core US businesses.

But why use such an elaborate bid warning system? Steve Hooper, account director at Hanson's British agency, Lowe Howard-Spink, offers a more mundane explanation - the availability of cheap airtime immediately after Christmas and its tie-in to Hanson's first-quarter results and February AGM.

Yet there is also another agenda - to build Hanson's shareholding in the US. It's no accident that the two most recent slots were created in the States, where they have aired most intensively. There, dedicated news and business channels make it much easier to target the business community. So far it seems to have worked - since the campaign first broke, Hanson's US ownership has edged up to 24% and its recognition rating in the investment community risen by almost 30%.

Perhaps most intriguing is Lord Hanson's role in creating the adverts. He is said to sign off the plans at every stage, while the Citizen Kane slot is reportedly his own idea. 'He has a very fine eye for television,' says Hooper, 'and an instinctive feel for film.' And a control, it seems, worthy of Kane himself.

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