The Xena Warrior Princess of brand assets

The brand - sold to Nomad for £210m - shows that reflecting the meaning of their positioning in Aunt Bessie’s brand design is an asset and not a liability!

The brand - sold to Nomad for £210m - shows that reflecting the meaning of their positioning in Aunt Bessie’s brand design is an asset and not a liability!


I met a lovely lady in one of the aisles at the supermarket the other day. We had met many times before but I didn’t expect to see her there. It wasn’t the first time - we’ve bumped into each other occasionally over the last 20 years or so but I hadn’t seen her for a while. Before anyone feels compelled to mention this to my wife, I should highlight that the lady in question was Aunt Bessie of Yorkshire pudding fame.

Why I was surprised to see her was that she was proudly presented on the front of an ambient ready mix stuffing pack; not in the freezer cabinet where I would normally expect to see her hanging out. Despite being out of context, seeing her there made total sense to my System 1, subconscious brain. My lack of cognitive dissonance was probably due to the meaning associated with the Aunt Bessie’s brand in my brain – homely, family cooking. Why shouldn’t she be here next to the Paxo stuffing? She fits in well!

 Aunt Bessie - The Xena Warrior Princess of brand assets

When you look closer at Aunt Bessie you realise she is a smart lady. Gradually she has extended from being the Yorkshire pudding lady to covering anything to do with home-cooking; from frozen to ambient, her boundaries have been largely unchecked (the launch into ambient was several years ago but this was the first time I had encountered it since I had last worked on the brand).

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The Original Aunt Bessie

The Original Aunt Bessie

A lot of this freedom to extend the franchise was created through the original Aunt Bessie’s mascot idea and design that my team created in the mid 90s for Tryton Food – an own label Yorkshire pudding manufacturer. When Aunt Bessie Yorkshire Puddings were launched in the 90s the brand did not have a massive advertising spend, and it had to sell itself from the freezer cabinet. The first Aunt Bessie wouldn’t win a beauty contest. We deliberately didn’t design her to be ‘pretty’, we wanted her to be ‘real’, a kindly aunt that many of us have in our families. Our Aunt Bessie checked out really well with consumers. It succeeded because she was believable; shoppers trusted her implicit message of ‘wholesomeness’ and ‘honesty’.

The Aunt Bessie brand mascot is the brand’s Primary Brand Asset (what we at Walton Barker call the element of stimuli that is most likely to trigger recognition of the brand). We had created a truly powerful brand asset - a real Xena Warrior Princess of a brand asset.

The Latest Aunt Bessie  Design by  http://springetts.co.uk

The Latest Aunt Bessie

Design by http://springetts.co.uk

The Aunt Bessie mascot has evolved over the years, the latest update by Springetts in 2016. She has become prettier and more graphic and now carries a mixing bowl rather than a tray of Yorkshire puds, which allows her to brand a wide range of products. But she is still more easily recognised than the competition and oozes implicit, relevant meaning for those of us who are motivated by caring for our family to put good food on the table, i.e. most Mums and Dads. She might look like a friendly little old lady, but Aunt Bessie is more than up for the battle for mental and physical availability on the shop shelf.

There are all sorts of marketing myths about the design. You might have read somewhere that mascot, logo and symbol branding shouldn’t be created that reflects the meaning of their product’s positioning in their design. Not too sure where you read it? Perhaps the same place that said that brands shouldn’t change their packs? Well, Aunt Bessie’s is a myth buster and as a result is a £300m brand that has now spread across vegetables, potatoes, ready meals, puddings, cakes and the store cupboard. So successful is it that, in June 2018, Aunt Bessie’s was sold to Nomad for £210m. So the brand might disagree with those earlier assertions.

Not bad for a brand design idea that was originally scribbled on the back of an envelope!

The real truth is that a design planning strategy should be made strategically - framing your Primary Brand Asset to reflect your positioning. Potentially reflecting meaning in a brand’s positioning can be limiting, but, as in Aunt Bessie’s case, it can be empowering too. It means you can instantly bring relevant, implicit meaning to the moment that really matters - the moment when the shopper decides to pick a brand off the shelf and put it in their trolley, or adds it to their online basket – rather than spending millions on trying to connect those associations to the brand through your communications. Furthermore, the Aunt Bessie character has an added advantage in that the motivations which she champions are universal and enduring within humans – the desire to take care of and raise a family as best we can. This innate desire will never disappear. So in Aunt Bessie’s the strategy has certainly worked!

What’s in your head?

Key to your design planning strategy is understanding how your visual assets will help consumers make decisions about your brand using their System 1 brain, and what their real value and role is within the buying process. Without this knowledge, your strategy carries significant risk. The consequence of this knowledge gap is that you do not have the means to manage and develop brand assets for competitive advantage. So if you don’t understand how effective brand assets are in terms of recognition, meaning and connection in comparison to your competitors, isn’t it time you found out?

Whatever you do, don’t second-guess System 1 by using your System 2, conscious judgement (or rely on someone else’s, come to think of it). System 2 rational evaluation of marketing stimuli rarely reveals a true understanding of its role and value. Exploring the System 1 brain requires different techniques to traditional research and a better understanding of how the brain works.

Rob Barker, Partner

Rob Barker, Partner

Starting as a designer, Rob became curious about why certain designs worked better than others in the real world. It was from here, in conjunction with academia, that Rob started to develop early versions of our research methodology in 2004. Now Genesis Brand Language Decoder™ is a means to unlocking brand language opportunities for brands to exploit for commercial gain. Rob has used insight from our research approaches to drive strategic design for many successful global brands. 

For more on how we can help you identify and develop your brand’s assets for competitive advantage mail rob9barker@gmail.com or ring  01233 811636.